My dad’s drugstore was like a bait shop/boutique, with each employee being a specialist. He had them all---a jeweler, a soda jerk, a pharmacist, a TV repairman, and a bus station ticket agent. My favorite was the soda jerk.
Adults were too embarrassed to ask for a free glass of water. They bought seltzer, either plain or (more expensive) sweetened with cherry, pineapple, or strawberry syrup. The most popular flavor was cherry, with a real live cherry at the bottom of the glass, and sometimes a straw, but rarely a spoon. There was a diabolical scheme behind the cherry drink which brought customers back again and again. It capitalized on the thirst in man, not so much for seltzer or cherries but for the solution of a problem: How to get at the cherry, which had developed an attachment for the glass. Use the finger? Not nice in public. Lifting it up with two straws might have worked in Chinatown, but this was not Chinatown and there was only one straw.
I watched normally dignified men standing in front of the soda counter pounding the deseltzered glass into their faces, first gently, then violently, trying in vain to dislodge the cherry, which seemed glued to the bottom. Some men, the weaker ones, gave up in disgust, others stayed on for as long as fifteen minutes tilting, tapping, blowing, and sucking.
The drugstore was easily identifiable, with a standard window display: two large apothecary jars filled with a red or blue liquid, a mortar and pestle, a plaster case of fallen arches, several little dishes of medicinal herbs, a sexually neuter dummy wearing trusses above and below the belt, a model of an open chest showing the human lungs and heart, and a live cat dozing in the corner.
The older folks called the pharmacist the “druggisman”; the younger ones called him “Doc.” He wore a striped shirt, no jacket, and a professional expression. No one would deal with anyone in the shop but Doc. “This other guy (his apprentice) could give me the wrong physic and kill me.”
If you gave him a prescription, he hummed as he studied it, and guessed at what your trouble was. If he couldn’t guess, you really had something to worry about.
“Tell me the truth, Doc. What have I got?”
“I’m not sure, but let me know if this stuff is any good. I think I’ve got it myself.”
Doc provided a variety of essential services, only a small part of which were pharmaceutical. His corner of the drugstore was a first-aid station for street accidents. Removing foreign bodies from kids’ bodies kept him busy all day long. It was he, too, who provided some elementary “personal” education for growing girls.
And for mothers who had stopped growing.