ONE-ON-ONE | Eric Lee Perry 'If it doesn't make a difference, then don't bother'

Q: Did you grow up in New Castle?
A: I did. Born and raised in Croton [Avenue section] and moved out to Shenango Township when I was 6 or 7 years old. I went to school out there.
Q: What did you do after high school?
A: After I got out of high school and realized I had no moola, I was doing a bunch of odd jobs. I was a radio DJ for a while. Then I saw a "Be All You Can Be" Army commercial on TV. It said Army College Fund, give the next three or four years of your time and we'll help you pay for school and I said "OK, I'll be a paratrooper for a while."
Q: You were a paratrooper?
A: I was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. Hoohaa!
Q: How long were you in the Army?
A: I was at Fort Bragg for three years.
Q: After you got out of the Army, what did you do?
A: I had money to go to college and no idea what major to take.
Q: How did you decide?
A: I sat down with a book of majors. Things that I just could not see me doing for the rest of my days, I black-lined out. Things that I just don't have the cranial power to pull off, lined those out. Things that a person over time could make a living doing and not be like a French literature specialist where you find a job or you find no job.
When I got down to the bottom of the list, I had 20 or 25 different things and I looked at the them all objectively. Then I looked at pharmacy. I said you know what, that's me. I can do this.
Q: Why did pharmacy appeal to you?
A: I thought I've got the IQ to pull it off. I can make a living at it and not have to starve and it makes a difference. The "it makes a difference part" is probably a good 65 or 70 percent of everything I do. If it doesn't matter, if it doesn't make a difference in somebody's life, then don't bother with it.
Q: Where does the firefighting come into all of this?
A: My stepdad was a fireman the whole time I was growing up. And when I got out the Army, before I started school, he tells me they are going to hire. I said, "Well, I need a job."
Shortly after that I got accepted to Pitt. So I was doing both at the same time.
Q: After you graduated, you worked two jobs?
A: I've always been like that. Even when I was in the Army, I had full-time jobs while I was a soldier.
Q: What types of civilian jobs did you have when you were in the Army?
A: I did everything. I waited tables. I was a bouncer. I was a bartender.
Q: You have an impressive work ethic.
A: That's how I stayed. That's one of the reasons I like my other job as a fireman so much. Eating smoke with people, you walk into burning buildings that most people walk out of, with the same group of guys and they become like your family. I've been with them for 14 years.
Q: When did you start at the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy?
A: Two and half years ago. I was working for one of the bigger drug chains and I was getting a little fed up with their lack of interest in my patients, and [owner] Lou [Bosco] called me and asked me if I wanted to run this store.
Q: Where did you work before?
A: I was in Farrell and I loved it there. I got every group of people you can imagine. Every socioeconomic group, every racial group. I got the whole mix. So you have major league impact. But the chain mentality became unbearable because they wouldn't let me spend enough time with the people who need my help.
Q: Why did you continue firefighting after taking this job?
A: I love it. I love it.
Q: You say you love helping people, but is it more than that?
A: Part of my thinking is analytical and part of it is just drag knuckles on the ground cavemanish. That's the conundrum of being a male, I guess.
This [the pharmacy] lets me exercise the brain and that lets me exercise the more ridiculous aspects of masculinity. Where else do you get paid to bust somebody's window out and they thank you for doing it?
Q: That's true.
A: I stay there, it would be a lie to say it's not for economic reasons. I get paid, I'm not a volunteer. But I truly love the job.
Q: Do you have any free time?
A: I do now. When I was working for the chain, we worked 12-hour shifts. And at the fire station we worked 24-hour shifts.
Q: Did you ever see your family?
A: Yeah. I used to walk in the house and my kids would say "You're that dad guy, right?" That's why I love where I am now because I work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week.
Q: How do you fit firefighting into your week?
A: My fire schedule has been the same since I walked on the job. We work 24 hours and we are off 48 hours. So when I'm here, I'm here and giving it 100 percent of my attention. And when I'm there, I'm there giving it 100 percent of my attention.
Q: Do you see yourself in this dual role in the future?
A: Oh yeah. I mean for the foreseeable future, this is who I am. This is what I do. I've always had several different things going on since I was 14 or 15 years old.
Q: Do you have a life philosophy?
A: Life is not what you plan for, life is what happens when you are making the other plans and there's only so many ticks in the day. The ones you waste, you will never get back. I've always lived my life by the philosophy that some things are indeed impossible, which makes up about 2 percent, the other things are just difficult.
Q: Any goals?
A: On the fireman side of it, I have no aspirations. I don't want to be chief or assistant chief. All I want to do is my job. On this end of it, I would like to get people to go back to the mind-set that they used to have about their health care before it became this assembly line machine. If I can just get the little microcosm that we live in to think a little different and expect more, I'll call it a life.
Q: I hear you are a Little League coach?
A: I am indeed.
Q: How's your team this year?
A: Well, the pitching staff is strong, but I'm a little light on the hitting market. We're working on that. It's a lot of fun. My son just looks at me like I'm a nut, so that's good.
Q: Why does he look at you like you're a nut?
A: I remember being that age and being in Little League and watching coaches become those animals we still have today who say "Winning, winning, winning. Come on, run those bases." And I just don't believe that.
Little League Baseball is about learning baseball and maybe developing a little character here and there. It's like guy school. How to accept victory with dignity. How to accept defeat without being a defeatist.
And those are the kind of things I just bust their humps about constantly. I'm in a constant state of making fun of everybody and they laugh. They realize its a game. It's a kids' game.
Q: Any hobbies?
A: I love to golf.
Q: What's your average?
A: None of your business. [laughs] It's bad.
Q: With all that you do, have you had to sacrifice anything?
A: More so before, than now. When my daughter was born, I was almost about to get out the Army and it was not a matter of if I would find a job, but when and how many [jobs.] I was busy as heck when I first got out. I was going to the fire station. I was in the [Army] reserves. I sacrificed a lot time early on with my daughter. But I make up for it. I spoil her rotten now.
Q: Have you always been this active?
A: It's probably some sort of subliminal effort to make up for a very worthless youth. I got in more trouble than any four people should be allowed to. I thought, well I've got to make up for that because there are Frequent Flyer miles to heaven. And I got a lot negative making up for.
THE WRITER/ Laure Cioffi, who covers Lawrence County in the New Castle Bureau, conducted the interview.