Nice Fro Bro

African-American man with afro comb stuck in afro (cartoon)
Image by Luke Mitchell.

Would it be a faux pas to mention this accessory to a patient? Angelo Pricolo finds out…

Those of you that know me know that I don’t entertain lots of growth on my head. So when a 200cm African-American male (that’s about 6’ 6’’ in the old language) walked in with another 15cm of black hair on top, my attention was immediately surrendered.

The highlight of any day is always the people that walk in and the experiences they share. When you open the door of a community pharmacy pretty much anyone or anything can walk in. Although I have always tried to not establish any sort of hierarchy, inevitably we all have our favourites or the people we are drawn to.

Sometimes it’s an expectation that a certain type of customer is your responsibility. If someone is hunting for a new mascara or lipstick then it tended to exclude the male pharmacist… usually. Unless of course you were up for a bit of fun and the customer was too.

On the other hand if any blood was visible this could exclude a certain group of staff members “who don’t do blood”. Having said that this is probably not such a bad philosophy.  But blood can be an attraction for some, usually the wound dressing savvy or the frustrated surgeon-type.

Being fortunate enough to have run some wound care tutorials with pharmacy students over the years, I usually start by announcing there are two types of pharmacist. The one that sees a customer walk to the dressings section and finds something else very pressing to do. And the type that relishes the opportunity and walks over to get their hands dirty, as it were.

I have worked with some staff members who are immediately attracted to good-looking people. This becomes apparent very quickly and you would think this would eliminate or at least reduce this obvious behavior. But alas, sometimes it’s bigger than they are.

So with all of this happening on the pharmacy floor we can be excused for little slip-ups or a faux pas or two.

Luc Longley walked into my pharmacy with a prescription one day. Now Luc, Australian born NBA American basketball royalty, stands at almost 220cm, which means his legs alone are the height of a short man! The assistant that took his script didn’t know who he was, even though he was at the height (sorry) of his career, but she was nevertheless overcome by his stature.

So much so was the difference in their relative lengths a factor (she stood at a paltry 150cm or thereabouts, that’s about 70cm or the width of most TVs now) that she couldn’t talk. Seriously, she froze to the point of not being able to utter a word and I had to race down and grab the script to at least try and mitigate the damage and embarrassment.

You would imagine that with these and many more life lessons under my belt I would have had my radar up more often and avoided the 101 faux pas. So getting back to the bro with the fro… he just pressed my buttons. How could I not comment on the fact he had an afro comb sticking out of his hair.

As I prepared his medicine I surreptitiously discussed the presence of a foreign object on his head with my trusty social behaviour barometer, aka shop assistant. She could not explain it but tried to convince me not to comment; she knew my nature. Unfortunately I was convinced he had left the hotel without knowing and I thought I was doing him a favour.

Like two giggly teenagers, we debated the comb. I battled with my demons.

I learnt later that wearing the afro comb in a visible and obvious manner was associated with black oppression. It was the accessory of a hairstyle that represented counter culture and civil rights during the 1970s and was worn as a political emblem and a signature of a collective identity. These days it still makes a regular appearance on mainstream TV in America.

And I was naïve enough to come out and say with a friendly familiar chuckle “Hay mate, you’ve got a comb in your hair”.

The stare that was thrust back at me pierced my body driving through my soul and searing a box of aspirin on the shelf behind me (it was the 100mg cardio strength).

And then he uttered those immortal words, in my life anyway, that will stay with me tattooed inside with indelible ink.

“It’s tha look”.

All I could offer in return was “Ah” I was deflated, let down like a parachutist on grand final day heading towards the centre of the MCG. Bang. I hit the bull’s eye.

What followed was a brief counseling session on penicillin where only essential information was sought or offered and the colour red was prominent as it oozed from my body and filled the whole room.

Like a gas that fills the entire chamber, I had stuck my foot into the biggest proverbial head of hair since Vin Catoggio (70s Carlton AFL legend and all round nice guy) and much to the surprise of a loyal shop assistant, I lived to tell the tale.

Angelo Pricolo is an addiction medicine pharmacist and former National Councillor of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.


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