Gloves on, I push my cart past the security guard, past the bleaching station and toward the sliding doors. The normal whoosh as the doors part before me is the last normal sound I hear. The store is silent. No music coming down from the ceiling high above. No chit-chat between employees. No kids hanging onto moms, pleading for treats.
I check my list and decide to work my way backward through the store. Milk first, so I turn left.
Another security guard stands by the most ransacked aisle.
Across from her, shoppers stand behind their carts, waiting in silence. A pre-recorded announcement comes on over store speakers. A female. Reminding all shoppers to maintain a respectful distance of six feet or more throughout the store. Her voice betrays her emotional state. She is not calm. She thanks us for complying with these safety procedures during this difficult time.
No one coughs to fill the awkward silence.
I pass couples standing together, holding onto the same cart. They don’t smile at each other. Or even whisper.
Masked faces. Faces without masks. A lady with a bandana. All silently staring. Standing in a single line. Evenly spaced. Wrapping away from the check-out stations, around the far wall of the dairy section. Not moving. Not fidgeting.
And then… they all step forward together. Five short paces. The space between them doesn’t change, as if their carts are linked by an unseen chain and bar system beneath the floor. Except that would make a sound.
Wordlessly, people part when I stop to study my milk options. 0% or whole. I choose whole. I get cream and eggs and butter. Each time, people move like smooth animatronics. Animatronics that wear surgeon’s masks, but aren’t performing an operation. Nurse’s gloves. Pink. Orange. Blue. No blood though. No liquid at all. Dry plastic.
I remind myself why I’m wearing gloves: because I touch my face an awful lot when I think, and I don’t want to touch my face. And plastic gloves feel so unnatural on my hands that I’ll be aware the whole time I’m here that I’m not supposed to touch my face. However, this might cause me some trouble when it comes to thinking. Maybe this was not the best idea.
The line wraps further around the perimeter of the store.
And they move again. Step, step, step, step, step, stop.
Eyes staring straight ahead.
I’m alone in the aisles. Alone while the store is full. Full of people waiting to leave. People bordering the maze I’m walking through, the one I know so well I can get everything I need and get out of the store in under 20 minutes every week. Except I’m doing my routine backward for the sake of milk.
I tell myself I’m not panic buying, even though I can feel that my heart rate is up. I tell myself this is my last trip to this store for a very long time. Not because the store will close or the food will be gone, but because I don’t want to do this again. This is too bizarre.
And my gloves seem stupid now. Sooner or later, everything I’ve put in my cart I’ll end up touching with my bare hands. And my kids will touch it too. Am I trying to protect them? Keep them from spreading something to their grandparents? Is it because my dad had a strong fever last night? He’s in New York. How does my wearing gloves help him? How am I thinking?
It takes two hours to get out of the store. Step, step, step, step, step, stop. Two hours.
I stuff the groceries into the car and drive across the street to the local family-owned specialty market. My wife loves their apples. I grab a 10 lb. bag from the outdoor display and walk inside to pay. Besides the staff, there are four other people in the store. The shelves are full. Produce, full. Dairy section, full.
Dave, you don’t have to put your thinking cap on. From now on you come here. This is the atmosphere you want and if you don’t come here it’ll be gone all too soon.
The girls and I kick around a soccer ball and try throwing my oldest daughter’s rugby ball. That’s kinda tricky. It’s good to be outside. I’m glad I cut the lawn yesterday so we could do this.
Genesis 13. Psalms 13. Proverbs 13. Matthew 13.
Hamburgers and spicy curly fries for dinner.
A few chapters from the novel I’m reading.
Episode 34 of StarTrek, the original series, season 2. From the library. Used to watch the original series reruns as a kid. Don’t remember this episode at all. A Greek god captures the Enterprise?