One of the perks of being a municipal employee is that I get the flu vaccine for free. No visits to the doctor or pharmacy – just go into the auditorium, roll up your sleeve, and get stuck. 

“Will you also be getting the COVID vaccine today?” the clerk taking my information asked. Oh goodie, a twofer. 

“Yes,” I said. 

“Do you have your vaccine card?” 

“Indeed, I do.” 

“Oh,” the clerk said, looking at my card. “This is your fifth dose.” 

“Eternal vigilance is the price of good health.” 


“Don’t worry about it.” 

“Here’s your number,” the clerk said, handing me a placard. “The nurse will be ready for you in a moment.” 

After a short wait playing Ms. Pac Man on my phone, my number was called, and I walked over to the vaccination station and rolled up my sleeve. 

“Are you getting both shots today?  the nurse asked.

“Yes.” Then I answered all the questions these people normally ask. No, I did not have a fever, been exposed to someone with COVID, travelled to some far off pestilent country, had a bad reaction to previous vaccines, was allergic to anything, or had been confined to a skilled nursing facility in the past thirty days. 

“When were you born?” the nurse said, clicking her keyboard. I grudgingly told her. 

“Could you give me both shots in the same arm?” I asked. 

“Your arm will be sore.” 

“Better to have one sore arm then two.” 

“Okay, just give me a minute.” 

As I watched the nurse draw the vaccines from their vials, I felt a spurt of anxiety. Not that I’m afraid of shots mind you – but getting anything medical done gives me the heebie-jeebies these days. “Don’t be an idiot,” I told myself. Then the nurse injected me with swift professionalism and then watched in horror as a rivulet of blood started coursing down my arm. 

“Oh dear,” she said. 

“It’s that daily aspirin,” I said. “You should see me when I cut myself shaving.” 

“Let me clean that up.” Then, after being squeegeed with alcohol and triple Band-Aided, the nurse announced me fit for duty. 

“What,” I said. “No lollipop?” 


“I was told there’d be lollipops.” 

“Sorry, sir.” 

“You want a lollipop?” a coworker getting lanced at the next station chortled. 

“You’re never too old for lollipops.” 

Putting my sweater back on, I joined some of the newly vaccinated as we waited for the proscribed fifteen minutes. I thought about skipping out early, but there was a cop watching us. 

“Now I’m surrounded by a protective bubble,” the Recreation Director joked, showing me his arm. 

“Now we’ll live forever,” I said.

As we watched the clock tick, I asked the Rec Guy how his pregnant wife was doing. “She’s due around Christmas,” he said. 

“Your first was born during the worst of the pandemic and now your second’s coming during the holiday rush. Talk about planning.” 

“What can I say,” he said, smiling. “This one was a surprise.” 

“Mine was too.” 

Moving along, I struck up a conversation with our animal control officer and discussed a hoarding case we were working on. “Did you find her cats?” I asked.  

“No,” she said. “One of them’s probably dead in the house.” 

“Smelled like it.” 


“I have a soft spot for animals,” I said. “I could never do your job.” 

Shaking her head, the dogcatcher said, “I just helped with a job in New York. Lady had one hundred and ninety cats.” 

“That’s insane.” 

“And she was loaded, isn’t that something? But the neighbors told me after her husband died, she just started accumulating cats.” 

“That happens,” I said. “Their hoarding disorder was under wraps or somewhat manageable and then, when a major loss occurs, it’s off to the races. If people only knew how many hoarders were in this town,”

“Ain’t that the truth.” 

Looking at my assembled coworkers rolling up their sleeves, I realized that I’d known most of them seven years. One guy younger than me just became a grandfather, another just had a baby, and there was the nice lady who always remembers everyone’s birthday. And they’ve all watched my daughter grow from a wee toddler to a vivacious spitfire of a third grader. But there were some newer faces in the room too; younger people just starring their lives, getting married, having kids and wondering what life had in store for them. If we’re all lucky, the flu and COVID won’t be one of them. 

Seven years. That’s the longest time I’ve worked in one place in all my life. My old therapist told me that, after a lifetime spent dealing with dysfunctional churchmen, health care apparatchiks putting profits above patients and jousting with tyrannical restauranteurs, I’d always have a hard time trusting any work environment. But now, in my fifties, I’ve finally found that elusive stability in a place I’d never dreamed I’d be. And when I had to go out for cancer surgery last year, my colleagues donated vacation and sick time so I didn’t have to deal with going on disability. It was nice not having to worry about my paycheck – something that would’ve never happened if I was still in the restaurant business. For the first time I’m in an environment where people care for one another and, even if my job ends tomorrow, I’ll know it was good for me to have been here.

Newly inoculated and off the clock, I walked into the parking lot and headed for my car, reviewing the workday in my head. It had been a busy one: helping a Ukrainian refugee with two kids, a homeless guy who needed to find a place to live, prepping for holiday programs, accepting donations, dealing with that hoarder, fielding endless phone calls and emails and, of course, giving people food. Keying open my car, I looked at the Catholic church across the way and smiled. Whether it was by coincidence or design, the color of the municipal building’s cladding was almost the same hue as that much older ecclesiastical pile of stone. Musing over fate’s sense of humor, I remembered that I graduated from seminary school thirty-two years ago but ended up doing pretty much the same job – just without doctrines, incense, vestments, and the celibacy part. As my very wise wife once told me, “Your job is the parish you never got to have.” Yes, it was good for me to have been here. 

Even if I didn’t get a lollipop.  

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