The Isolation Age: Absurdist Edition

I was going to shop the “senior” hours at my local grocery tomorrow. But I figured the thunderstorm this morning would keep attendance low. With Mike’s scarf as my “mask.” I gambled and went out, hoping the scarf would stop any hovering pestilential droplets from penetrating my nose.  I thought I was clever to bring the (sanitized) reacher along, but it just got in the way.

Staff were in the aisles, restocking.  I took a spin around the store to get all my other stuff before I circled back to get my organic lettuce. The masked produce guy was unpacking it as fast as he could.

Through dairy toward yogurt, a tall young male store employee let fly a huge, not-very-well-covered sneeze, in the general direction of his elbow, but certainly not into the crook of it.

Then he wiped the back of his hand slowly across his face, right under his nose.

That would be gross on a regular day.

“You might want to go wash your hands,” I said, mimicking his hand-across-the-booger-face gesture.

When he went to the back to complain to his coworkers wash his hands (I hope) I dashed in to grab the yogurt.  Just as I finished, a few other staff came out of the double doors, closer than 6 feet away. I did a quick 180 with my cart and got out of there.

Over to meats.  Picked up salmon, then plotted a route toward the bacon that kept a 6 foot zone around me.  Rounded the corner just in time to see the barehanded butcher pinch his nostrils and return to loading meat into the cooler.

Look, these grocery store workers are heroes, along with everyone in healthcare and  essential businesses. They keep going out to work every day while privileged worriers like me work from home, emerging only for furtive missions to obtain fresh foods, because larders are already stuffed with frozen, canned and dried things.  Most store workers were gloved and sanitizing their hearts out at the check out counter, behind newly erected plexiglass (that had an uncomfortably large gaps in it, for passing receipts through, I guess). The store had helpfully marked 6-foot intervals on the floor, in line.

I still appreciate the workers who need a little refresher training about how sanitizing and glove-wearing does no good if you stick your finger in your nose or rub your eyes. Fortunately, the lady who loaded my car sanitized her gloves before putting the bags in the back seat.

The store limits purchases to two of any item, so I was astonished to find the toilet paper aisle empty. We’re a two person household, and Angelic Daughter has learned not to waste. We bought one jumbo TP package about two weeks ago, and we’re still fine. I was looking for paper towels, but how do people use that much toilet paper? Why are people so obsessed with toilet paper that they are still clearing the shelves? I was so stunned I forgot the paper towels, but I think they were out of those, too.

On to canned goods. Angelic Daughter loves corned beef hash. I think it’s vile, but I let her have one can a week. They were out of it. Seriously? There are enough people out there who eat it that they actually run out of it?

I adjusted my scarf as another shopper approached, and noticed that I accidentally touched my nose. What’s the point of dressing up like an amateur bandit to protect myself when all I do is touch my nose anyway?

Ridiculous woman.

I spent twice as much as I usually do, because I don’t want to go back until the peak is over and the curve has flattened. When I unpacked and sanitized non-porous packaging, I found that despite repeatedly checking my phone’s checklist, I forgot at least three things we’ll need in the next few days.


I know there’s nothing funny about this pandemic. The toilet paper thing might be because people are sick and suffering and really need it. I thank God every day for every deep breath I’m able to take, and for Angelic Daughter, who is well and doing her best to help out, stay busy and keep her spirits up, stuck at home with boring old me.

I hope this experience changes us all for the better. I’ve been trying, and often failing, to become a more compassionate, less fearful person since Mike died. May the absurdity and the fear and sacrifices and the lessons of these days stay with us through future, more ordinary days. And may ordinary days return to us, soon.

Hoping you and your loved ones stay well, I remain,

Your disinfecting, socially distancing, cabin-fevering, weight-gaining, aspirationally exercising (I’ll do it today, I will, I will),


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