Hungry for pills

Indignity Vol. 3, No. 177

Hungry for pills
A drug store. (Photo by Carl Iwasaki/Getty Images)

The Pharmacy Lunch Break Is a Rude and Transparent Scam

BECAUSE I'VE BEEN dealing with pharmacies lately, I've necessarily been dealing with the pharmacy lunch break. The robot that answers the pharmacy phone makes a point of telling me about it every single time I call, even if I have made it clear, through pressing 0 repeatedly and saying "pharmacy," that I am trying to reach the humans at the pharmacy as directly as possible. Before the robot will surrender and connect the call, it makes sure to recite the notification that the pharmacy department will be closed from 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., so that the staff may have lunch, the announcement itself adding another free-floating 5 to 10 seconds of unavailability to the fixed half-hour of unavailability.

Every phone-tree robot is there to protect a company from paying a human to answer the phone and help callers. The company achieves those savings by wasting everyone's time, which makes everything worse on the callers and call-answers alike when the call finally goes through: Annoyed and frustrated customers meet overworked and under-supported staffers, so that nobody is in a position to give or get what they need.

The pharmacy lunch break is the extension of that logic into physical space. The chain pharmacies invented it in the last two years or so. It is a workplace concession taken out of the customers instead of the bosses: Rather than hiring enough pharmacy staff that some of them can keep filling prescriptions while others break for lunch, the companies decided they could get away with shutting the whole thing down in the middle of the day—as if you, with your insatiable need for medicine, were the person who had to be restrained from placing too many demands on the busy and hungry workers.

This is a cynical strategy, designed to stoke antagonism between natural allies. Pharmacy customers and pharmacy staff would both prefer the work of dispensing medicine to be done at a reasonable and stress-free pace, by happy employees. No one, whether giving or taking the medicine, would choose to have the pills counted out and labeled by someone who is overloaded and distracted enough to make mistakes. But that's what the pharmacy chains have been pushing the workers toward, to the point where the workers are ready to walk off the job.

And that assumes you can get the pills at all. I keep calling the pharmacies these days because I keep getting robot notifications that this or that particular pharmacy where I've tried to get a prescription filled doesn't have the medicine in stock. I spent 40 minutes on hold on a call with Walgreens last week—none of it during the 1:30 to 2 p.m. lunch break—only to reach a worker who was too overwhelmed to check the system to see which other branches had the right medicine, and who told me I should just call around to them individually. What's the point of running a giant pharmacy chain if you can't even manage inventory at scale?

If the pharmacy companies can't convincingly fake interest in dispensing medicine, they definitely can't convincingly fake interest in something as humane as meal breaks. All the lunch break does is make the lines that much longer the rest of the day, and raise the ambient hostility in the pharmacy. The middle of the day is a convenient time for workers with non-pharmacy jobs to stop by the pharmacy and pick up their medicine, on their own lunch breaks. It's even more convenient now that the pharmacy chains have also shortened their hours in the evenings.

Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

New York City, November 7, 2023

★★ A leafblower pushed what leaves it could off the damp pavement by the curb, leaving a neat-looking orange-brown stripe of the most crumbled and sodden bits behind. The sky was gray streaked with grayer. Everything but the ginkgos looked muted. On the pathway away from the polling place, the trampled gingko fruit gave way directly onto trampled dog turds. Past midday the railing on the stoop was still wet. A moment of full sun got into the foliage in the afternoon, lasting only long enough to make the returning gloom seem even heavier.


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of select sandwiches from Light Entertaining: A Book of Dainty Recipes for Special Occasions, edited by Helena Judson, Published in 1910. This book is in the Public Domain and available at for the delectation of all.

Chop the white or the dark meat (as preferred) of the chicken very fine, mix it with a mayonnaise, and spread bread or biscuit with the paste, using no butter.

Chop cold boiled tongue and chicken. Take equal quantities and mix with each pint of meat one-fourth cup of melted butter, the yolk of one egg beaten, a little black pepper, and one teaspoonful of Worcestershire sauce. Spread this over the buttered bread and trim off all the crust.

Grind both dark and light meat in a meat grinder and then mix with either mayonnaise or boiled salad dressing. Add half as much diced celery as there is chicken, and enough green peppers, minced, to give a suggestion of their pungent flavor. The bread need not be buttered, when salad dressing is used. This is excellent either on rye or entire wheat bread.

Remove the crusts from thin slices of white bread and toast. Spread with mayonnaise dressing, lay on a lettuce leaf, a slice of breast of cold chicken, then a slice of broiled bacon. Cover with a second slice of toast. Serve hot.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to


ATTENTION, BOOK SHOPPERS! We are pleased to announce that we have SOLD OUT the first printing of 19 FOLKTALES. A second printing, which corrects the unorthodox (collectible!) spine alignment of the first edition, is underway, but new orders may be delayed even more than they are under our usual hand-fulfillment system. Some signed copies are available as premiums for Kickstarter supporters of the new FLAMING HYDRA publishing enterprise, which we encourage you to support.

Totally not sold-out: HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm Daily. The special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

Thanks for reading INDIGNITY, a general-interest publication for a discerning and self-selected audience. We depend on your support!