"An essay about life in a Corona vacation" By Steven Reis

   EDITOR’S NOTE: District Attorney Steven Reis is well known for his Christmas stories.
   In this story, he tells about shopping in the time of quarantine.

   “Keep your distance!”
   She said it without a smile as she pushed her shopping cart through the aisle.
   The 40-something-old dour-faced woman directed it to a lady who was working the gardening area of WalMart. The admonished worker stopped abruptly, let the shopper pass, then went about her business. She flashed me a smile (unlike the severe shopper) as I entered looking for marigolds.
   I watched the shopper’s back as she navigated her way into the main store.
   “Seriously,” I thought, “YOU came to WalMart where half of our small town have to shop and then chose to be rude to someone who HAS to be at work…”
   These days are creating interesting dichotomies. Balance this shopper (who might be on a Corona-vacation out shopping for something other than toilet paper – wrong part of the store) with the charitable attitudes of companies who are reconfiguring their production lines to manufacture hand sanitizer.
   And I read this morning about other companies in the beer business which have created funds to help out-of-work bartenders get through these stay-at-home times.
   People have offered up their time (of which many have much) to shop for elderly community members.
   Those sweet attitudes are offset by the raving rants I read from people declaring the loss of a constitutional right to go to the beach. Weirdly, I don’t remember seeing that in any single one of the 27 amendments.
   Out of fairness, maybe it was stricken [as may have been other language] from the first amendment where perhaps it used to read:
   “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof [unless such exercise requires the attendance of 10 or more gathered in His name]; or abridging the freedom of speech [including the right to say whatever one wishes on Facebook regardless of verification by Snopes or others], or of the press [unless it is “fake” news – but even then, it’s okay so long as it can be reasonably characterized as alternative fact]; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble [on the beach], and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances [if one has sufficient electronic or other signatures or if one is a social media ‘influencer’].”
   The outspoken beach complainers contend that government has no authority to suspend civil rights. When faced with the explanation that public safety is paramount, the conspiracy-theory-driven beach goer responded, “that’s the way it always starts – claiming it’s for public safety….”
   I had to stop reading the social media thread before my personal IQ began to diminish.
   But then, in light of what I read today that “some people say” the virus is manmade by the U.S., or by China, or by Italy, or by the manufacturers of hand sanitizer…
   No, I won’t go down that rabbit hole.
   Speaking of holes, that’s taken up some significant portion of my don’t-go-anywhere weekends. Digging holes. I’ve done more gardening in the past month than I’ve done in all my many years (as I wonder whether, with this many years I am one of the “elderly” that is risk?).
   Charles (my eldest son) has been signing off on several of our family group texts with the helpful hashtag #protecttheboomers. I guess that means I’m in the high risk category of “elderly and infirm.” Who knew? Moving on.
   Gardening. That was the reason I was at WalMart in the first place, to buy marigolds to protect my veggies. Although, who knows if I’ll be around to eat the cherry tomatoes and banana peppers…?
   The next day, after my foray for flowers, I decided it was time to make an ice cream run to my local HEB. As I’ve mentioned to my kids, I’ve decided not to attempt hoarding such mundane things as toilet paper. For one thing, when I buy toilet paper, I buy a lot to start with (much to Donna’s chagrin). My last trip (weeks ago) I came home with a 96-roll bundle.
   I say that at risk of making myself a target of those in great need of toilet paper – that bundle remains unwrapped. But perhaps, instead, I should place it under lock and key. I’ll hide it along with my hoarded Halloween candy from last October!
   Hoarding. Mostly I’m not. I can’t even find the things that I need, let alone merely want to collect. And that’s tough for a person like myself who has a “collector’s” (I prefer that descriptor to “hoarder”) personality.
   I seem to “collect” such things as trains (which I never set up), faux sculptures (which sit around collecting dust in my office), glass globes (ditto as to dust in my office), and wine (which sits on a shelf unenjoyed and mostly undrunk) among other things.
   I haven’t been collecting such important things as toilet paper and butter. Butter. Now THAT is something I’d like to have been collecting. Donna is trying to bake cookies for a place that still sells them (only on a take-away or to-go basis, to be clear). She sent me for a simple list of necessary items. My success rate?
   Flour – none to be had unless it was the 2 bags of whole wheat that were left behind on a high shelf
   Sugar – not to be found at all other than the stray grains scattered on the floor
   Butter – only if organic at more than $7 per pound
   Brown sugar – not
   Powdered sugar – organic only (who knew there was such a thing)
   Chocolate chips – now there I found success!
   Trying to be the helpful husband, I exposed myself to the danger of cough attacks and germy shopping carts to buy butter over the next few days. Nothing. Nowhere.
   Instead, I decided that there was plenty of Blue Bell ice cream, so, what the heck. I’ve been through a Blue Bell shortage (remember when that was really a thing?). Not me. Not again. I’ve been buying it at every opportunity. The heck with empty shelves of chicken or hamburger meat – I’m going for the Homemade Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate.
   Last night, I decided it was time to give my local grocer another chance to redeem himself. And was I rewarded!
   Everything which had previously been in short supply (or fought over by customers who wouldn’t allow the stocker to unbox the items) was there for me.
   No crowd. No blocked aisles. Everything was at hand. It was like paradise. Eggs, milk, butter, flour, sugar, beans, rice… Who knew one could be so thrilled by what would otherwise be a boring shopping list?
   I didn’t “load up” my cart (lest you think I’m one of THOSE people. I took only what I needed – one, maybe two of each item. They even had onions! I bought an extra bag which I gave to my sister who was in dire distress. My mom, who is being family-quarantined by all of us (at the age of 88 she ought to be!), gave ME some onions the other day when I was in great need of pungence. Just paying the cultivar forward!
   As I loaded the items onto the conveyor belt, my chest was inflated with the pride of a successful hunt. I was the proverbial hunter/gatherer – the manly provider.
   When I unloaded my plastic (recyclable!) bags onto the counter at home, I anticipated the excited adulation of my beautiful bride.
   “Look what I have brought unto thee! Captured from the wilds of the grocery store!” Those thoughts were unspoken but undoubtedly transparent in my beaming countenance.
   She unloaded the “too many” bags. (I was supposed to have only gone after dog food…).
   “Did you see the butter I got you?” I asked when I returned from washing my hands (remember? Good hand hygiene – it’s on the CDC website!!).
   “What butter?” she asked.
   “What butter!?” I exclaimed. 
   “The butter I bought along with the Blue Bell and the eggs. They should all be packed together.” (I like to sort things on the conveyor by can, box, or in this case, by dairy and eggs – maybe I’m a little OCD).
   Where was my stuff? I couldn’t believe what was happening.
   I found the receipt – expecting the worst (that I’d paid and left these seemingly irreplaceable items behind).
   Nope. Not on the receipt.
   I had placed these items last on the magically moving belt.
   My pride in a successful hunt must have blinded me to the fact that, instead of getting these long-sought-for items, they had been left behind for the guy in line behind me. He had been keeping his social distance so he must not have noticed either.
   Until, I presume, he got charged for MY ice cream, eggs and butter….
   I’m sure there is a bright side.
   Perhaps HIS wife is beaming in pride at his unintentionally successful day of foraging in the grocery store.
   To quote Maui from Moana (which I’ve watched with my granddaughters as part of our stay-at-home protocol) “You’re welcome!”   

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