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Chicago Avenue Walgreens, Evanston, IL.

All I wanted was a pack of cigarettes. Late at night at the 24-hour Walgreen's in the northern Chicago suburbs, this was too much to ask. Jimmy, the expressionless night clerk, didn't have the key to the tobacco case, so he asked me to wait while he paged the manager.

"CUSTOMER NEEDS TOBACCO ASSISTANCE ON AISLE 4."

"CUSTOMER NEEDS TOBACCO ASSISTANCE ON AISLE 4."

"CUSTOMER NEEDS TOBACCO ASSISTANCE ON AISLE 4."

The other customers -- a shady-looking man in the candy aisle and a young couple fighting over coolers with wheels -- turned to stare as Jimmy repeated his statement at least seven times. As he took a breath to begin again, a green-vested employee stepped out from behind a display and put his hands up.

"Jimmy -- hey, we got it, OK?"

Jimmy remained blank faced. I examined the lighter display and perused the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times. Still no manager. I began to tap my fingernails on the countertop. Looking out over the store, Jimmy picked up the white phone and began again over the soft Muzak.

"CUSTOMER NEEDS TOBACCO ASSISTANCE ON AISLE 4."

The shady-looking man stepped out from the aisle where he had been reading the latest Penthouse. Lowering the issue, he looked at Jimmy and mimicked his tone:

"CUSTOMER PITCHING A TENT ON AISLE 1."

At this declaration, the manager finally excused himself from the rolly-cooler debate and pulled a long chain of keys from his pocket. He handed one to the green-vested employee, and within minutes I leapt outside, smokes in hand. And such a relief, too, to be out of that creepy florescent drugstore and back in a more welcoming and well-ordered environment -- the unknown midnight streets of Chicago.

The Review is a new weekly feature exposing the more bizarre aspects of American life. And like life, its content may change and fluctuate. You like? You hate? E-mail

kristen@csindy.com with comments.

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