Buona sera! Welcome to Duane Reade.

I’m the Maitre d’, sir. In response to the shattering impact New York City’s hospitality industry recently suffered, as a result of some clingy, name-dropping virus, causing many of Manhattan’s haughtiest professionals to become unemployed, a few of the District Managers, with the support of several Walgreens executives, decided to avail themselves of the fine-dining world’s most sought-after snoots, as a means to elevate your experience.

I present to you—fine stockpiling.

Are you joining us for supplies this evening? Wonderful. Do you have a reservation?

Oh, dear. We’re extremely busy. A recent profile in Tissue Savant… I’m sorry, sir, there’s nothing available in the toilet paper aisle. I can accommodate you a week from Tuesday, at 10:45 AM? Or a week from Thursday, at 4:15 PM… I have nothing at 7:30 PM on either of those days… Yes, I’m sure.

We have many, many regulars. We’re the Elio’s of convenience stores. Look, there’s James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, with a box of alcohol prep pads. I adore James because he’s fastidious, aloof, and openly Australian.

No, we don’t designate a percentage of toilet paper for walk-ins. Well, I’m sorry that you’ve traveled half a block, then crossed the street, for nothing. Let me see what I can do. Allow me a moment. Let me see, let me see. Sir, if you’re flexible, not too choosy, I may have something in toothpaste…

How is that insulting? Alec and Hilaria Baldwin are here right now browsing the various mouthwashes and whitening kits. It’s date night. They relish their quiet time, holding hands, towing baskets. Our Sommelier, Esmé, graciously offered the Baldwins two cans of hard cider with her compliments, as an acknowledgement of their undeviating patronage.

Esmé is always delighted to guide you through our selection of beer, offering pairing recommendations with respect to our cuisine. This has been a great challenge for Esmé, having to sample so many frozen pizzas and enchiladas, determining which particular ales and lagers would stand up to which particular zings and tangs. And our modest selection of wine has proven an even greater challenge for Esmé, who characterized the alleged Chardonnay as “light-bodied, asserting strong notes of pineapple gummy bear and water, with an abrupt finish, as though the wine were mortified.”

Esmé and I have decided to view our time here as a thrilling adventure, under horrifying circumstances. By which I mean, obviously, the fluorescent lighting. I was shocked to learn there’s no dimmer.

Yes, sir, the pharmacist is here, but we don’t use that word. Rajiv is our Chef de Prescriptions. Next month, he’ll be featured on the cover of COVID Culture, in a custom-tailored Loro Piana lab coat.

Yes, yes, of course, he can. Chef Rajiv is an expert on lozenges. The dos and don’ts. He’ll gladly advise you. We can even arrange for a lozenge tasting. Though the Chef’s Counter is entirely committed until the end of the month.

Sir, you’re not following. The Chef’s Counter is the pharmacy. The words, “pharmacy” and “pharmacist,” have mercifully been replaced. For example, our assistant pharmacist, Lisandra, is the sous-chef. And, for future reference, if Rajiv requests your insurance identification card, the only appropriate response is, “Oui, Chef!”

No, sir, I’m afraid there’s nothing. People reserve antibacterial surface cleansers weeks in advance.

Sir, I swear on a stack of reusable plastic bags, I’ve not a single disinfectant wipe to offer you. You can’t just waltz in here on a whim, expecting to be obliged. You’re not Jay-Z. Though you might be Brenda Vaccaro. Anyone who’s anyone who’s panicked acquires provisions here. We were exalted, only three hours ago, as having “escalators which, thank God, consistently work” by Linda Lichter of the podcast, If You Can Breathe, You Can Kvetch.

I’m not attempting to be difficult, sir. But I will ask you to step aside for a minute. The Nussbaums are here. Buona sera! Buona sera! Doctor Nussbaum, you’re a vision in velour. That tracksuit leaves me breathless. I may need a ventilator. Mrs. Nussbaum, that terry cloth turban is stunning. It makes a statement. It says, “I’m ready for my shower, Mr. DeMille.”

Yes, Doctor Nussbaum, we have your usual shelf, fully loaded. Katharine will escort you to the Lysol. Always nice to see you both. Enjoy your chemicals.

Thank you for your patience, sir. The Nussbaums can be highly demanding. Last week, when they arrived nearly an hour early for their laundry sanitizer, it wasn’t ready. It hadn’t been unpacked. Inexcusable, I know. I offered to buy them each an energy bar, but they were inconsolable. Upon their departure, Mrs. Nussbaum told me that we’d ruined her birthday. Even after I’d placed a candle in a Hostess Suzy Q and sung Happy Birthday, twice, while washing my hands.

So thank you, sir, for clearing the way. As a token of appreciation, allow me to inquire about one of those natural, non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaners. We may have one or two surplus bottles. Some of those plant-based products reportedly disinfect quite well, according to one prominent NoHo lesbian.

Sir, I was merely providing an option. I certainly did not mean to offend you, nor did I intend to “treat you like a tourist.” You clearly belong here. You’re in perfect harmony with DR Bistro’s mise en scène. Look at you: no out-of-towner would ever think to combine a vintage Paul Stuart blazer over an expired Hanes tee shirt with flannel pajama bottoms and tasseled loafers. I love it. We’ll call it—dementia chic.

And that scent you’re wearing is divine. I’m suddenly transported to a rent-stabilized apartment with wall-to-wall carpeting and heaps of yellowing Playbills. What is it called? Chanel No. 5C? Dispossession by Calvin Klein? Bravo, sir. I applaud you.

I am absolutely not pandering. And I’m not a phony, sir, I’m a maitre d’. There’s a subtle difference.

Why don’t I check to see if we’ve received any cancellations. Give me less than a split second. I’m looking, I’m looking. Oh, sir, I have glorious news. It appears that one of our guests, Thatcher Lawton, is over twenty minutes late. We can officially consider him a no-show. I’ve never truly regarded Mr. Lawton as one of us. He tries, but he’s terribly CVS. I’m happy to release his nine-pack of Angel Soft two-ply.

My pleasure, sir. Kindly follow Katharine. Enjoy your rolls.


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