My tribe is your tribe

February 10, 2014

There are many definitions of family. Pharmacists share a world of experience, and that can mean a lot.

One of the nicer things about my life in south Florida is meeting relaxed people. They have time to shoot the breeze. This guy was waiting for his wife, and I was just sitting at a table at the Food Court, people-watching and enjoying a cup of good coffee. He pointed at the empty chair and raised his eyebrows. I nodded, meaning help yourself.

We got around to I am Jim Plagakis, raised in Ohio. He was George Saroyan, raised in Fresno. I answered the How’d you get to Florida? question. Then I responded with San Francisco in 1965 and followed his next question with married my keeper wife, the third, in Seattle in 1999.

Then he asked me the stumper. I had no idea how to answer this one: Who are your people?

“I don’t know what you mean, George.”

“Your people, Jim.” He gave me an I-feel-sorry-for-this-guy look. “You know. My people are Armenian. Your people have got to be Greek, right?”

I didn’t say that a Plagakis with Swiss-German, Spanish, Finnish, and Greek grandparents is an American. I said, “I believe that my people are pharmacists, George.”

The Armenian checked his watch, smiled weakly, nodded to me, and without another word, moved on. I was already flashing on some tribal memories.

Tribe flash 1. When I left behind my high school buddies in 1967, I jumped into a new tribal circle with both feet - a tribe exclusively composed of pharmacy students.

For the first time in my young life, my tribe included girls. Geri Lopinski worked beside me in a lab. We talked. We cooperated. We drank occasional beers together, and I lit her cigarettes. She was a tribe member, just like Faber and Ceci. All of us danced around the same ritual fire, sharing the first real sense of our adult lives. 

Tribe flash 2. The spring of 2000 found me at a Sunday morning table, at the café at Barnes & Noble in Bellingham, Wash. A ritual tribal event was taking place, and none of us realized it. Two new Washington State RPhs, a husband and wife from White Rock, B.C. (barely 30 miles away), wanted jobs in the USA. I offered some lame ideas. So did another pharmacist.

It was three Rite-Aid technicians, eating fat, dripping-with-butter-icing cinnamon rolls and drinking electric-jolt extra shot lattes, who had the Canadians behind Rite-Aid counters just like that. There were nine Rite-Aids within commuting distance, and the Canadians were on the payroll inside of two weeks. 

Tribe flash 3. Technicians made my tribe bigger. It is too bad that pharmacists don’t go to the barricades for career technicians who are single mothers depending on food stamps to feed the kids. A disgrace. You gotta be ashamed.

We don’t even fight for ourselves, so I suppose the technicians can’t expect Che Guevara in a white coat. At least not yet.

Tribe flash 4. I keep away from funerals. Everyone acts like the dead person was their best friend. But I went to this one. Some people hated her.

She was a pharmacist killed in a hit-and-run when she was delivering prescriptions to a needy elderly woman after work. At the funeral, her husband told me that her large chain-store employer was arguing that the delivery was not authorized and therefore the insurance claim was denied. I wanted to throw firebombs. Some virtually lobotomized coworkers of this woman gave me vacant stares when I suggested how they could punish the employer.

Tribe flash 5. I did go to war when CVS fired a young father of triplets. When lack of help put patients in real danger, he took a stand (required by state law); it slowed everything to a standstill and made the red lights shine. So CVS fired him.

Tribe flash 6. I banged the drums when a Drug Topics columnist was sacrificed by Rite-Aid over a truly absurd incident.

Your tribe flash. You are not alone. I’ll shine light on the darkness for you. Goose is wearing war paint these days. David is a pharmacy stealth guerrilla, asking the right questions.

That drum beat that stirs your blood? That is the sound of your tribe.