Saturday, May 4, 2013

Why I Will Never Buy Sushi at Walgreens

Why I Will Never Buy Sushi at Walgreens:
Reflections on Modern Retail and the Disgusting Human Body

A new flagship Walgreens just opened near my office in Downtown Crossing, Boston.  For a long time, a huge Borders store was the anchor tenant for the area.  I’m not usually much of a booster of big box chain stores, but when the Borders chain closed (riding the wave towards new preferences in media consumption and general illiteracy), I was sad.  If you’ve received a card or present from me in the past decade, it came from the Downtown Crossing Borders.  After Borders closed, there was lots of buzz about what exciting new development would take its place.  A bar and restaurant complex?  A combination theater / bowling alley?  A concert hall that could kick off the Downtown Crossing social and cultural renaissance? 

No. A Walgreens.  To be fair, it’s a really big, really nice Walgreens.  A flagship store.  You’re not supposed to go there to shop so much as to have a retail experience.  They’re marketing a lifestyle. 

There’s a sushi bar at the new Walgreens.  It looks fine.  Pretty nice and sleek, actually.  There was nothing overtly disturbing-looking about the sushi itself.  But still.  I will never, ever buy Walgreens Sushi.  If I were relaxing in my office lunchroom some afternoon, dipping a piece of kappa maki roll in my soy sauce and wasabi, someone would inevitably say, “hey, that looks good, where’d you get it?  From that new raw bar down on State Street?”  And then I’d have to say, “no, Walgreens.”  And that’s just not right. 

I can’t quite put my finger on why the idea of Walgreens sushi feels so very wrong.  Maybe it has something to do with the general nature of a drugstore.  The flagship Walgreens has three-story-high ceilings and beautiful stonework and great lighting.  They sell Boston souvenirs and small appliances and fro-yo and craft beers.  And there’s even a little museum in a former bank vault in the back about the history of downtown.  The whole experience is supposed to feel fresh and fun and vibrant.  And it sort of does.  But still, when you get right down to it, Walgreens is a drugstore.  And drugstores sell remedies for physical human conditions.  And if you think the human body is a miraculous thing of beauty, you’ve been reading too many magazines.  The human body is horrible, terrifying and disgusting.   

One of the most traumatic things that has ever happened to me was to have to spend almost two hours in the aisles of a CVS.  I had decided, the day after the mayor declared a flu epidemic in the city of Boston, to go to CVS to get a flu shot.  There were about a billion hacking, sniffling people there doing the same thing.  I had to wait in a long, slow line in one aisle to check in, a long, slow line in a second aisle to pay, and a long, slow line in a third aisle to get the actual shot.  During the whole wait, there was nothing to do but thoroughly, meticulously observe every detail of every product on every shelf. 

Usually when you go to a drugstore, it’s because you have one specific ailment and one discrete corresponding item to pick up.  But to be in the atypical position of having to confront all personal care products at the same time is just absolutely horrifying.  There’s a product for everything: Rashes, funguses, ingrown toenails and hairs, boils;  The inability to crap;  The inability not to crap;  Indigestion, too much burping, too much farting; Dandruff, cracked skin, oily skin; Hair sprouting from inappropriate orifices.  And all of that is before you get anywhere near the genital regions and all of their concomitant warts, yeasts, itching, chafing, leaking, oozing and hemorrhaging. 

A drugstore experience like mine is not easily forgotten.  I’m carrying some baggage.  The new Walgreens may be pristine and immaculate and new, but it’s a drugstore nonetheless.  When I wandered in for the first time the memories all came flooding back.  Which doesn’t do much to stimulate one’s appetite.  Everything has its place.  Humans need products to help mitigate their inherent repulsiveness.  So there are stores for that.  And humans need and like to eat.  So there are restaurants for that.  But those two places should be separate and distinct.  They say “don’t shit where you eat.”  They should also say “don’t buy Vagisil and FungiCure where you eat.”  And that, in a nutshell, is why I will never buy sushi at Walgreens.

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