Sunday, June 28, 2020

Passing The Time In A Pandemic

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 1, 2020] ©2020

February 2020 almost seems like a lifetime ago.  I will look back on it as a time when you could have a preferred brand of paper towels, when reaching for your mask when you got out of your car wasn’t second nature, and popping the trunk for your re-usable grocery bags was. I’ve mastered smiling with my eyes now, not that anyone can see them through my fogged glasses.

In early March, after reading an article predicting that 85% of seniors would contract COVID-19 and 30% would die, I emailed our kids telling them to not even consider coming here if either Olof or I succumbed to coronavirus.  You couldn’t have funerals now anyway.  I advised them to wait until things calmed down then to have a little service in the front yard at sunset with suitable adult beverages and hurl our ashes around.  Important to be safe.

Given my family’s fondness for gallows humor, I should have known better.  Henry replied that if that many seniors expired there wouldn’t be individual cremations anyway.  They'd do us in big batches so he and Rory wouldn't even know which ashes were ours hence he might as well just bring some from their fireplace.  At least he’d know where they came from.

Actually, the subject of cremation has come up before.  My sons had long been threatening to cremate me after my untimely unspecified death with the 65 photo albums – an entire bookcase - that I have amassed over the years.  I just love taking pictures, and might possibly have been (over)compensating for the fact that my parents probably took a total of 20 out-of-focus off-center black-and-white box camera photos of me before I was 18.  My children’s lives would be documented. 

But the kids had a point about the albums.  So I decided to make culling my photo collection my Official Pandemic Project.  I’ve tossed a lot of photos but have regularly been mailing off padded envelopes to unsuspecting friends and relatives with the stated hope that they will enjoy re-living the moments that were captured here after which they were free to do with them whatever they wished (other than send them back). 

At the mailing place, the clerk would look at my packages and say, “Let me guess.  Photos.”  Adding, “we’re getting a lot of these.”  I’m guessing that before the pandemic is over, the nation’s photo albums will have all shifted one house counterclockwise. 

When I brought in two envelopes containing some 500 photos all going to the same address, I asked when she thought they might be delivered.  “I need to know when to stop answering my phone,” I said.

I was always the (self-designated) family photographer, the absolutely most thankless job in the world.  With every picture I looked at in my albums, I could replay the sound track of whining that went into getting everyone to pose for it.  The irony, of course, is that years later, friends and family would look at these pictures and ooh and aah over them with delight.  

My younger son just turned 40 and managed to squeak in the last birthday party in America in March before everything shut down.  I provided a selection of photos of him and various high school friends who were attending that I had taken over the years and got back rave reviews from the guests (and even Henry).  So it made up for my about-to-be daughter-in-law’s comment in 2007 when she wanted some photos of Henry growing up to use for a wedding slide slow and I pointed to the bookcase.  “I hope this isn’t hereditary,” she said.

Olof, meanwhile, continues in his own pre-pandemic project, a frenzy of sourdough baking, now branching into crackers, naan bread, and raisin varieties.  But he has now also decided to re-live his Air Force pilot days by acquiring an actual flight simulator with 42-inch screen, instrument panel, joy stick and head set, only just delivered.  Where all this is going to go in our tiny house I’m not sure, but it will allow him to fly pretty much any kind of plane anywhere.  Presumably, if he’s flying a 747 to Paris, he’ll have to put it on autopilot over Greenland to go flip the English muffins.

Meanwhile, the aloe vera gel I ordered in March to make my own then-unavailable hand sanitizer has finally arrived by slow boat from China. Not needing it for hand sanitizing, I looked at the label, clearly translated using a 1995-era auto-translator, for other suggestions for its use and was advised it was good for repair the skin after basking and then to promote healthy and smooth.  First take proper amount and then paint the harmony with right massage action until the nutrient absorbed good for common use. 

Actually, I can’t think of better advice for our times than that. We all need to paint the harmony with right massage action. 

 Slowly working my way through dozens of photo albums

 Typical example of my parents' non-existent photography skills
(me at top, sister on bottom)

Olof decides to relive his pilot days by acquiring a flight simulator
(cheaper than buying an airplane, but not by much)

Monday, June 22, 2020

OCD Nation

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published, June 23, 2020] ©2020

I have to confess that I wasn’t initially all that worried about coronavirus.  After all, I’ve lived through scares for SARS, MERS, avian flu, and swine flu.  I even contracted polio when I was a child. 

In early March I watched with amusement news clips of people waiting three hours outside a Costco for it to open then running – running! – with their over-sized carts to hurl mega-packs of toilet paper and bottled water into them.

The laugh was on us non-hoarders. Supermarket shelves, overnight, were stripped bare of pretty much everything. (Why were people hoarding celery?) In fact, this was the ultimate market research for grocery store chains.  If a product was still on your shelves on March 15, stop carrying it. Turns out people would rather go hungry than eat gluten-free rice pasta, chocolate hummus, cauliflower pizza, and carrot spirals.

One thing is clear: COVID-19 has been responsible for seismic shifts in people's behavior toward one another even in mundane ways. Dr. Fauci says society should "just forget about shaking hands."  I'm just trying to imagine Americans in the Mid-West substituting "Namaste" with a little bow like Prince Charles did.  And not just because he caught COVID-19 anyway.

The country’s newest pastime is playing COVID Chicken, i.e. who steps off into the street first when parties approach each other on the sidewalk.  (The one who gets hit by a car loses.)

Despite massive hits to the economy, one business that isn’t going to fail during the coronapocalypse is mental health services. This is as much a panic-demic as a viral affliction.

The headlines, updated every five minutes, are consistently terrifying: Pandemic will cause starvation of biblical proportions; Virus pushes U.S. unemployment toward highest since depression; Coronavirus may never go away even with a vaccine; Why a second shutdown may be worse than the first; and even this cheery predictor: Millennials don’t stand a chance.

Netflix, anyone?

But the headline that took the top prize was from the U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, on April 5 who direly predicted that the upcoming week was going to be the "hardest and saddest" of most Americans' lives, describing the upcoming grim period of the coronavirus pandemic as "our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment."

Geesh, talk about scaring the bejesus out of everyone.  Those are some pretty big moments he referenced, clearly imprinted on everyone's minds.  Next year, ask people what they were doing the week of April 5, 2020 and I think they're going to scratch their heads and say, "Um, I dunno. Playing the 100th consecutive game of Candyland with my kids?  Was I supposed to remember it?"  Shame on him for terrifying millions of people. I've been alive for 3,770 weeks and this didn't even make the top 500 worst ones.

When this is over (please say it will someday be over), the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders) is going to have at least 50 new categories related to coronavirus, including anxiety disorders like Toilet Paper Scarcity Syndrome or my personal affliction, Fear of the 24-hour News Cycle.

But foremost, we have become an OCD Nation.  No one wants to touch anything. Or breath any air that anyone else has recently breathed.   

I have a friend who wouldn’t even touch the bottle of hand sanitizer I offered without first cleaning it with Clorox wipes.  I am hoping she did not see the June 17 Union-Tribune article alleging that flushing a toilet can release a cloud of aerosol droplets three feet into the air.  Will the CDC now be advocating for the return of the outhouse? Will this be the subtitle for the Covid-19 pandemic: Just when you didn’t think it could get any worse, it always did?

It goes without saying that we are all going to need to undergo Grocery Shopping Retraining. (Will Medicare cover it?)  Systematic Desensitization will be required to be able to go past a display of paper products and not grab a pack, no matter how much we have at home. 

Ditto for touching a grocery item then putting it back. Will we ever be able to fondle avocados again without feeling like a coronal criminal?  

The country is already suffering massively from new depressive disorders like Seasonal Sports Deprivation, Golf Tournament Redux, and Basketball Re-run Psychosis. My neighbor Bob, until the pandemic, always had three big screen TVs simultaneously running sports. We really worried about Bob, especially when he started to call us just to chat.  Say hi.  Ask about the dog.  If Bob is not on medication by now, I’m going to be really surprised. Please let NFL resume in the fall. Do it for Bob.

Me, I just want the libraries to open again so I can actually go inside and visit the books.  I guess that will be one more DSM-5 category: People Who Will Just Not Use E-Readers. (There is no vaccine for this.) 

Fortunately, however, there IS a cure for Fear of the 24-Hour News Cycle.  Stop. Watching.

My car trunk in the pandemic era:  40 library books I 
can't return, printer cartridges I can't recycle, and 
re-usable shopping bags I can't use

Monday, June 8, 2020

Mourning The New Normal

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 10, 2020] ©2020

A common question that I hear people pose is: what’s going to be the new “normal”?  Actually, it’s only ever going to be “normal” to people who never knew the old normal because the changes are just too vast.

I already envision telling my grandchildren, "You guys were too young to remember, but there used to be these open bins of veggies and stuff called 'salad bars' where people could choose their own food that wasn't shrink wrapped!  I know, sounds crazy! You could take as much as you wanted of just the stuff you liked!  No snow peas or broccoli! You could even pick your dressing!"

I truly wish I’d taken a photo of Gelson’s magnificent salad bar to remember it by; it was my go-to lunch at least five days a week. Now I’m making salads at home but the whole point of a salad bar was to have an instant lunch, totally fresh, no chopping, custom-made to your bizarre tastes. Now you pick from a pre-wrapped selection that has the fewest number of ingredients you don’t like.  But that’s the way it has to be.

I was able to have three of my young grandchildren for the Memorial Day weekend – the first time I’d seen them since Christmas.  Given that I’d missed all their birthdays, I made (OK, Gelson’s made) a big chocolate cake but when it came time to blow out the candles, my daughter-in-law quickly intervened.  In the Pandemic Era, nobody releases aerosols on the cake, even if it’s family.  Maybe especially if it’s family.  We had to wave our hands over the candles until they went out.  Surprisingly this works.  But you have to get it just right – low enough to extinguish the candles but high enough to avoid third degree burns which would take the fun out of the occasion. And we did it with five token candles. I can’t imagine trying this technique for someone’s 70th birthday. May I say, it definitely lacks photo op-ness. But I have to agree it’s the right thing for these times and the times to come.

Still, I’m allowed to feel nostalgic for an era when people could actually blow out candles. All those puffy-cheeked pictures of candle-extinguishing I’ve amassed of my children over the years are now anachronisms. I can see my great-grandchildren looking at them and inquiring with puzzled expressions, “So what was grandpa Henry doing in this picture? And why wasn’t there a plastic shield between him and the cake?”

I predict Amazon will soon be selling self-extinguishing birthday candles instead of the trick ones you can’t blow out.

The great-grands will also be puzzled by photos of people shaking hands.  “Why are those people touching each other?”  And I’ll say, “a man named Anthony Fauci said we had to stop it right now.”

It goes without saying that health care is forever changed.  Pretty much all of our doctors have gone to Tele-Health, even Olof’s cardiologist. I am seriously ambivalent about it.  I really wish someone were listening to Olof’s heart and not assessing his health from a tiny Android cell phone screen.  The problem is, Olof lies. It’s not that he can’t lie in the office but those cardiology people are pretty cunning and they are actually going to take his blood pressure rather than believe Olof’s report of it.  Olof has always had a “do not feed the lions” approach to health care and Tele-Health only enables him. 

In April, our dermatologist texted us that they were now doing Tele-Health examinations. Does that include Tele-biopsies?  Do they instruct you how to excise that suspicious mole with a kitchen utensil? As in: “Dip sharpest kitchen knife into bottle of vodka to sterilize. Bite down on frozen bagel and excise mole.  Drink rest of bottle of vodka.” 

When I got a message from our dentist, I half expected them to say they’d gone to Tele-teeth cleanings but they just cancelled instead. 

Meanwhile, it goes without saying that the make-up industry is histoire.  This whole mask thing can’t be good for lipstick sales.  Not only could no one see what color you’re wearing, but it would get all over the inside of your mask.  By the time you took it off, it would have spread Cherry Passion all over your face, like a toddler who got into your makeup bag.  And it would certainly make the mask non-reusable. I’m thinking the mouthwash people aren’t doing so great either.  Even eye makeup is probably taking a pretty big hit despite the fact that we now have to communicate with our eyes. A friend says that her mask makes her face sweat which causes her mascara to run into her contacts rendering her legally blind. It definitely does not improve her driving

Overnight, it’s become a strange new world to which we’re all going to have to adjust. The candles I’ll get used to but I’m never going to stop mourning that salad bar.

 The new normal: Practicing safe socializing

Is this man headed out for his daily walk,
or the Unabomber's brother about to rob a 7-Eleven?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Mysterious Habits Of Dogs

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 4, 2020] ©2020

Our dog, Lily, is definitely an emotional support animal even if she doesn’t have a diploma.  Fortunately, I also have an emotional support husband.  My kids, not so much.  But isn’t that why you have a dog? (And a husband?)

Like all people who have adopted a dog in its later years, you almost wish it could talk for five minutes and answer some of your most pressing questions about its behavior.  But then when you think about it more, you realize it’s probably best you don’t know how this dog came to be abandoned at the pound with a mouthful of rotten teeth and an abiding fear of male persons.

Lily was seven when she came to us as a “one week” emergency foster dog who had been rescued from the pound by a local agency.  It took her exactly three days to work her way into our hearts even though we had agreed that we would never (ever ever) have another dog after our devastation at losing our English bulldog Winston.  I think the foster agency saw us for the mushballs that we were.  They have great instincts that way.

$1,500 worth of dental work later, we bought Lily a basket of toys suitable for a 15-pound dog with three remaining teeth.  But we couldn’t get her interested in any of the them.  It’s like she didn’t know what they were and what she was supposed to do with them. She always just sniffed them and walked away.

Finally, I found her some small round rubber squeaky balls that did pique her interest but not as toys.  She would gather them up protectively in a group close to her chest, her paws around them, and lick them affectionately as if they were her pups.  She hadn’t been spayed when we got her, and we began to wonder if this adorable bichon-poodle mix had been a breeder. 

From time to time visitors to the house, not realizing that these squeaky balls were offspring and not play things, would pick one up and throw it for her.  Lily would be enraged, chasing after it but immediately returning it to the rest of her litter and glowering at the guest.

“You just threw her child,” we’d explain to them.  “She’s very sensitive about it.”  They were always hugely apologetic.

But over time, we would notice that Lily would place one of her squeaky “pups”, as we called them, right in the middle of a doorway where we would invariably step on it. Seriously, it scared the s—t out of us every time.  She’d then come racing over and claim it. But the next thing we knew, another one would be in another door way ready to be squashed.  She’d obviously had some very ambivalent experiences with mothering. I can remember a few like that myself.

But after we’d had her for two years, it was almost as if she’d lost any maternal memories whatsoever.  This was a relief for us as no one wants to step on anyone else’s kid. Never mind that our aging hearts just weren’t up to sudden stoppages. She began dropping a pup in front of us and seemingly wanting us to throw it for her so she could retrieve it and bring it back.  It was like some other dog on the bike path had clued her in on how it was supposed to be done.  The game was called “fetch” and was built into the code of dogs.

Now, I have read that dogs don’t see color but I can attest that this is not so.  Lily has a full set of six Squeaky Pups in different colors but her favorite child is definitely the green one.  In fact, one could almost call doggie social services for the lack of attention the other five pups get these days.  They’re strewn around the house, ignored.  At this point, Lily refuses to come to bed at night until Green Squeaky Pup has been located and is prominently placed on her blanket on our bed.

If it is not immediately locatable, she runs around the house looking on top of – or under - sofas and beds in a frantic search to find it.  Fortunately, I have one of those grabber gismos so I can fish it out from otherwise inaccessible places because Lily is willing to whine – and alert - for hours if Green Squeaky Pup is marooned where she can’t reach it. Attachment is attachment. 

We’ve accepted that even though Lily is our emotional support animal, we are second to Green Squeaky Pup in her feelings.  Fortunately, Muttropolis keeps them in stock as the balls do eventually lose their squeak and need to be replaced by Son of Green Squeaky Pup.  Would that my children’s favorite blankets and stuffed animals had been so replaceable. 

Lily and Green Squeaky Pup

Green Squeaky Pup mysteriously keeps ending up 
in doorways where we step on it

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Time For The Powers-That-Be To Live Like The Rest Of Us

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 27, 2020] ©2020

Pandemics have always been a part of my family story.  While a lot of people are hearing about the 1918 “Spanish Flu” for the first time, my grandmother, gravely ill with it, gave birth to my mother on November 1, 1918, the week of the highest number of deaths worldwide: 55,000.  Yes, in a week. Miraculously, my grandmother was not one of them. But she was so debilitated by the flu that she was unable to care for her new baby for the first few months of my mother’s life.

I’ve already written several times about my siblings and I contracting polio in August of 1955 – four months after Jonas Salk’s jubilant April 12 announcement of a vaccine that would prevent it. It took a while for enough vaccine to be manufactured - there were some serious glitches along the way - and to reach the populace. Not soon enough for those of us in our small town, alas. So imagine getting COVID-19 vaccine to 327 million people who all wanted it yesterday.

Now, I realize that this pandemic situation basically caught the world off-guard but now, several months into it, but I continue to be puzzled at some of the inherently non-sensical ideas that those in positions of authority inflict on – or propose to inflict on - the general public. 

Let’s start with hair salons.  First off, where’s Anthony Fauci’s pony tail?  Why doesn’t Gavin Newsom resemble a scruffy wombat?  Because someone is cutting their hair.  (Don’t even try to suggest it’s their wives.)  Meanwhile, the word “Roots” will no longer evoke the saga of Kunte Kinte but that of women’s hair during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I have read some truly idiotic proposals about the reopening of hair salons including that they should not be opened again “until there is a vaccine.” (See paragraph two, above.) By that time, everyone except top government officials will look like extras from “Planet of the Apes.”

Suggestions for reopening hair salons assert that blow drying will have to be a thing of the past.  Only a guy would say this.  Do they think that women’s coifs just dry naturally looking like that?  Allegedly, the blow dryer could blast corona cooties into the air around the salon where customers would start dropping like IRA balances. My stylist washes my hair twice for more than two minutes each time - way more than the 20 seconds recommended for hands.  My hair is so clean you could eat off it.  Not that I’d want you to, since then I’d need to wash it again.  So it’s hard to imagine how many COVID critters could really be flying around. 

And if we’re going to get on the subject of blasting air, what about all those blow dryers for barely-washed hands in windowless public restrooms?  Given this logic, you’d be lucky to escape a bathroom visit with your instantly-contaminated life.

Moving right along in the Stupidity Sweepstakes was the CDC’s April 27 pronouncement that people should “avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.”  Sure, and explain that to Mr. Barkles. Pets were probably the single most positive factor in keeping people from total despair in recent months, yet based on pretty much zero cases of kitty-to-human infection, the CDC recommended people shun their beloved animals.  Even dogs are supposed to keep social distance from other dogs.  Fortunately, not much more has been said about this.  Just as there is a waiting period for people to buy guns, persons in positions of health or governmental authority should have a required three-day speech delay while their synapses catch up with them.  

And then there was this whole business with one-way shopping aisles. It's like the COVID Police meet nightly and say, "How else can we provoke the general public, never mind grocery store managers, with rules that are unlikely to help but will just annoy the sh-t out of everyone?”  But then, I’m just mad because I accidentally walked past the spaghetti sauce and we had to have pasta with plain parmesan cheese on it.  It made me very grumpy.

There are so many candidates for this column that it's hard to choose.  But our Vice President, named to lead the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak, was apparently the only person in America who didn't know you need a mask to enter a hospital. Was he worried, "Does this mask make me look fat?" He then maintained that because he is regularly tested, he didn't think he needed one.  Yeah, just try getting past Gelson's cart kid with that one!

When the people who are allegedly managing this crisis are showing up perfectly coiffed, aren't staying home, and don't want to annoy themselves with uncomfortable masks, they undermine their credibility.  I'm still complying, but in spite of them, not because of them. 

Meanwhile, next week:  With everyone having to wear masks, where is the bailout for the lipstick industry??? Inquiring minds want to know.

 This table actually used to be used for mail.

 Five-year-old grandson getting ready for a walk

Ten-year-old granddaughter communing with nature

Monday, May 11, 2020

It Was Such Bad Timing

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 13, 2020] ©2020

Last year, I wrote about my husband, Olof, taking up sourdough bread making as a retirement project.  So when pandemic incarceration hit, Olof wasn’t all that distressed to have yet more excuses to wallow in yeastdom. Nightly he was glued to YouTube videos for sourdough English muffins, crackers, and even naan besides his usual boules and ciabattas.

But then disaster struck. In late March, the control panel on our stove suddenly, without warning, exhibited the Black Screen of Death, followed by “Error message F2 E1”. We flipped the circuit breaker to no avail. Olof advised letting it sit overnight to see if it “fixed itself.”  I was stunned.  I’m usually the one who maintains that electronics have an emotional life and can be cajoled into functionality if properly entreated, while Olof, whose degree in reactor physics is from Cal Tech, rolls his eyes and expounds on the certainties of circuitry.  “Olof,” I said, “I think you’ve been married to me for too long.”

The next morning, the stove was still as dead as the night before, but worse, had developed a truly annoying intermittent beep. Honestly, in the middle of the night I wanted to take a sledge hammer to it.  Fortunately for it, we do not own a sledge hammer. Unfortunately, the circuit breaker is also attached to fridge so we couldn’t just flip it off.

Now, we have several appliance repair people that we’ve used over the years but none would come to the house. I mean, you’d think this was an essential service.  It is, but not essential enough for the essentialees to want to risk coronavirus. I was pretty sure the problem was the oven control panel since we’d had this problem once before but it turns out the Whirlpool factory, from whence oven control panels come, was closed until further notice. 

Fortunately, we own both a crockpot and a microwave so there would be sources of warm food.  But the idea of not having a stove for potentially months put Olof into full yeast-deprivation depression.  We decided to just go buy a new stove. 

Alas, Home Depot’s options were back-ordered into the next millennium. 

Our other usual appliance emporium was now only accepting on-line orders – you couldn’t go into the store itself – and were not installing.  They would deliver your large kitchen appliance to your garage (we don’t have one), or alternatively  “curbside” which, translated into English means “in the street.”  Where a car could hit it.  And certainly not improving the functionality of the appliance especially if it is now on the next block. 

Then there's the more-than-minor problem about getting this curbside appliance into our home which includes a long walkway and several steps.  We're both pushing 73. My husband had a heart attack two years ago. So the two of us wrassling a heavy appliance box from the street into our house might not be an exercise that we would survive. We would, of course, instruct our children to sue the appliance place for premeditated wrongful, elder-abusive death.

OK, so let's assume that we were actually able to get the new stove into our house and into our kitchen. It's a gas stove. Gas stoves are connected by means of something called "gas lines."  I can just see getting the whole thing installed only to turn it on and blow up the house.  And ourselves. It just seems that the appliance company ought to be a tad more concerned about the liability in expecting people to install their own major appliances.  COVID-19 will eventually go away but personal injury lawyers are forever.

But then my pool guy (it is a testament to the times when your pool guy is telling you how to get your stove fixed) Scott told me that any part I needed for anything was available on the internet if I had the model number. He cautioned me to make sure I wasn't buying an aftermarket or "refurbished" part, but a new one. 

$400 and expedited shipping later, a brand-new oven control panel arrived at our home from a non-Amazon site, and I had actually incentivized someone to come and install it.  But when he did, it turned out that while it was the correct control panel for our stove, that wasn’t what the problem was.  

The repair guy said he would to see if he could find the required part for us. But who knew how long that would take. However, he was able to disconnect the homicidally-annoying beep.  I spent 1.5 hours on hold with the company I got the control panel from trying to get approval to return it. At the mailing place, they were only allowing one person in the store at a time even though it was pouring.  Does weather-related pneumonia count as a COVID-collateral death?

Two slow cooker weeks later, the appliance guy came back with the part.  Our stove came back to life after more than a month. Five minutes later, Olof was baking garlic rosemary crackers.  

It’s given us perspective. Our worst fear is no longer coronavirus.  It’s our appliances breaking. 


Our daughter-in-law presciently gave us a slow cooker
several Christmases ago.  It saw a LOT of action.

After almost five weeks, Olof's Artisanal Boule Bakery was back in action.

 In a frenzy of newly-functioning-stove baking, he made his first ever 
sourdough English muffins

Garlic rosemary crackers were in progress before
the repair guy even reached his truck

Monday, May 4, 2020

Grocery Shopping In The Time Of Covid

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 6, 2020] ©2020

Let me say up front that I am hardly a germaphobe. (One look at my house would convince you.)   But the one thing I’ve never liked touching during flu season – or at all during the current pandemic – is the payment keypad and wand at grocery stores and pharmacies.  At the pharmacy, even if you pay cash, you still have to use the wand to sign that you picked up your meds.  You  can’t help but reflect every time you touch those things that you might as well have shaken hands with the last 100 COVID-carrying or influenza-afflicted people in that line. 

I know there is food delivery but I feel bad for making other people assume my risk. Besides, I’m old so nobody cares if I die except…except…  Anyway, so before leaving for the supermarket, I try to map out my anti-contamination plan like it’s a major offensive. This is not a project for sissies.  

Step 1:  Wash hands before leaving house.

Step 2: Have Lysol and alcohol wipes, latex gloves, trash bag, and mask on passenger seat at the ready.

Step 3:  Before getting out of the car at store, put on latex gloves and mask.  Put cash in pocket if using so don’t have to touch wallet, along with 3 alcohol wipes in a sandwich bag and my debit card in right pocket ready for action. 

Step 4: Get allegedly-sanitized cart from high school kid who seems to just be spritzing liquid Kovid Kill in the general direction of the handle and slapping it a few times with a rag that probably harbors more coronavirus than New York City. His dead eyes say, “I will never complain about school again.” Enter store if no wait.  Otherwise get in socially-distanced line.  

Step 5:  Uh-oh.  Glasses are fogging up!  Worse, nose is starting to run from seasonal allergies from so much rain.  Use sleeve to de-fog glasses as much as possible. Try to snort snot back in nose.  #fail

Step 6:  Hit paper products aisle first.  Empty, but hope springs eternal. 

Step 7: Cell phone rings.  Do not answer it!  Even if it’s the call you’ve been waiting two days for, from the repair guy who you’re hoping you can bribe with serious cash to come fix your broken stove. 

Step 8: But dang!  Really need the stove!  Stick gloved hand into purse and pull out now-contaminated phone.  It’s not the stove guy. You’ve just risked COVID-19 to answer a spam call in Mandarin.

Step 9: Get in socially-distanced line to pay for the 1/3 of the items on your list that they actually had.  Clerk, wondering how he/she managed to end up in the second most dangerous job in America, grabs a wipe and does a harried swipe of keypad. We both know that thing has “respirator” written all over it.

Step 10:  Show time! Focus!  Remove debit card from right pocket and stick in icky nasty keypad machine.  Type in pin number, hit Enter.  Machine says to Remove Card.

Step 11:  Like you’re falling for that? Your gloved hands have just touched the key pad and are now awash in COVID cooties.  

Step 12: Quickly strip off gloves inside out and stuff in left pocket.  Remove alcohol wipes from baggy in right pocket.  Remove and swab debit card, hoping wipes won’t deactivate the magnetic strip because the bank is basically closed until further notice.  Drop card in purse. Quickly wipe now-bare hands with the second wipe then grocery cart handle with third. Stuff both wipes back in baggy and put back in right pocket.

Step 13:  Exit store, throwing away baggies from right pocket and gloves from left pocket trying to touch only the insides of the gloves.  Unload groceries into car trunk and return cart with elbows.

Step 14:  Enter car.  Take Lysol wipes and wipe down steering wheel and gear shift, and alcohol wipes to do hands again. Clean Lysol wipes dispenser with Lysol wipes.

Step 15: Oy gevalt!  You answered your phone in the store!  Put on new gloves, carefully remove phone from interior of purse that is now probably a coronavirus factory and clean with alcohol wipes. Dispose of gloves and wipes in trash bag on passenger seat. 
Step 16:  Wash hands thoroughly again as soon as you get home.  Swab appropriate groceries with Lysol wipes keeping in mind recent news story that Poison Control Centers have had a 20% increase in calls from people poisoning themselves using toxic chemicals to disinfect their groceries.  Wonder at people who would eat lettuce soaked in Chlorox.  #Darwin.
Step 17. Wipe down counters with Lysol wipes and do doorknobs just for good measure.  Have complete paranoid attack of what you’ve touched that you don’t even realize.  

Step 18:  Pour glass of wine even though it is only 11 o’clock in the morning. 

Gloved, masked, Lysoled, Alcohol wiped and ready for grocery shopping
Absent:  Grocery list. They won't have anything I want anyway.