You may remember me from the last time I went to a grocery store, which was the first time I went during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, my still-brave wife is the primary store-goer, dealing with our edible needs weekly.
That’s not because I’m afraid to leave the house or to see others. You may have read my story about going to restaurants, as one piece of hard evidence, and we’ve actually been to the beach and river more consistently than ever before, as you may have witnessed via my Instagram stories. I’ve even visited a winery or two (Thanks for the lunch, Jim! Fun video, Peter!), recorded a podcast with two (!) other people, and maintained consistent contact with a tight-knit cohort of close friends.
But on Saturday, I ventured out again to the grocery store, due to dual needs for more propane (a husband activity in my house) and some meats to go with my yakitori grill, a self-selected gift from my mom to me for Father’s Day. (You may also know me from my endless social media posts about cooking, a passion that was always strong but has been particularly fired up, and visible, during the coronavirus, because what the eff else are we doing?)
The first stop was the Chevron gas station on Fairview Avenue, where I negotiated a fuel-plus-propane single payment through masks. The man I’ve seen there for years was amicable as ever, though perhaps slightly frustrated by the masks. We got through it.
The next stop was Sprouts, which at 8:45 a.m. on the weekend is perfectly uncrowded. My list was simple: chicken, beef, orange juice, milk, eggs. But walking by the cheese bin, I remembered what shopping was like. I went gloriously off-list, snagging antipasti and flavored cheeses. I saw scallops in the butcher case, asked for five, then upped it to a whole pound. In the meat aisle, there was deboned short rib, perfect for yakitori (I think?), and already-cut-up chicken breast. I bought the latest Luponic series from Firestone Walker, I grabbed mushrooms, and then I fulfilled the list. Waiting in line six feet from the next shopper, the pre-bagged dark-chocolate sea salt caramels called me — yep, got those too.
Since the dude in front of me abandoned his cart to chat with some other guy about the niceness of watermelons, I hopped to the express line. After watching a masked employee fluff the potato chips (that’s a thing?), I admitted that I may have had 11 items, not 10. “I won’t tell if you don’t,” she said. I didn’t, well, ’til now.
Everything was perfectly pleasant, almost, I dare say, normal. But of course, everything is far from normal.
I’m not one of those idiots who denies public health experts’ mandate that we wear masks as much as possible. I believe them, and the stats seem to bear their advice out. (I have to say, though, that over-wearing, like when alone in cars or while exercising in the outdoors, bugs me as much as those who believe it’s their job to shame people on social media.)
But as I drove home, I was struck by a sense of loss. I think the reason I’ve let my wife do most of the shopping — why I’ve hidden from once-normal situations as much as possible — is that this pandemic reality: Just. Fucking. Sucks. I worry that we’ve broken into a bizarre, fully masked, more impersonal future, an existence of suspicion and scared decision-making and invisible smiles. I relish the past that we took for granted. I fear that my children won’t know what it was like Before. This. Shit.
I was raised Catholic and ditched my faith as soon as reason kicked in. But today, I pray.
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