|I been in the right place, but it must have been the wrong time; or so goes the song by Dr. John. Maybe I was too, but who can really say? All I know is I walk into a drug store in downtown Newark a couple of weeks ago, looking for an old friend who, I’m told, was employed there. I’m a little anxious and uneasy because I haven’t seen this guy in almost twenty years. And even though I’m looking forward to the meeting, I am mindful that it’s not a social call. I’ve got some real bad news to deliver. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong!
The place is bustling with the typical five o’clock crowd, and the fact that I grew up in this city doesn’t stop me from feeling like the bastard step-child at a family reunion. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome escape from the stampeding suburbanites fleeing the city on the other side of the door. I eye the cashier, a weathered and withered old guy tending to a long line of customers, mostly women on cell phones. I walk past them hoping to spot someone who looks like they might be in charge, wondering how anyone could work here without losing their God forsaken mind and suddenly…
The sound is followed by a chorus of packages hitting the floor – bags, boxes, plastic containers – and a symphony of coins whirling around in countless spirals. The screaming started right after that.
|Istop, look over my shoulder, and what I see for the next few seconds seems absolutely surreal – like a Benny Hill skit in fast forward. The women who had been standing in line are now in a frenzied huddle around the counter. They’re jumping around, colliding into each, and screaming at the top of their lungs like hens who have just spotted a fox in the coop.
“Oh my God!”
|Ilook around and still don’t see anyone who looks like they’re in charge, or who even wants to be now, and in a few quick strides I’m standing over the counter. The old man is laying supine on the floor – eyes white, mouth open, hands raised chest high, his fingers spread and curled like talons – and he’s convulsing as if he’s stuck on a high voltage line. At first glance he looks like an extra in the Thriller video, which explains why the women are losing their minds, or so I like to think; but I soon realize he’s just an unfortunate old guy in the grips of a seizure.I breathe in, breathe out, but not before I give myself a swift mental kick in the ass because I could’ve been on I-80W heading home with the rest of the stampede outside. Then I yell for someone, anyone in the crowd of still screaming women to call 911 as I climb over the counter. Suddenly, there is silence. I check the old guy for injuries and find none, but now he’s suffocating on a mouthful of saliva. I turn him over on his side and I wait.|
|The silence seems eternal now. Almost as deafening as the screams only moments ago. Seconds later the old guy’s lungs erupt as his airway opens, and when he takes his first breath it sounds like he’s just surfaced from the bottom of the ocean. I know now that he’s gonna’ be alright. Another old guy on the other side of the counter decides this is an ideal time to describe in minute detail the stroke he suffered the previous year, and how he hopes I’m around if he ever has another one. I assure him it would not be in his best interests if that time were now.|
|There are several people gathered around us behind the counter now. The store manager; a young, white woman who looks totally lost, and the pharmacist; a middle-eastern woman in an abaya and hijab who looks like she’s following the store manager. A young, black guy in a long overcoat – who bears a striking resemblance to Suge Knight – identifies himself as the in-store security officer. I note that we share the same name, but my intuition tells me that’s all we have in common. I’m right. He immediately starts complaining about the old guy, his constant seizures and the fact no one there knows what to do when he has them. I interrupt by explaining how I came to be there and what he should do if it happens again, while we wait for emergency medical services to arrive. The coup de grace is when he tells me the friend I am looking for is no longer employed there, but that he’s glad I came in. I acknowledge both, the bad news and compliment, with a smile and a nod; but my disappointment is obvious. I breathe a sigh of relief when paramedics arrive and take over. I tell the old guy he’s gonna’ be fine.|
|Suge gives me the key to the employee rest room and I spend a few minutes thinking as I wash my face and hands. What might have happened to the poor old guy if no one had acted? Would he have lay there and suffocated on his own spit? Would they have just stood there and possibly watched him die? I’m still wondering when I return the key to the pharmacist and head toward the exit. As I’m leaving the store, the manager hands me a post-it-note with the phone number of the friend I was looking for and I think, maybe I was in right place at the right time?|