I don't know why, on a brisk early autumnal morning, I woke up to remember Joanie, a coworker at the Kaiser pharmacy where I worked as an intern for two and a half years.
During the ten years since I left that place, I thought of other coworkers occasionally, some more often than others, but rarely Joanie. In that brightly lit cave with rows of medicine shelves, I had spent many a Sunday afternoon or Christmas eve, behind the lower counter that separated patients with cashiers, or the higher counter that separated Mel (the grouchy old pharmacist), Jack (the grouchy middle-aged pharmacist), and other pharmacists, from everyone else.
But I digress. Back to Joanie.
I can see her face clearly in my mind: suntanned and freckled, with full cheeks pinching the small nose and mouth in the middle. She was rather tall with a heavy built, which felt safe and smothering when she hugged me goodbye when I quit. Brown eyes. Wrinkles. Light brown hair with a golden sheen -- she must have been a blond baby -- that draped long and perfectly straight down her back. She was in her mid-40s and looked every day of her years.
"This is why I look so old," she said without obvious complaint in her voice. She worked two full-time jobs as a pharmacy technician, one at Kaiser and one at a pharmacy that supplied nursing homes and long-term care. I did that too for a time, but only part-time, as I was also in school.
She liked to read Ayn Rand. When I said I liked to read science fiction and mystery, she said with an earnest mocking, "You need to come back to earth, Jun." (Yeah, I've heard that all my life.)
"I got my work ethic from my father," I can still hear the girlish chirp in her voice, younger than her face. I do not remember what she said her father did for a living, however, except that he worked very hard to raise his family. We all repeat at least some part of early lives.
Joanie worked hard perhaps out of habit, perhaps to support her husband. We never met him. When she talked about him her voice oozed with pride. He was a musician. He worked in show-biz. He worked on film scores, but not as a credited composer. He also suffered from chronic sinusitis, so Joanie bought Afrin nasal sprays by the dozen. I warned her they cause a kind of dependence (rebound congestion). She said, "Oh, too late. He's been using it everyday for ten years."
They had gone through some hard time, as jobs were hard to come by for artists. This was one reason why Joanie was working 70 to 80 hours a week. But there were fun and glamors. They lived in (near?) Hollywood. She had met Emilio Estevez when he was still married to Paula Abdul. They would get free tickets to Lakers games and rub shoulders with celebrities. "If you're a celebrity, you can get a lot of free stuff."
Only in LA would you meet people associated with The Biz in totally drab places, like a pharmacy. At that time I thought the show biz was only for the rich and privileged who did very little real work.
"One night I was so tired I dozed off on the drive home at 60 miles an hour," she mentioned one time. "I had to roll down the window and let the cold air blow in my face to stay awake."
Many a night, three or four of us would close shop at 10:30 and drive out into the dark La Cienega Blvd. The 10 freeway was wide open, no longer the crawling parking lot during the day, and I could zip home in half an hour. A strange peace floated on the road, and the brightly lit night sky always calmed my mind.
Things were looking up, Joanie said, he was carving out a niche for himself and getting more and more projects. He knew producers and studio bosses and other Important People who would refer more work to him. Soon, he will become very successful -- maybe even famous, and then I'll retire, she said. City of Angels, the land of dreams.
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