How does that curse go? May you live in interesting times. Boy howdy, they said it. Whoever said it – no one knows where the quote originated from. But two weeks ago if you’d told me I’d be in quarantine and blogging about my grocery store trip three days ago I’d . . . I’d . . .
Ok, actually, things have been so nutso in our country lately that I’d probably actually just shrug my shoulders and just go with the flow.
Which is what I’m doing today.
Going with the flow.
I live in Massachusetts – the fourth-highest state for Coronavirus outbreaks. The county I live in has the highest rate of cases so far. Last week I was told by a nurse that a group of school kids returned from a trip to Italy. They were not immediately quarantined and returned to school. This was before they locked down Italy. Yes, it’s hearsay, but I’m mentioning it and labeling it as hearsay.
So all last week I was working a temp job at a nursing home (I should do a whole other blog about THAT) and when Friday came, I decided to stop by the grocery store because we were low on dog food.
I was not prepared for what I saw.
I knew it would be busy on a Friday after work, so I wasn’t surprised by the traffic at first. I finally found a cart and headed off to find the dog food. “My goodness, they need more carts in this store . . .” I think, still blissfully unaware of what my shopping trip was going to be like.
I started down the first aisle of the grocery store – I’m the type who likes to go row by row, even on a day like today where (I thought) I was only getting a couple of things. I noticed an air of tension in the air. A collective fear. Everyone’s aura seemed grey. (I can’t see them but I can feel them.) I knew people were stress-buying toilet paper, but I had a couple rolls left, and we didn’t get paid until next Friday. I figured by Friday the toilet paper freakout would have blown over, and I could purchase some easily.
I wandered through the produce, noticing empty shelves, and briefly wondered if there was an e coli scare or something that would cause no bags of salad at all in the salad section.
I then stopped cold.
There was no meat.
Most of the fish was gone.
Realizing what was happening, I decided to change my line of thinking and pick up a few shelf-stable goods to round out the pantry.
That line of thinking changed with each row I went down.
Here’s how it began. . .
THE LIST OF THINGS I STRESS-BOUGHT DURING THE PANDEMIC OF 2020
#1 – Potatoes
After convincing my heart that my throat was not the place to be and coaxing it back down into my chest cavity, I pivoted on my heel, took a deep breath, and headed back to the produce section, mind racing.
What to buy?
How much money did I even have? We didn’t get paid for another week.
So many empty shelves, um, um, um, POTATOES.
My dad wrote a historical fiction book set in the Civil War. In it, a young man found himself on a hero’s journey with very little supplies. He survived for days on potatoes.
There were no potatoes.
You could defiantly tell you were not in the south, because there were still six bags of sweet potatoes.
Random Lady Shopper: *pokes at bag* “Mom! Mom! What about these?
Older Lady Shopper: *joins her daughter, leans down, pokes bag as well* “Well, I supposed we could try them.”
Me: *giggles in southern*
I saw a bag of red potatoes, so wheeled over to them. There were four bags left, and they were the small ones. Hoping to find bigger potatoes, (and not wanting to buy the yams because my husband isn’t crazy about them) I wheel around to the other side of the bin to peer at the purple potatoes. They were even smaller and more expensive, so I started to wheel back to the other side of the bin and grab a bag of red potatoes.
There was only one bag left.
In fifteen seconds, three bags of red potatoes had . . . *POOF* . . . disappeared.
My heart pounding and demanding to leap back into my throat, I calmly but quickly reached across the bin and snatched the last bag of potatoes.
#2 – Soup
I tucked my head and wheeled a sharp curve around through the meat section, giving a brief hello to the lobster tank as I breezed by. I noted that no one seemed to be stress-buying lobsters.
I love sci-fi. I’ve seen my share of apoloclypse movies (although they’re not my favorite sub-genre. Saw the movie The Day After when I was a child and it scared me so badly I had nightmares for – well, my whole life.) so I had an inkling of what to get.
I headed to the soup aisle.
Everyone else had this same idea.
It was completely fucking empty.
Heart won, and lodged back in my throat.
Unfortunately, this is the aisle where panic started to set in with other shoppers too. I could feel it.
I circled the pole in the middle of the aisle, scanning both sides of the sets of empty shelves. Like most Americans, Chad and I lived paycheck to paycheck. We didn’t have a stockpile of food in the house. We had three, maybe four cans of soup in the house. That’s two meals for two people.
I circled the pole again, and noticed a stressed man at the end of the aisle, frowning and rocking back and forth on his heels. I calmly wheeled up to him and tried to casually look over his shoulder. He’d found the creamed soups, and there were a few cans left. I let him pick a few, then grabbed a cheese, potato something or rather, and two cream of chicken. I realized I’d taken the only two cream of chicken soups in the store.
I put one back.
Noticing a bright splash of pink on the bottom shelf, I knelt down and discovered a row of Campbell’s Chicken and Noodle Soup with Mulan wrappers. “Let’s – get – down – to – business . . .” I sung under my breath. And my heart, always happy to hear music, dropped from my throat and calmed the fuck down for the moment.
I did buy every can of Mulan soup. There were six.
I left the Paw Patrol cans. I’ve never seen the cartoon.
I found three bags of Bear Creek soup – we really like their soups.
I bought all three.
My brain: *muttering* “Stupid president to allow a country already to divided to panic because of poor leadership and no health care and these poor people are freaking out and I’m now properly terrified and I don’t want to hoard but I have to buy food because what if the grocery stores are all empty next week I don’t have enough food to last more than a few days at home-“
I looked down and Mulan looked up from the cart, strong, and determined.
My brain to an imaginary picture of Donald Trump: “DISHONOR!!! DISHONOR ON YOU, DISHONOR ON YOUR COW!!!!”
I smiled slightly.
I left the soup aisle.
#3 – Peanut Butter
“Ok, ok, two weeks.” I decided. “I’ll buy two weeks worth of shelf-stable food. And I’ll try to buy things that we like and will eat later.” I decided on peanut butter. We had a small jar, but another jar wouldn’t hurt.
You guessed it.
No peanut butter.
I bought powdered peanut butter.
POWDERED PEANUT BUTTER.
My husband brightly announced when I got home that we could put it in smoothies if we didn’t like it reconstituted.
I adore him.
More on the rest of his reaction when I got home later.
#4 – Some sort of packaged fruit
The lack of peanut butter sent my heart in a tailspin again and it was pounding furiously, really really pissed off that I was mentally keeping it out of my throat. It was at this moment real panic started to seep in around the edges.
Ever hidden under a desk at work while the wind screams outside and tornado sirens wail and you hear things crashing into the building and you know a fucking desk won’t protect you but you were born in Missouri and at that point still lived in Missouri and life just sucks sometimes?
It’s a panic like that.
I speak from experience. About this and the tornadoes.
My brain, colored in panic: “MALARIA! YOU HAVE TO PREVENT MALARIA!!”
Another side of my brain, oddly shaped like the little dragon in Mulan: “No you fool, SCURVY. You want to prevent SCURVY.”
“Fruit,” I said.
Both sides of my brain: “FRUIT!”
I managed to find some dried bananas, two packages of applesauce, and some generic fruit twist things.
#5 – Nutrition Bars
I love Luna bars. They used to be a staple in my diet until they changed the recipe a few years ago. I recently discovered they changed it again, and the new-new recipe is quite good. I’d been eating them a lot lately. I decided to get a whole case. My husband loved them too, and a case would be 15. If we each ate one a day, that’d be a week’s worth of Luna bars.
I gave up and let heart triumphantly lodge in my throat. Legs decided they were a little weak, so I sank to the floor.
Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
That low to the ground, I saw a case of Luna bars shoved in the back of the bottom shelf. Someone had opened them, but there were still twelve in the box.
I didn’t really like the s’mores flavor.
I put the partial case in the cart.
#6 – Tuna
No canned tuna.
Not surprised, but I’m scanning the shelf anyway . . . salmon, shrimp, oysters, anchovies, oh look! Small bags of tuna! And we like those!
I bought ten.
#7 – Refried Beans
I knew the canned vegetable aisle would be wiped out, and it was. That also seemed to be a thumbtack in the bulletin board that was our grocery store for my fellow shoppers to properly panic. I could sense the sea of dark auras . . . the panic trying not to bubble under the surface . . . the deviation from the norm and the fear that this was only going to be worse tomorrow so SOMETHING had to be done today. I had read the reports from Italy. The lack of ventilators. The triage situations on who lives and who dies. The dead bodies left in homes because no one would come get them. Their loved ones pleading on social media or screaming from balconies for help.
I wheeled past two ladies staring at a small cluster of canned artichokes. They were unmoving. Like stone. One lady reached a hand up, touched the can, then dropped it again.
I threw two cans of spicy refried beans in the cart and bolted for the end of the aisle.
#8 – Coffee
We had enough for maybe three days. I bought the only two generic flavors left.
#9 – Dog and cat food
I bought enough food for us for two weeks, I bought enough for the animals for a month. I usually buy the medium bag of dog food, I bought the large bag. There were only two bags left, and I thought about buying them too. But at the moment, common sense kicked in and I left the bags for someone else’s dogs.
An old man slowly reached out and picked up a can of cat food and put it in his basket. He picked up two more just as slowly and put them in there. I wondered if he was calculating in his head if he had enough money to buy extra food for himself and his beloved cat.
He went with the three cans.
I went with one case of cat food. There was only case left. I reached for it, picked it up, put it back down for someone else’s cat.
I may be overreacting and stress-buying, but I was not going to take something away from someone else.
I got gravy-covered dog biscuits at the end of the aisle. The doggies might as well enjoy the end of the world.
#10 – Bleach
Again, I’ve seen my share of apocalypse movies. I knew you could use bleach to make drinking water safe. Plus, there wasn’t a disinfecting cleaner to be seen. There weren’t any last Friday when I went to the store either. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and my heart was so happy it voluntarily bounced down in my chest when I saw there were a few bottles of bleach on the shelves. I bought one scented for cleaning and one non-scented for disinfecting water.
One side of my brain: “DO YOU REALIZE YOU’RE BUYING BLEACH IN CASE YOUR DRINKING WATER BECOMES UNDRINKABLE?!? WHAT KIND OF A FUCKING WORLD DO WE SUDDENLY LIVE IN?!?!?”
Other side of my brain:
It was imperative I hurry this up and get out of the store.
#11 – Laundry soap
No, I didn’t need it, but the aisle looked like this.
I bought only one bag of tabs. There were like five bags of my brand sitting on the shelf behind this guy on the left.
#12 – Dr. Bronner’s Soap
OMG THEY HAD A WHOLE ENDCAP OF DR. BRONNER’S SOAP.
I love this stuff. You can use it for the shower, the bath, dishes, the floor, toothpaste even . . . there are 18 ways to use it, and it’s a staple in our house. People hadn’t figured out you could use that for hand soap yet, and the endcap looked pretty normal. And it was on sale. Bonus.
#13 – Hairspray
Have to look good in a lockdown.
Seriously, though – we were running low. And it was oddly comforting to buy something normal in a cart full of groceries that looked so strange.
#13 – Feminine Hygiene Products
Lady in the next aisle over: “Hey babe? BABE! Do we have spare toothpaste at home?”
Babe: *shrugs shoulders*
I thought about letting her know you can use Dr. Bonner’s for toothpaste, but decided not to.
#13 – Bottled Water
I entered the water aisle. No small bottles of water. People were looking at sparkling water bottles and frowning. One lady ran in the asile, grabbed as many bottles of Polar flavored water she could carry, and sprinted down the aisle.
I have to get out of here.
I was so happy to see gallons of plain bottled water on the shelf I skipped over to it. Heart stayed where it belonged until I arrived in front of the shelf.
The CDC recommends one gallon of water per person or pet per day.
Our household is two humans, three dogs, and four cats.
One side of my brain: “2 + 3 + 4 = 9 x 14 days =”
Other side of my brain:
I have to get out of here.
#14 – Sushi Rice
There was no rice in the rice section, but there were a few large bags of more expensive rice in the specialty section. I love sushi rice, and often make a Japanese breakfast dish called tamago gohan. One of the bags was in the wrong spot, and it wasn’t as expensive. I knew I’d use a big bag of sushi rice when this was all over –
One side of my brain: “BUT REALLY?!?!? IS IT REALLY EVER GOING TO BE OVER?!?! HOW LONG WILL THIS LAST?!?!? WHAT WILL YOUR NEXT GROCERY STORE TRIP LOOK LIKE?!?!?”
#15 – Gluten-Free Bread
Chad and I have been eating gluten free, trying to calm down a stomach irritation he keeps having, and we had been buying a gluten-free bread we actually liked.
That’s a damn good thing, because it was all the bread that was left in the store.
#16 – Four bags of peanut butter M&Ms eggs
By this time I had made it to the end of the store. I had absorbed all the panic and fear and grey aura energy I could stand. I had to have something friendly in my cart so I could stay grounded. I was thrilled to find my favorite peanut butter M&M eggs.
Something about the eggs are better. The shell is thicker and sweeter. The peanut butter a little different texture. I love these things.
I took four bags.
You may notice the dolly of food next to the display. Boxes were everywhere. In the middle of the aisles, grouped in sections at the end, being pushed furiously through the store by stressed-looking employees wearing gloves and in some cases – face masks.
I was going to lean over to a woman stocking coffee creamer next to the display and give her some positive energy – tell her I appreciated her and her store, and how hard everyone was working.
On closer inspection, she looked like a ticking time bomb – ready to explode into tears or anger or both.
I froze as she stood up and hurried right past me.
Her aura was red.
I didn’t say a thing to her.
#17 – Lentils and beans
I rounded the corner of the Easter display. Somehow I had to get back to the front of the store and check out. Did I even have enough money for this? I could drain the bank account since that would mean we had food and gas and pet food . . . and we got paid in a week.
But then what?
If we went on lockdown like Italy we didn’t have any emergency money.
If one of us got sick and were quarantined we didn’t have any sick leave. Neither of us.
As I rounded the Easter display, I saw a large pile of boxes.
And my brain united as one again, flipped back to the “Oh gee, this store needs more carts, and why is there no lettuce do we have an e coli outbreak” mentality it had at the beginning of all this.
My brain: “Oh geez, this store is a mess. Why would they just leave this here in the middle of the floor? How unprofessiona – is that a box of Luna bars? IS THAT SEVERAL BOXES OF LUNA BARS?!?! I’LL BET THAT’S THE FLAVOR I LIKE!!! I MUST HAVE THAT! I MAY NEVER GET THAT AGAIN!!!!”
And I damn near launched myself over the boxes and threw myself at the package.
I reached out a hand.
“No.” I whispered softly. I looked around at all the panicked people. “No. If I do that, they’ll join me. They’ll panic.” I understood mob mentality. I understood panic in these times. I understood why I was panicking. I’ve studied psychology for years.
It didn’t matter.
You can stand with a knife in your hand and watch the blood run down your fingers and understand why you’re bleeding and why you’re in pain and you will scream anyway.
Young man in a college sweatshirt: *walking by the Easter display to my right* “WAIT?!?!”
He was with a group of his friends. They were shopping together.
Young man: *looking from the display to his friends and back again* “Is Easter canceled? Are we going to go home for Easter? Are we going to have dinner with our family?”
I could hear the sadness, the worry, the fringes of panic around the edges.
I don’t know what his friends told him.
I didn’t hear.
I pitched forward in a panic attack.
For a year, I had panic attacks brought on by a medical condition. Yes, I have anxiety problems, yes I have depression problems. I am a Gen Exer in a fucked-up world. We all have anxiety and depression issues to some degree. But my panic attacks were never brought on by a feeling or emotion. Mine were brought on because of a medical reason.
It’s a long story – maybe I’ll tell you in another blog.
Now later, once I was healed, I’ll have an occasional panic attack triggered by fog. It’s irrational, I know it’s irrational, panic attacks do not operate according to rationality, and fog can trigger one of the suckers.
I’ve never had one brought on by an actual state of increased panic.
By experiencing feeling a store full of others’ state of increased panic.
I remembered a Facebook post I’d seen – something about finding five things that you can see, and four things you can smell,
and that’s bullshit in this moment because everything around me full of panic.
And then I see this cute fuzzy stuffed rabbit.
I collect stuffed animals.
He was adorable.
I managed to get over to him and when I touched him he was so soft.
His little eyes told me it would be ok.
I calmed down.
I carried him through the store.
I threw four bags of dried beans and two bags of dried lentils in the cart as I pushed towards the front of the store.
Honest to God the only reason I did it is because it was the only shelf in the store that looked normal and I just wanted to honor that.
#19 – A bouquet of daffodils
Because they were sunshine.
#20 – Fucking toilet paper
I knew there was no toilet paper at Wegmans but I checked anyway before leaving the store.
I got through the checkout line, got to my car, held the little fuzzy rabbit I’d purchased and calmed down somewhat.
I started driving to pick up my husband.
I pulled in the parking lot of his work and he was waiting outside. He saw me driving with one hand, clutching a rabbit with the other, and tears in my eyes.
“Want me to drive?” he asked.
“Please,” I answered.
I told him what I’d been through. He agreed with my two weeks plan. We went to the grocery store across the street from his work.
And found toilet paper.
As we walked down the aisle, a nervous-looking employee opened a box, picked up a package of toilet paper, and set it on the shelf.
Chad grabbed it as we were walking, never missing a step. He handed it to me and I wrapped my arms around it protectively. I wondered if someone would try and take it from me.
It wasn’t even a brand I liked.
I wished – as I had so many times this past year since we’ve moved – that I still had my bidet.
Chad grabbed my hand. “To the counter.”
“To the counter,” I agreed.
#20 – Bottled Water and More Bottled Water
We grabbed two cases of individual bottled water on the way out of the store.
I double-bagged the toilet paper so no one could tell I was carrying out toilet paper and attack me in the parking lot.
#21 – Bunny napkins
They were by the cash register.
#22 – Batteries
We got home, pulled in the driveway, and I started crying. I told him I’d never been this scared. That we were so divided as a nation, and we didn’t have the resources or the healthcare system in place to deal with this. And I’d never in my life seen anything like the grocery store – and I didn’t witness fighting. I hadn’t seen any bad behavior. Just a crowd of scared people. Sure, there were carts with too much stuff in it, but people were buying for families.
We talked for awhile. He calmed me down.
He’s very good at that.
We went inside.
Put everything away.
As we were putting things away, he got the idea to go back out and get batteries.
We went to the dollar store in the hopes people were at the grocery store across the street.
We bought batteries.
When we arrived home, we sat in the car for a minute before going inside. I thanked him for not thinking I was overreacting. For coming up with the battery idea. For agreeing that I’d done pretty decent in buying things we’d need for two weeks. Then we held hands.
Me: “If this was a movie, this would be the point where I’d tell you to tell me everything would be alright. And if I was watching that movie, I’d yell at the screen not to make empty promises. Because no one can promise anyone that.”
Chad: *smiling* “And if this was a movie, now would be the point where the radio would kick on, and something like Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing would come on.”
I reached over and turned on the radio.
A motorcycle revved, and the guitar lick for Girls, Girls, Girls by Motley Crue filtered through the speakers.
We both laughed.
Me: *holding his hands between mine* “In the next two weeks, I promise to take care of myself. I promise to take care of you. I promise to take care of our animals. And I promise to do what I can to shine a light on people we love, and anyone in our community that needs it. And in another two weeks, I hope we sit here and you can laugh at me for taking this too seriously and this will all be over. And if it’s not, then we’ll re-declare this statement all over again in two weeks.”
Chad agrees, we discuss things a little more, and then go inside and finish out our stressful day.
That was three days ago.
Today I woke up with the beginning symptoms of the COVID-19.
I don’t feel horrible. I don’t even feel all that bad. Just a little sore throat, a one degree fever, a slight cough, and a bit of sneezing here and there.
Normally I’d take a bag of cough drops or hard candy to work and be fine.
Today I can’t.
Those are the exact symptoms I’ve been screening people for at my temp job at the nursing home.
Until further notice I’m not allowed in the nursing home.
I called my doctor. After several hours and two more phone calls I was told “We are not testing today. We were testing yesterday. As of now, we are no longer testing.”
“You have no more kits,” I stated. “I’m not worried about myself – it’s just that I worked at a nursing home this week . . .”
She repeated, “We are not testing today. We were testing yesterday . . . “
I was told to self-quarantine for three days.
To call them back in three days if I got worse.
Well of course I’m going to get worse. What cold or flu runs its course in three days?
I’m guessing it’s supposed to buy them time in the hopes they’ll get more kits.
I have little hope our Cheeto-in-chief has that as a priority.
My husband is now encouraged to work from home, but most likely he won’t be working full time.
He went out today to grab a few more things from the store, and came back in a similar state of panic as I did Friday.
He did not have a stuffed bunny.
I loaned him mine for a short while.
We repeated our promise to look after ourselves, each other, our animals, and our loved ones and community the best we could.
And today –
that means staying at home
and writing a blog
with a stuffed bunny on my shoulder.
Pandemic flu planning checklist for individuals and families
(after reading this list, I’m pretty proud of myself for winging the grocery trip on the fly – even right down to the M&Ms for comfort food)
CDC’s Website for COVID-19
CDC Info for Creating & Storing an Emergency Water Supply
Live Update on COVID-19 cases across the world and in the United States
What have you guys experienced in the grocery stores this week? Normalcy? Lunacy? Panic? Let me know in the comments. Stay safe and healthy out there.
Good God, Marti, I’m so sorry. I hope you get past this real quick.
Beautifully written blog piece… Captures the complete insanity. Watkins is closed. We’re teaching online for the time being, maybe until graduation. We may wind up cancelling the last Watkins commencement and mailing the students their diplomas. Looney tunes…
Get well. Let us know how you are.
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Good God, Marti, I’m so sorry. I hope you get past this real quick and it’s not too bad for you.
Watkins has closed down. We’ll teach online after spring break. Probably until the end of the year. The whole world seems to be off its chain.
Great blog piece. Captures the insanity beautifully…
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I ran to Price Chopper after I dropped my kid at school. It was eerie quiet, but it was just 8 am. We all kept a safe distance, like a strange dance around one another. Lots of fresh fruits and veggies, not much salad bags. I managed a family size of the Organic Girl. The music was light and upbeat so I cruised through singing along forcing a smile. Tortillas were scarce, I grabbed 1 bag, eggs, sausage, bacon, just for a few breakfast for dinner treats. I found a frozen bag of blueberries and snatched 2 bags of peanut m&ms, for me. I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s my last trip? Thankfully, I was stocked up on a lot due to an extra fridge/freezer. I’m quite sure I’m shook to the bone but trying not to worry. Sounds like you have a wonderful husband. I’m swinging at this alone, but I’ll manage with wonderful friends near me. Love to you, the hubby and fur babies
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*puts on hazmat suit and hugs*
Seriously though, tons of love to you.
And also – I’ve noticed the dance as well. As a society, we’re relearning how to move in social situations. Im wondering if this will permanently change our greeting customs and social behavior.