"When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper which should have been gold, are a token of honor -- your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money." ~ Ayn Rand
A Place Called Perfect
Walgreens. It's the self-proclaimed "Pharmacy America Trusts." Been there lately? I have. A few weeks ago, in fact, I went there to fill a prescription for Augmentin. That's the antibiotic my doctor prescribed to make my ears stop popping. See, I'd gone to a concert and messed my ears up pretty badly, and the onset of allergy season wasn't letting them get better again. Seems I'd earned myself a swollen Eustachian tube. My days felt like plane rides, the way simple living so pressurized my ears.
"Morris, Jonathan," the pharmacist said, banging away at her keyboard as I approached Walgreens' Rx counter that evening.
To hear her call my name was like music to my ears. Nice, quiet music, I mean. Not the loud kind that messed me up in the first place.
She dropped the pills in a bag just then, stapled the top, and took out a clipboard. "You will need to sign this," she said.
"What is it?" I asked.
I know, I know: It was a clipboard.
"It is to say you received the pamphlet," she told me.
She then handed me a pamphlet.
I took it from her.
"NOTICE OF PRIVACY PRACTICES," it said up top. It then went on to say this:
"Dear Walgreens Patient" -- me -- "This notice talks about the privacy of your prescription information. That's nothing new -- we've always taken great care to guard your privacy. What is new is a government regulation requiring us to spell out your rights. That's what you'll find on the following pages, and that's why our pharmacy asked for a signature that indicates this notice was received."
The bottom was signed by Walgreens CEO Dave Bernauer, or by a printing press with a knack for impersonating Walgreens CEO Dave Bernauer's signature.
Well, that's nice, I thought. Walgreens takes privacy seriously. Finally, somebody "gets it." How refreshing.
Then I turned the page.
There, I found this disclaimer: "We are permitted to use or disclose your PHI [Protected Health Information] for the following purposes." It then listed just under 20 reasons why "The Pharmacy America Trusts" might entrust my Protected Health Information with other people.
The list went on.
And, of course, it all sounded reasonable. "We may use and disclose your PHI when necessary to prevent a serious threat to your health and safety," for example, "or the health and safety of the public or another person."
But then I stumbled upon the "purpose" I liked best: "We may release PHI about you to federal officials for intelligence, counterintelligence, protection to the President, and other national security activities authorized by law."
Wait a minute. What?
"Protection to the President"?
How, exactly, is my swollen Eustachian tube a threat to the President? How's it a threat to anything other than my ability to breathe like a human being?
This makes me wonder what other info the feds might need in their efforts to defend our democracy.
My high score on Tetris, maybe? Well, I'll have you know I made it to the 13th level once upon a time. Write that down. I'm hoping it comes in handy when we go toe-to-toe with those nuke-having, Tetris-inventing Soviets.
What else? Does the government need to know if I've got a gym membership? I don't. I'm fat and lazy. I do a few sit-ups every other morning, and that's about it in terms of a workout program. They're not even good sit-ups. I'm probably hurting my lower back more than I'm working my abs. But I do 'em so I can feel better about myself.
Does that help?
When do I get my Presidential Physical Fitness Award?
And, hey, since the feds are so keen on collecting library records, why not Blockbuster Video records, too? An overdue copy of Ishtar clearly poses a threat to national security -- especially if it isn't rewound. I pity the man who can't see this (and pity the man who's seen Ishtar).
And listen: Somebody, somewhere, is keeping Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen in business. Whoever he is, he needs to be dealt with on behalf of our homeland.
"You just need to sign this," the pharmacist said a bit louder just then.
I shook my head.
What's that? Who's there? Where am I?
Oh, that's right: I'm at Walgreens. Guess I got lost in a haze for a moment. It happens -- and more often than I'd like to admit, I'll admit. Usually whenever I go off on a rant about Big Gov't. I've been doing a lot of that, lo these last few months.
You know, there's a Walgreens commercial that talks about a place called Perfect, where every front lawn is beautiful and green. "Of course, we don't live anywhere near Perfect," it notes, "so we have Walgreens." What a utopian rut!
I swear to you, sometimes, I feel like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix after he takes the red pill and discovers the real world is hidden beneath this world of our own. I think I took the proverbial red pill the day I stopped buying into political rhetoric -- indeed, the day I stopped believing Blue States and Red States exist.
But let me tell you: The red pill isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's like any other medication. It's got very real side effects. Headaches and nausea. High blood pressure. Persecution complex. Possibly even death.
Some folks have also reported the strange urge to start a band called Dogstar. I've been fortunate enough to skip that one.
"I know you've got blue pills back there somewhere," I wanted to say to the pharmacist. "Let me have 'em. You've got to help me. I want to believe my swollen Eustachian tube is crucial counterintelligence info. And I want to stop taking myself seriously."
But instead I just stared at the clipboard for a moment, my head pressurized to the point where it hurt to forget what I was thinking.
"Sir?" the pharmacist said.
"Yes?" I shot back.
"Please sign the clipboard."
"Well, what is this, like, Patriot Act stuff?" I asked.
"It is just about privacy," she assured me.
So I sucked it up and signed the clipboard, took my meds, and headed on home. Thank God it's baseball season -- I need a break from this red pill/blue pill, political nonsense. I know I'll never live in a place called Perfect. That's life. This is Walgreens. I could do without the headaches already.
Next concert I go to, I'm wearing earplugs.