The Puma tracksuit

Image by Luke Mitchell.

Angelo Pricolo navigates a tense situation in the 1980s

It’s funny how, after so many years, the Puma tracksuit still sparks such a vivid memory. In fact it dates that Sunday morning with pinpoint accuracy back to the decade that was the 80s.

Working Sundays (9 to 9) in a community pharmacy was the domain of the young graduate. It forced autonomous decision-making, exposed the green pharmacist to a range of ailments and importantly, it paid well.

This particular Sunday morning was just my second 12-hour shift and I had forgotten it was run solo for the first hour. That first hour when you are new is a critical time, so being alone was quite stressful.

Invariably someone will call at precisely 9am with a follow-up question or a customer will walk in with an obscure request for an equally obscure item you have never heard of. Still, it is all character building and forces the development of a new skill set and inventive solutions.

As the first hour was almost half way done the front door squealed open and two men resplendently attired in the latest edition gold-trimmed Puma tracksuits entered my world. I realised that my eagerness to please was soon to be met with their need to accomplish a mission.

Other than the Puma tracksuit I do distinctly recall that one of the men was also labouring under the weight of what looked like a very heavy and long sausage bag. The bag, on reflection, was long enough to potentially store even a long gun… just saying.

The men were not up for small talk, just business. They asked me if I possessed a set of scales. At least, after some gesticulation and clarification that’s where we landed. And as if I was responding to a Board inspection, I pointed to the aforementioned item and confirmed with my wave that they were in good working order.

“We need them.”

“So do I.”

“We need them now.”

“They belong to the pharmacy.”

We had arrived at a stalemate. I needed to think quickly because I could feel them creeping (and they were creepy) closer to the dispensary and closer to my raised comfort zone. So many things ran through my mind.

Where is the panic button? Is there a panic button? What’s in the bag? Did they buy the tracksuits together or was it just a coincidence they were wearing the same brand, style and colour?

20 seconds felt like 20 minutes. The dialogue dried up but the saga continued and nothing they taught me at the Victorian College of Pharmacy (now Monash University) prepared me for what was to follow.

I was torn between professional responsibility, responsibility to the owner and survival. I don’t really think I clearly weighed up the consequences but my hand was forced and there’s no way I wanted to know what was in the sausage bag. I hoped it was more Puma tracksuits (not because I wanted one, gold is not my colour).

“Give me the stuff, I’ll weigh it,” I said as my heart pounded so hard I thought they were going to tell me to shut up. There was no answer. There was quiet disbelief as they stared deeply into each other’s eyes looking for divine intervention.

The next 20 seconds was more like 20 hours. What had I said and where did it come from? What had I just offered to weigh?

As man number one folded onto one knee, man number two just stared at me. I couldn’t see man number one, which was a worry as he had the sausage bag that was big enough to fit a sawed-off shotgun. I wanted to take what I said back, explain that it was only my second 9 to 9 shift on a Sunday and that the assistant started at 10. Too late.

“We need to know EXACTLY what it weighs.”

I recognized the plastic bank-issue change bag that he produced but wasn’t sure of the contents of this one. I quickly established I wasn’t being asked to weigh coins and also realised whatever I was about to weigh was not TGA approved and did not have an ARTG number.

Hash oil is a concentrated cannabis extract that can be smoked, vaped, eaten or rubbed onto the skin. Hash oil comes from cannabis plants and contains THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the same active ingredient as other marijuana products.

I was about to weigh hash on the pharmacy scales. What choice did I have? I moved forward and collected the parcel as much to stop them from entering as to get this over with.

I turned, not fully, and walked back into the dispensary towards the scales. Great, they were still there! Now what? My hands were too shaky to perform the task to the required level of precision. Should I dab some hash on? Am I going crazy?

To this day I remember the article weighed 7g. Exactly 7g, although I did not allow for the weight of the plastic CBA bag.

I returned the bag but they didn’t look at me. Again they stared into each other’s eyes without words. They never looked at me again and I never saw them again. The whole episode was only about 10 minutes. I still had half an hour until I could tell someone the story. 

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

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