Covid-era shopping

I was the designated grocery-shopper for my household In March and April, when Covid numbers were at their highest in Ulster County. Masked, gloved, and extremely stressed out, I scouted stores to ascertain which one followed protocols best. In that establishment, I cried twice at certain sappy songs played on the sound system.

I bulk bought what I could, limiting visits to once every ten days or so. I tried not to be obnoxious with my purchases, which I disinfected in my mudroom for weeks before learning I didn’t need to.

Although I’m accustomed to them now, the aisles empty of toilet paper, tissue, paper towels, and cleaning supplies initially gave me extreme anxiety. Combined with the other stressors most of us shared, the result for me was chest pain. What I immediately surmised was Covid was in fact stress-related, as it has been for me in the past, though my frenzied brain could not recall it. Anyone who suffers from either knows that anxiety or depression can rob one of the ability to accurately perceive the past and/or future.


I noted early on what was in high demand, back-ordered, etc.: canned soup, meat, pasta, the aforementioned paper products and cleaning supplies. Basically the same stuff that disappears in a weather event, except in the pandemic items would remain gone for weeks.

Now that I have adjusted, it has occurred to me how first-world my fears and worries were, and are. How the vast majority of citizens of earth would still find Covid-era shopping in Ulster County – the kind that upset me – the height of luxury. A teachable moment for privileged me, which actually helped quell my anxiety a bit. (The summer sun helped, too. And sweating.)

As Ulster County began to open up in June, we needed a new refrigerator, a smallish one to replace the dying Frigidaire we’ve had for a quarter-century and which, we’ve been told, is irreparable. Venturing to Home Depot and Lowe’s and Earl B. Feiden in Kingston, I soon discovered these more compact units were not only sold out – folks had snapped them up for food storage – but that the factories that make them were shut down indefinitely due to the pandemic. Oh, well.

Recently, we received an email that the smallish refrigerator we’d inquired about at Lowe’s some months ago was “back in stock.” Estimated delivery mid-October, though I’m not placing any bets on that. Especially as we subsequently called an actual human at Lowe’s who, to his great credit, did some investigating. According to his data base, the item is actually not in stock, with no indication it will be any time soon.

Why does the Internet tell us differently, we asked? He had no idea. He suggested we talk to the machines, as one does, order it, and cross our fingers.

We did that, of course. We’ve actually been doing that for months on end, sending queries into the digital ether and hoping. It has almost become a reflex.

Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.