“The Day the Music Died in Walgreens,” by Joe Miller

Dec 20th, 2021 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

I just came in to buy Nyquil. The good kind. The knock-you-on-your-ass kind they lock up because you can cook meth with it. The kind that costs ten bucks a bottle. The taste of social uprising I found in aisle six was free.

Maybe I’d get some toothpaste or chocolate while I was there. Sugar on, brush off. Just some odds and ends, you know. I could only imagine what the rest of those sniffling creatures were there for.

You assume everyone in Walgreens has Ebola. A flatulent sneeze rose from the other side of the band-aid aisle, a burst of contagions flying in the airspace above the adult diapers row. That person’s a goner. A coarse sniffle, a rough, congested inhalation, right in front of the Exxtreme Jalapeno Doritos. They’re dead meat, for sure. But not me. I just needed a little Nyquil, probably a slight head cold, nothing to call the CDC over. I made eye contact with a man in flip flops and a tank top velcroed to thick patches of his back hair. He walked fast and appeared healthy enough: no coughing, no sniffling, no dry heaving on his way down the aisle. Must have had crotch stuff. He had to have something.

The fluorescent lights bright enough to dry your eyeballs covered all corners of Walgreens, as if every damn product was being shined down upon by heaven’s rays. But instead of a choir of angels, it was soft pop hits from the 70s and 80s pumped in at a reasonable volume from unseen speakers. It’s cozy in a completely uncomfortable way. Which Walgreens was it? Did it matter? Where was I? When was I? It all looked the same.

With gently numbed senses, the pull of compulsive purchases overwhelmed me. I was just there to get what I came for. What was it again? But daggumit, I couldn’t turn down that price on old Halloween candy and discounted As-Seen-On-TV gadgets and lawn trinkets. Everything I saw pleaded its case, crying out for me to add them to my boring existence. The equation my life should operate around is: “essential items + purpose = happiness,” but instead it’s: “accumulated stuff – bullshit = happiness.” Okay, look, I don’t know. Fuck algebra. Damn, I love this song, I thought. I started humming and grabbed some more Halloween candy.

And just when I couldn’t spare another finger to hold up my armful of ghoulish orange Three Musketeer bags, my fifth surge protector, and a can of keyboard spray duster, it happened. Right in the middle of an appropriately-volumed rendition of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration. The music cut off abruptly, the tune cut short while the lyrics trailed off in my mind and I was left wondering if it really is time to come together, and if it is up to me, what is my pleasure?


I looked around and I wasn’t the only one. A balding Foghorn Leghorn in grease-stained basketball shorts lifted his head up from the battery shelf and looked for reassurance from others. A leather-faced gal wearing an embroidered Rock City, Tennessee sweatshirt, carrying two boxes of Franzia Sunset Blush Rose stopped in her tracks and looked from me to Foghorn and back to me. The silence completely broke the spell we were under.

The Walgreens was quiet then, save for the sniffles and apprehensive coughs. There were no employees around to calm our nerves. No authority. In the anxious silence, I looked down at what was in my arms and I began to question everything. Do I really need seven thousand collective chocolate calories just because it was sixty percent off? Do I even like candy? It wasn’t just me. You could see it on the faces of everyone there. With the music gone, we could think again. It looked like Foghorn began to question why he needed batteries for his universal remote control for his smart TV. He didn’t need to watch the second season of Stranger Things because he didn’t really give a shit. I bet he really wanted to spend time learning to salsa dance and cook his own quiche bites. He was just too distracted to go out and do it. Rock City Franzia probably only drank because she couldn’t stand thinking about where she went wrong raising her two daughters. Hell, she did her best and her kids are adults now. You deserve to dream, Gail.

Why was I even there?

My eyes were open then, right there in between plastic Yoda-shaped jack-o-lanterns and giant-sized Whopper dispensers. It’s all total bullshit. This junk. This yoke of servitude. In the silence I saw the light. The truth.

I dropped the bags of candy, the box of Crest, the can of duster, the surge protector, and the Nyquil to the floor. All waste, polluting our bodies and our planet. A bit of snot is good for you I decided, wiping my nose with the back of my J. Crew factory outlet sleeve. And I probably won’t get sick as much if I quit eating all that damn candy. And as for the other junk, well, I don’t need that crap either. Maybe I’ll do something physically productive with my bare hands instead, like build a rock wall, or finally paint our back shed, or masturbate. I don’t need Nyquil! I don’t need sleep! Who needs this fucking garbage?

My items landed on the floor with a flaccid splat. Foghorn looked at me like a hero and I could see the revolution unfolding in his mind. Rock City Franzia had it painted on her face too. This is where it all begins, I thought. This is where we throw off the shackles of vassalage and consumerism and embark upon the reclamation of the human spirit. It was like my thoughts were being narrated by Simon Sinek.

“Liberation,” I shouted, untucking my shirt and raising my arms to the stained foam drop-ceiling.

As I did, the speakers crackled, the store music came back on and Kool and the Gang hadn’t missed a beat.

Celebrate good times, come on.

The returning melody coursed through my veins. It subdued the fight in my blood. The veil gently settled around the Walgreens once again. I felt silly.

There’s a party going on right here.

I lowered my arms slowly. Foghorn’s disciple’s gaze did an electric slide into a sarcastic smirk. He turned back to his batteries. Rock City Franzia croaked out a laugh that slowly turned to a wheezing coughing fit. She started walking again with her wine boxes, her pace upbeat.

As the addictive synth sounds of American pop crippled my uprising, I felt embarrassed.

I looked down at the bags of delicious bite-sized Three Musketeers minis. I needed them. I’m going to eat them all. I’ll need some toothpaste, too. The heartburn will kill me all night; better get that Nyquil. That will make me feel whole again. Man, this is a great song. That candy is going to be the death of me. More consumer electronics will help us. That surge protector is genius. I bent over and grabbed all the smattered items I’d dropped for whatever reason. I can’t remember now.

I two-stepped over to the register and got in line behind a young mother with a barking cough, her snot-nosed toddler son was drooling on an unopened automated Paw Patrol lollipop. I picked up a Diet Mountain Dew for the car ride home and kept humming, looking forward to my candy.

We’re gonna have a good time tonight.

Let’s celebrate. It’s alright.


Joe Miller is a dull, old grump who counts things for a living and uses fiction to escape his spreadsheet cell. He lives in the Midwest and writes fiction in the wee hours of the morning before his toddler wakes. His work has appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Five on the Fifth, and others.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.