Contributor Post Created with Sketch. An Ordinary Evening

 

Just so you know: I am not panicking. I am not alarmed. I am concerned. Mindful. We’ll get past this. But we are not there yet.

I go out at night, to scavenge. I have stocks to last the family a while, but every day I note some lack that could be filled. The situation is absurd: the stores are denuded of bread and toilet paper, but the circular we got in the mail promises a BOGO on frozen fish. No hamburger tonight, but the exquisitely seasoned artisanal salmon? Two for one, and there’s lots of it.

The mood in the store is subdued. The stockers are young and tired. They are moving the product to the lip of the shelf so the rows don’t looked ravaged and denuded. The pasta is mostly gone, same with the sauce. The expensive varieties are still available. No eggs, but one small container of Brown Organic Eggs. I put it in the cart, and mentally tote up the number of eggs we have now: 18. 

As I said, no pre-packaged bread. No yeast. Ah: one loaf of diet bread, 40 calories per slice. I put it in the cart, and mentally tote up the stocks: we have one loaf open, two in the freezer. That’ll do. No more. We’re good. 

Hello, hummus: the varieties could be more bounteous, but even now there’s still a choice. Garlic, Red Pepper, plain. This matters, because yesterday the store had a BOGO on some chickpea nuggets, frozen, 16 to a bag, and the store has pita bread. This is four meals. The Rotary exchange student coming to stay this week doesn’t like spicy food; this will help. 

The speakers are playing ’80s rock. 

DOAN STOP. BEHLIEEVIN

There’s an older guy with a lurid amount of brilliant shiny grey hair chatting with the deli clerk, and he’s amused at people getting panicked. His cart has potato chips and chili.

The pizza freezers are mostly empty. I tell myself they’ll be filled tomorrow, or the day after, and I won’t see it, because I only show up at night to scavenge. But it’s entirely possible the frozen pizza supply chain is stressed right now. I have a month’s supply, but I always have a month’s supply.

The check-out clerk is friendly but curt and tired. We don’t make jokes, but we act normal. The bagboy asks if I need help carrying it out to my car, and I act insulted. No, lad. Strong like bool!

I sit in the car, and text Daughter: no yeast. Then I think, maybe there’s yeast at the store close to our home. I go there. Grab a basket, walk inside – and for the first time in my life I am astonished by the great glory of an American grocery store produce section. I mean, it’s just a glorious, brilliant thing. It’s so reassuring. It’s a bright garish affirmation. I pick up some salad material, and go to the baking aisle.

No yeast.

I fill in a few items that appear to be well-stocked – hey, there’s wife’s favorite yogurt. She took two today to work, there’s lots here, I can top off. I buy an extra store-brand pizza, because they were out last time. I see my favorite candy, an expensive licorice I only get when it’s on sale. It’s not on sale. I toss it in the basket. Screw it. I’m going to pay $25 to stream the last stupid Star Wars movie this weekend, I’m going to pop for my favorite licorice. 

But one piece after supper, not two. 

The line is short; the store is closing soon. From a scan of other people’s baskets, no one’s panic-buying. I wonder if anyone else got the last yeast. In front of me is a young woman in her 20s, and her purchase consists entirely of a single flower she chose from the floral display by the entrance. That’s all. The checkout clerk puts it in a protective bag, and she leaves. 

I say to the clerk that it was nice to see someone just buy a flower, and she agrees. It was. 

When I get in my car I reach in my pocket for the hand sanitizer, and it’s not there, and I feel a twinge: did you lose it in the store, ya idiot? It’s not like you’re dead now, there’s more at home, the emergency stocks, but you don’t want to dip into those – ah, it’s on the car seat. I rub my hands and head home and put everything away, including the beer I bought because they said the bars were going to be closed. All told we’re good through April. 

If, you know, it comes to that. I don’t think it will. But let’s just assume it does. 

And I think: okay there is plague about in the land. Also, I have to get my oil changed tomorrow. 

I wonder who got that flower. Maybe she just felt like bringing it home, so it reminded her of the imminence of Spring,

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Sorry, James, but you’re beyond “concerned.” I’m going to shop Thursday and I’m not going to scavenge to get things I already have stocked at home; I’ll be shopping for next week’s meals, which I’m doing a little early. (We usually shop on the week-ends.) I’ll shop without my husband since he is high risk with a lung condition. That’s one accommodation that makes sense.

    • #1
    • March 17, 2020, at 8:12 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Merrijane Thatcher

    I’ve been feeling so comfortable here in my home, kids clicking away at their homework. But little bits of news from my friends make me sad. A neighbor was laid off yesterday along with all the other employees in his company. A friend asked for prayers because her husband had just finished a two-year battle with cancer and discovered he’s been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID. My own Mom is sequestered away in a care center where no one can visit and she’s confined to her room. We went through two irritating days where she couldn’t locate her own clean laundry because of her failing memory, but we couldn’t go in and find it for her.

    Anyway—besides all that, at least I’ve got yeast. I think I’ll make some bread today.

    • #2
    • March 17, 2020, at 8:27 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  3. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I shopped at WalMart Market yesterday. Pretty much the same experience. I’m learning about preferred products among Americans, like frozen pizza, for instance. Apparently DiGiorno makes lousy pizza, because it was the only brand left on the shelves other than some (higher priced) specialty pizzas. I bought two, just to make sure. 

    Then there are the unexpected discoveries, like California Pizza Kitchen’s frozen gluten free cauliflower crust pizzas are really, reeeeaaly good! We had the BBQ chicken and red onion pizza last night. Don’t tell, though, because I’m going back into the war zone for more and I don’t want to be disappointed by empty shelves.

    • #3
    • March 17, 2020, at 8:29 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  4. Merrijane Thatcher

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    California Pizza Kitchen’s frozen gluten free cauliflower crust pizzas are really, reeeeaaly good!

    My husband likes those as well.

    • #4
    • March 17, 2020, at 8:53 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Guruforhire Member

    I am enjoying shredded beef over rice.

    The beef was made from local ethically raised pastured chuck, with mirepoix, garlic, and french demiglace base, served over japanese sticky rice. Slowly prepared over the whole day on sunday.

    My locally roasted coffee is delivered to my door, and I will be enjoying black tea with blood orange pomegranate unsweetened iced tea later this afternoon.

    Nearly all of this (short of the rice) was available at my local grocery store this weekend. I did buy the dutch oven on saturday at williams sonoma, which was also open and stocked.

    • #5
    • March 17, 2020, at 8:55 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Merrijane (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    California Pizza Kitchen’s frozen gluten free cauliflower crust pizzas are really, reeeeaaly good!

    My husband likes those as well.

    If it passes the husband test. . .

     

    • #6
    • March 17, 2020, at 8:56 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Lileks: All told we’re good through April.

    That’s the difficult part of grocery shopping right now. Will next week be no worse than this week? Will people be more or less panicked a month from now? How will the incredible economic slam affect supply chains and deliveries? I’m not sure how far out to prep for. 

    But I’ve got enough beef jerky to last a month. 

    James Lileks: I see my favorite candy, an expensive licorice I only get when it’s on sale. It’s not on sale. I toss it in the basket. Screw it. I’m going to pay $25 to stream the last stupid Star Wars movie this weekend, I’m going to pop for my favorite licorice. 

    Some, though not all, players in digital entertainment industries will benefit from the shut-ins. Recent releases especially have benefited.

    Before the economic pain really hits home, many consumers will spend frivolously; which somewhat ironically will aid the overall economy. 

    • #7
    • March 17, 2020, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  8. Jager Coolidge
    Jager Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Sorry, James, but you’re beyond “concerned.” I’m going to shop Thursday and I’m not going to scavenge to get things I already have stocked at home; I’ll be shopping for next week’s meals, which I’m doing a little early. (We usually shop on the week-ends.) I’ll shop without my husband since he is high risk with a lung condition. That’s one accommodation that makes sense.

    That is kind of the thing though. Next weeks meals are up in the air. Having been to the store, even in the middle of the week, it is like an episode of chopped. Here are the weird things the store has on the shelf, now make 3-4 meals. Friday chicken was plentiful but there was no hamburger. Last night there was no chicken but all the hamburger you would want. Couldn’t find bread or potatoes or pasta. Limited taco shells. Not sure what to make with the remaining chicken or the hamburger that would be a meal with no sides

    • #8
    • March 17, 2020, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Stad Thatcher

    James Lileks: the circular we got in the mail promises a BOGO on frozen fish

    Fish have mercury, you know . . .

    When my wife got back from the grocery store yesterday, she said almost all the checkout lines had cashiers (a rarity) and there were bag boys at each one (a bigger rarity). Her cashier told her this was the first time since our 2014 ice storm there were people lined up waiting for the store to open. People act strange when they panic, more so when the MSM is there to fan the flames . . .

    • #9
    • March 17, 2020, at 9:12 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  10. Quietpi Member

    James Lileks: No yeast.

    Sourdough. I’m baking today. I bet somebody not far from you has some starter and instructions. BTW there was plenty flour in the local store yesterday.

    • #10
    • March 17, 2020, at 9:30 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  11. Doug Kimball Thatcher

    $25 for a Disneyfied Star Wars repop? You should have bought two bags of licorice; you can stream “Lost in Space” on Netflicks for free.

    What are people doing with all those eggs? And flour? And yeast? Did everyone suddenly turn into a baker? Bread takes up a lot of space in the freezer. Who would freeze Wonderbread?

    I believe that some people have a guest room in their houses now filled with TP. I bought a small 8 roll bag (the last one available), the expensive stuff infused with lavender. I wonder if the lavender has any effect? In any case, my girls complained. The lavender, it turns out, is an irritant. Who knew?

    I found some “natural beef burgers” frozen in a center aisle tub freezer usually dedicated to chicken. There were two boxes of six patties available. I bought one. There was no hamburger available in the cool displays or at the attended “fresh meet” counter. In fact the only meat available were ribeyes (13/lb) and racks of ribs. As you noted, the seafood counter was fully stocked!

    I bought a bottle of Aperol that was on display. It was pretty, a packaging genius. I had no idea what is tastes like. Turns out you add it to Proseco, soda and garnish with an orange slice. I poured a shot (only 12% alcohol, a disappointment) and it has a pleasant, concentrated sweetened grapefruit, taste. Since Proseco must be consumed in toto once opened, Aperol requires something of a commitment. My wife is not much of a drinker so she won’t help much.

    I bought the sparkling water yesterday. I purchased a six pack of Guiness (five left) and another of hard cider (five left, today is St. Patty’s day) but before the remainder of the week is out, I intend to tackle the Aperol/Proseco challenge.

    • #11
    • March 17, 2020, at 9:30 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  12. Jager Coolidge
    Jager Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    James Lileks: the circular we got in the mail promises a BOGO on frozen fish

    Fish have mercury, you know . . .

    When my wife got back from the grocery store yesterday, she said almost all the checkout lines had cashiers (a rarity) and there were bag boys at each one (a bigger rarity). Her cashier told her this was the first time since our 2014 ice storm there were people lined up waiting for the store to open. People act strange when they panic, more so when the MSM is there to fan the flames . . .

    The assistant manager at our local store said that there biggest day (volume and profit) is the day before thanksgiving. On Thursday they did double the business of thanksgiving eve and Friday was on pace to equal Thanksgiving eve.

    • #12
    • March 17, 2020, at 9:31 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  13. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Stad (View Comment):
    Her cashier told her this was the first time since our 2014 ice storm there were people lined up waiting for the store to open. People act strange when they panic, more so when the MSM is there to fan the flames . . .

    I’ve been told a nearby grocery superstore had to institute a policy by which a customer could only enter when another exited. 

    This is the craziest it has ever been in my lifetime. Not even hurricanes affect the stores so much. I can only guess that this is what the OPEC-induced oil shortage in the ’70s must have been like.

    • #13
    • March 17, 2020, at 9:32 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A few years ago I hiked 100 miles in the high country in Sequoia Natl Park, traveling light and living on protein powder, MCT oil, almond butter, and tuna fish packets. Lost a few pounds, but I made it feeling strong and all systems go.

    I could stand to lose those pounds again; I wonder if the Vitamin Shoppe is still in good stock?

    • #14
    • March 17, 2020, at 9:36 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  15. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Hey. Maybe I’m not the only one thinking to ramp up my consumtion of MCT oil. Maybe that explains the toilet paper thing.

    • #15
    • March 17, 2020, at 9:37 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. John H. Member
    John H. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    there is plague about in the land.

    Malaria kills at least an order of magnitude more people per unit time than Wu’flu does. I’ve been to many malarial areas, including a town in Amazonia where according to a contemporary magazine article one-third of the residents had the disease. In none of these places did I hear anyone say a plague was on the land.

    • #16
    • March 17, 2020, at 10:04 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  17. Brian Watt Member
    Brian Watt Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    There was a heavy downpour of rain last night around 7:30 PM when I ventured forth to my local Albertson’s to pick up a few staples – bananas, bread, milk, and eggs. Now, I live in a somewhat affluent community near Mission Viejo, California. Most residents have expensive homes, some homes situated on the perimeter of Lake Mission Viejo, a man-made lake, are valued in the several millions of dollars. The Albertson’s store is about two blocks from the lake. My thinking was that if I left at this time, the throng of shoppers would have diminished since some people had been told to work from home and kids were out of school and that at about 7:30 or 8pm families would, for the most part, be home. The parking lot was relatively empty but the store had earlier been ravaged. 

    Eggs were gone. Bread was gone. Pastas were gone. Virtually all of the meat was gone. All the frozen vegetables were gone. Canned soups, chili and other canned meats, salad fixings, bananas, grapes, tortillas, virtually of the frozen pizzas, Vitamin C in the vitamin aisle – gone, gone, gone.

    Surprisingly, there was still milk and cartoned orange juice…and not surprisingly several packages of kale.

     

     

    • #17
    • March 17, 2020, at 10:20 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  18. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Sorry, James, but you’re beyond “concerned.”

    What am I, then? I mean, I always have this week’s meals planned and the next week’s meals on hand, but now and then you realize you are low on something with no replacement in the stocks. The assumption that I’ll just get it next time has somewhat altered. 

    • #18
    • March 17, 2020, at 10:36 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  19. Front Seat Cat Member

    James – may be safer to scavenge first thing in the morning when they open. Our local Publix posted signs that read: (“Closing at 8:00 PM nightly til further notice to sanitize and re-stock”). I’d take the special salmon any day…..I am going to attempt to make hummus. My neighbor made her own all the time and it was very good. This conditioning we are all going through will probably become part of our permanent psyche I predict – the hand washing, having sanitizers nearby, having a back stock of “important” items.

    My sister and I have always been prepper minded, going back to Y2K! We got tired of it fairly recently, and stopped. For us, stopping means 5 packages of toilet paper instead of 10…….So we are both stunned that here we are, caught off guard after all these years, over a virus!!

    To be honest, my hackles went up when I first heard about it in China in January, and I unconsciously shifted back into picking up an extra this and that, which increased over the last few weeks. I can’t fit another item in the freezer. I swore at the flat bread that wouldn’t fit…… We are under a local state of emergency as of yesterday, added to the state and national. Just to stay sane, I revert to my happy place – playing Christmas music…..

    • #19
    • March 17, 2020, at 10:45 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  20. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    James Lileks: The situation is absurd: the stores are denuded of bread and toilet paper, but the circular we got in the mail promises a BOGO on frozen fish. No hamburger tonight, but the exquisitely seasoned artisanal salmon? Two for one, and there’s lots of it.

    Safeway had all the corned beef and cabbages you could possibly want, untouched. It was the annual St. Patrick’s Day promotion. No pasta or pasta ready made sauce, but all the tomatoes you could possibly eat. Cabbage makes a fine substitute for a bed of rice or pasta. 

    • #20
    • March 17, 2020, at 10:50 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  21. Ralphie Member

    Time to get out the depression cookbooks!

    • #21
    • March 17, 2020, at 11:01 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  22. Brian Watt Member
    Brian Watt Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Ralphie (View Comment):

    Time to get out the depression cookbooks!

    And start your Victory Gardens.

    • #22
    • March 17, 2020, at 11:03 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  23. Jager Coolidge
    Jager Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    James Lileks: The situation is absurd: the stores are denuded of bread and toilet paper, but the circular we got in the mail promises a BOGO on frozen fish. No hamburger tonight, but the exquisitely seasoned artisanal salmon? Two for one, and there’s lots of it.

    Safeway had all the corned beef and cabbages you could possibly want, untouched. It was the annual St. Patrick’s Day promotion. No pasta or pasta ready made sauce, but all the tomatoes you could possibly eat. Cabbage makes a fine substitute for a bed of rice or pasta.

    That was my experience too. last night I could have bought 50 packages of corned beef. The price was still a little high. People weren’t buying a “luxury” meal. Just staples. 

    • #23
    • March 17, 2020, at 11:06 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Kozak Member
    Kozak Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Lileks:

    Grab a basket, walk inside – and for the first time in my life I am astonished by the great glory of an American grocery store produce section. I mean, it’s just a glorious, brilliant thing. It’s so reassuring. It’s a bright garish affirmation. I pick up some salad material, and go to the baking aisle.

     

     

    Bernie would not approve.

     

    • #24
    • March 17, 2020, at 11:06 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Susan Quinn Contributor

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Sorry, James, but you’re beyond “concerned.”

    What am I, then? I mean, I always have this week’s meals planned and the next week’s meals on hand, but now and then you realize you are low on something with no replacement in the stocks. The assumption that I’ll just get it next time has somewhat altered.

    I guess it’s just the ol’ “eye of the beholder” thing. Carry on, James.

    • #25
    • March 17, 2020, at 11:45 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Kozak (View Comment):

    James Lileks:

    Grab a basket, walk inside – and for the first time in my life I am astonished by the great glory of an American grocery store produce section. I mean, it’s just a glorious, brilliant thing. It’s so reassuring. It’s a bright garish affirmation. I pick up some salad material, and go to the baking aisle.

     

     

    Bernie would not approve.

    That reminds me of the story told by Mr. C’s math professor, Dr. Alexander Soifer, about his introduction to American grocery stores after he defected from the Soviet Union. He was given government handlers and was living in an unused military barracks somewhere on the east coast initially. His handlers had taken him out to grocery shop and visit public places, but he was skeptical and thought they’d introduced him to a Potemkin village given the abundance he saw. Finally, one of his handlers tossed him the keys to the car and told him to “go see for yourself.” It was the groceries that convinced him that American greatness was real.

    • #26
    • March 17, 2020, at 11:54 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  27. Kozak Member
    Kozak Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    That reminds me of the story told by Mr. C’s math professor, Dr. Alexander Soifer, about his introduction to American grocery stores after he defected from the Soviet Union. He was given government handlers and was living in an unused military barracks somewhere on the east coast initially. His handlers had taken him out to grocery shop and visit public places, but he was skeptical and thought they’d introduced him to a Potemkin village given the abundance he saw. Finally, one of his handlers tossed him the keys to the car and told him to “go see for yourself.” It was the groceries that convinced him that American greatness was real.

    Had a friend who went to medical school in Poland. Married a Polish girl.

    When he brought her to the US the first time she went into a grocery store she started crying when she saw the meat counter.

    • #27
    • March 17, 2020, at 1:13 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  28. Bob Armstrong Thatcher

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    [snip] This is the craziest it has ever been in my lifetime. Not even hurricanes affect the stores so much. I can only guess that this is what the OPEC-induced oil shortage in the ’70s must have been like.

    I recall a minor political scandal in the ’70s when it was revealed that city officials in Oakland, CA maintained two sets of licenses plates for their personal vehicles, that they would swap out to align with the odd/even rationing schedule…

    • #28
    • March 17, 2020, at 1:17 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  29. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    To be honest, my hackles went up when I first heard about it in China in January, and I unconsciously shifted back into picking up an extra this and that, which increased over the last few weeks. I can’t fit another item in the freezer.

    That’s what I did and that’s where I’m at. And it’ll last longer, since we’re ordering to-go from local restaurants for supper to help out. 

    • #29
    • March 17, 2020, at 1:28 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  30. Susan Quinn Contributor

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    To be honest, my hackles went up when I first heard about it in China in January, and I unconsciously shifted back into picking up an extra this and that, which increased over the last few weeks. I can’t fit another item in the freezer.

    That’s what I did and that’s where I’m at. And it’ll last longer, since we’re ordering to-go from local restaurants for supper to help out.

    Not to be a stinker, but do you ever wonder about the hands that are preparing, cooking and packaging your take-out order? Sorry–I guess I am kind of a stinker to ask.

    • #30
    • March 17, 2020, at 1:50 PM PDT
    • 3 likes