A Trip to the Supermarket in Corona Times

So I ventured to the store for the first time after 8 days of self-imposed lockdown.That morning, my son stood in front of the fridge, then the pantry, lamenting: There is nothing there. I fiercely hope that he will never have to experience a time when there is truly nothing there.

First challenge: how do you put on a face mask? Ok, I figured it out. What I didn’t figure out was how to breathe normally instead of hyperventilating the entire time, or keep my glasses from fogging up. I don’t know how doctors do it.

The store wasn’t overcrowded like I’d feared, and everyone respected everyone’s personal space to safeguard the 6 feet. As a person who hates to stand out, I felt like everyone was staring at me, judging me. I also felt as if I was doing something very brave by wearing the mask anyway. How silly that protecting yourself (and others) feels like an act of bravery? Still, when I spotted the lone other woman with a face mask, I felt an irrational surge of gratitude.

First stop: the deli counter. I was in line behind a customer, keeping my distance. The clerk behind the counter was holding up a slice of turkey. Is this thin enough? I stared at his hand. It, and the turkey slice, was about one foot away from his bearded and hair-net-adorned but mask-less face. No, I told myself, no sliced deli meat today.

I looked for some packaged ham. All of which seemed to come from Italy. I don’t suppose the virus can survive an ocean voyage? But who really knows where it’s lurking? I went with something pre-packaged that was not Italian. Not sure if that was the best of both worlds, or the worst.

Fruit and vegetables was my next station. This is where I remembered an incident in Florence a few years ago. I was reaching for the peppers in a little store by the Ponte Vecchio. A scowling woman swooped in out of nowhere and berated me with a cascade of scorn for not using the plastic gloves which I had missed to notice. I complied, of course, but it felt overly paranoid. Not anymore. Staring at the apples I was about to pick now, I saw all the potential for deadly germs. How many people had already touched this pile? How could I know they didn’t carry the virus? How would I wipe down these apples at home? Is Lysol dangerous to consume in small amounts?

Please note that I am NOT a control freak. I am a very relaxed person who always says, don’t worry, things will work out. Why worry if the problem isn’t here yet? Perhaps the Coronavirus is hitting people like me especially hard. Overnight, we are forced to change our personality, and we hate ourselves for it. Telling my family to wash hands is not in my nature. In fact, one of us is already a compulsive hand washer, and I have spent the past few years berating him to wash his hands less often, because they are cracked and red and dry. I no longer say that. My hands are starting to be cracked and red and dry. And I keep an anxious eye on my supply of soap refills.

All things considered, I was lucky with my grocery haul. There was practically no pasta, no sugar, and no chicken to be had. Raided clean. I didn’t even check the toilet paper aisle. I was able to find two obscure packs of off-brand lasagne, substituted pork for chicken, and hoped that brown sugar works as a substitute for white.

While I was scouring the aisles, my phone started to buzz. A text message from Valerie, my personal shopper. I had forgotten that I’d placed and order with Instacart three days earlier, which was so backlogged it was only now happening. Valerie turned out to be my new best friend. Together we assembled what would be two filled grocery carts. If I couldn’t find something, I’d ask her to look, and vice versa. Almost everything had to be substituted, and she diligently asked me every time if it was okay. I finally issued a blanket everything is ok except gluten-free pasta.

I do have my limits.

One brief moment of joy: Due to personell shortages, I got to bag my own groceries! I know it sounds ridiculous – having baggers is one of the luxuries of American life. However, I always itch to do it myself, because it could be done so much better! Maybe I’m not such a relaxed person after all. It gave me double satisfaction to know one less set of hands was touching my stuff, and that it was all arranged in my sturdy South African Woolies bags like the blocks of a Tetris game.

Unpacking at home proved to be the most time-consuming part, all in all around 2 hours, adding in what a bedraggled and drenched Valerie delivered to my door at exactly the same time as I returned home. I did not enlist the kids’ help like I normally would – even though they are now plentiful at our house and have oodles of time – because I wanted to make sure everything got wiped. Boxed goods, bags of salad, avocados, bananas – I sprayed lysol on a rag and wiped down everything. Is that enough Lysol even? Or is it a total overkill? I have no idea. Another compromise.

I then got out another rag and wiped down all the door handles I had touched, my phone, my earbuds (thank God for Audible!), my keys, back out to the garage, the car, the door handles, the steering wheel – although that probably is unnecessary given how little use my car will get going forward. Then a change of clothing, just to be extra safe. All of it punctuated by at least 5 rounds of hand washing, because should you wash your hands before you start cleaning, or afterwards? I settled on both.

I know none of this sounds crazy to you, as crazy as it would have sounded even just a month ago, as by now you’re probably following some variation of this regimen yourself.

Where will this all end?

All in all, my trip to the supermarket felt like a success. It was something to pass the time, and it felt very good to stock up with so much food – which has been dwindling awfully fast with so many mouths to feed. It seems incredible that we have descended the Maslow pyramid so rapidly all the way down its slope to food and shelter. My heart aches for the people in Zagreb who just got hit by an earthquake, the tornado victims in Nashville just a few weeks ago, and so many more countless people all over the world whose shelter and food supplies are no longer secure.

To recount my troubles with grocery shopping seems outright callous in light of that, and yet what would not writing about it accomplish? Perhaps someone out there is entertained for a few minutes, gets to interrupt their constant worrying for a while, just like I am when reading other people’s blogs. I recommend Enjoy Living Abroad by Karen McCann for an always interesting and humorous perspective of life in Sevilla. She had me hooked with this sentence the other day:

I’m literally betting my life that I’m safer in Spain than in the US. And boy, am I going to feel like an idiot if I lose that bet.

I have tons more to say, but it’s enough for today. Stay safe, and keep up the spirit!

5 comments

  1. No you are not crazy. Here in France I think and do much the same, feeling like everything and everybody has the plague, and who knows, I do too. I now do my food shopping online and pick it up, but haven’t done that for a week now, and will sing it out for another week or two because someone handles everything of course, doing the shopping. Like you, I clean things off, wipe things off. Our friend in the village who was in the hospital with a bad case is now home again. Her friend who helped her before she was admitted is not feeling well. OMG. A female gendarme was roaming the streets here yesterday, checking people’s passes. This is surreal! But somehow we must keep laughing because that is good for your immune system. What made me laugh this morning was a picture on FB of the Mona Lisa with her feet up, and grinning, and the tag line: “Finally, alone, in the Louvre!” Hang in there.

    • Haha, that’s a great meme! I saw a similar one, street graffiti from Berlin – The Gollum (is that how you spell it?) clutching a roll of toilet paper and saying “my precious!”

      Very uplifting to hear your friend is already home again, but of course not great to hear it got the other friend. That’s the scary thing, it spreads so easily. In some ways you were the lucky one by getting it early, if you were able to recover.

      I wouldn’t mind hunkering down for a lot longer. Like you, I wouldn’t get groceries for a long time, we have enough to last a month. I mean, not luxury items, but staples like pork and flour and rice and canned tomatoes. And we might have to become much more creative, maybe even go hungry, but that wouldn’t hurt any of us for a while. My biggest anxiety comes from when my cocoon gets broken because someone from the outside world decides to come back, or venture out in the first place. I wish I could “seal the border” air tight. The staying home is the easy part!

    • Hi Jennifer, just caught your “Mona Lisa” joke in sine’s blog…soooofunny yes, it’s good to laugh!

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