The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, December 08, 2003  

Who Has It? How Do I Get It?

Have you ever wondered what might be the easiest job in the world?

For a long time I thought being a psychotherapist was the easiest job in the world. Lord knows I’ve bored -- and fooled -- enough of them in my day. You sit, you listen to some loser (or some neurotic, insecure overachiever) drone on for 45 or 50 minutes, maybe take a few notes, though that’s completely optional, and then when time’s up, well, just say so. And you’re done, at least with that loser (or neurotic overachiever).

These people don’t even have to check their watches. They smugly pretend the client doesn’t know there’s a clock over his right shoulder, a delusion we just really have to explore in depth at some point, but, like I said, with much empathy, “Our time is up for this week.”

Then I decided the easiest job in the world is drugstore pharmacist.

Notwithstanding the white coat -- you know, a stethoscope around the neck would be a nice and equally unnecessary, touch -- it seemed they did little besides punching something into a terminal, counting pills, typing labels, and taping said labels onto little amber-colored plastic bottles.

Later I noticed the stores began employing “pharmacy assistants,” a group of well meaning people who appeared to have, as their paying assignment, fetching bottles of pills for the pharmacist, typing and affixing the labels, and sometimes even counting out the dosage, which would then be confirmed by the white-coat-wearing pharmacist, leaving the pharmacist to . . . give me a second . . . oh, punch something into the terminal.

Hmm, I thought, this easy job is getting even easier.

Then the drugstores began installing pill-counting machines, a development I would have thought, with the addition of a little bar-coding here and there, would have wiped both professions off the map. And yet . . . no.

(An aside: Can no one in the pharmaceutical and drugstore businesses, to say nothing of the ancillary industries of information technology and machine-automation, devise a more efficient method for sorting filled prescriptions than the current system, which I would summarize as: “just throw all the little white matching bags with minute type printed on small stickers into a bunch of bins and hope for the best”?)

By the way, what the hell do they study for, what is it, five or six years, in pharmacy school? Seems kind of excessive to me. Wouldn’t some kind of, I don’t know, certificate program serve us all just as well? And, yeah, I know all about the laws of supply and demand, but $90,000 a year for pill counters? (Or, more accurately, terminal punchers.) My doctor, at least when he’s in a good or generous mood, does virtually the same thing for me . . . for free.

Anyway, then, all of a sudden, I found myself with a lot more free time on my hands, time that allowed me to read sections of the newspapers that I normally skipped. The comics, for example, which, when you consider the garbage that fills those pages each day, takes very little time. And also “Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers,” neither of which, I’m sure you know, is produced by either Abby or Ann, what with the twins being dead and all, not that the features ever were edited by “Abby” or “Ann,” since those were fake names from the get go.

Now this is an easy job, I thought. Sort through a bunch of mail -- or sort through a bunch of mail that has been reviewed previously by a group of paid assistants, or just make the letters up, because I remember either Abby or Ann did that, or maybe both -- decide which letters to print, come up with a wise or wise-ass response, and pass the pile along to an editor.

That’s somebody’s job?

Okay, I’ll admit, sometimes either Abby or Ann or whoever it is that’s running those shows these days touches a nerve. A letter to “Dear Abby,” published on Friday, certainly hit home with me:

Dear Abby: I have a son who is 33. He has four children and lives in another state. About a year ago, he asked me to co-sign on a house loan. I refused. Now he won’t speak to me. He didn’t even attend his grandmother’s funeral. I don’t know how to bridge this gap between us except by signing the note. I really can’t afford it, but I miss my son and grandchildren. -- Hurting in Ohio

Dear Hurting: Under no circumstances should you give in to your son’s emotional blackmail, particularly since you cannot afford it. Continue to send your grandchildren birthday and holiday greetings, and let’s hope your son grows up before they do.

Co-signing mortgages? No, I don’t know anything about that. Emotional blackmail? Oh yeah, that I know.

Ah, but then there’s “Heloise.”

The latest from Heloise that I saw was published in the Philadelphia Daily News on Thursday, under the headline “Children’s Tapes Become Keepsakes”:

Alicia of Omaha, Neb., writes to tell Heloise how pleased she was to receive letters and tapes her mother (Alicia’s mother, not Heloise’s mother) had stowed away for years after the fact.

Jan, apparently “of no fixed address,” as they say, advised readers paying credit-card bills not to write the full account number on their checks but only the last four digits. (Listen up, Heloise, and you too, Jan: I don’t write anything like that on my checks. I figure it’s just another example of companies asking their customers to do their employees’ jobs. And so I refuse. You want my account number on my check? Pick up a pen and write it down yourself after you’ve received my payment.)

Patty Reitz of Houston, who really, really doesn’t like to get her hands dirty or sticky or anything, offers a valuable manicure-saving tip on packing lunches for the kids.

And Carolyn Seibert of Orange, Texas, tells us that when making microwave pecan brittle (Yes, there is such a thing, and Carolyn discovered it all by herself! The pecan part anyway.), it’s okay to use dark corn syrup instead of light corn syrup.

Heloise published all four letters without comment.

And that, my friends, is the easiest job in the world.

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