you can even say
open the old, loosely-hinged screen door with the faded "No
Pets" sign on it, and see a momentary side view of the display
window (toy cars and Coca-Cola trucks from a bygone era, a framed
photo of JFK smiling proudly from the Oval Office).
As you walk in, the smell rises from the waxed counter
dust and food and leather barstools. Memorabilia stretching
back a corridor of 54 years. The smell of burning light-bulb dust
and oil soap. The smell of Time.
Faded fluorescent light gleams from the counter and behind. The
counter is stocked with syrup and ice cream, dry ice and club
soda all tucked away into fountains and pitchers, shakers and
compartments, to be brought out at the drop of a phrase in complicated
patterns that would give even the most seasoned bartender a headache
and double vision. An ancient box far back on the bottom shelf
advertises Oh Henry! candy bars for a nickel.
You sit down at the leftmost stool, looking at the
booths and walls lined with sketches and war pictures, autographs
and bottles. High on the opposite wall, the old cuckoo clock chimes
the half hour and the brand-new Sony TV blares Notre Dame winning
by two points at the end of the second quarter.
And the Magician, tall and pale in his apron and
horn-rimmed glasses, his thinning hair combed back and still showing
black, stands at attention behind the counter as he has done for
the past 54 years.
He saw you walk in from the reflection in his glasses, and as
you sit down he roars out the talisman: "EDDIE BOY! What
would you like?"
"Corney Boy!" The countersign. "A
large egg cream."
And he begins. With a flourish, he sets up a pint
Coca-Cola glass on the counter, scooping ice cream from within
its inner workings so fast it seems by virtue of a sorcerer's
wand. He holds the glass beneath the fountain to catch a chocolate
rain and deftly removes a bottle of club soda from the ammoniac
belly of the drugstore. He pours, stirs, looks again, frowns at
the glass and pours the last, making it fizz beautifully over
the rim and into the saucer. Out of nowhere, he produces a spoon
and a straw, setting them both in the glass before you can even
say or begin to fathom 1934.
You sit and sip your drink, talking with the Magician about offhand
things. He nods every so often, mostly listening. "Oh, did
ya, though?" The fabulous archaisms rise, one layered against
finish, pay and leave your change on the bar as he calls out:
"Thank you, call again now."
"I will," you reply. The ritual is complete.
Careful to not let the door bang behind you, you
go out across the street to unlock your bike from the parking
And the Magician the Last Druggist
waves and goes back inside as you ride away.