It seemed like a dozen eggs wasn’t too much to ask. Probably it wasn’t even really the eggs; my wife and I only eat them a couple of times a week. It was more the sense of normalcy we craved. How many times in our lives had we mindlessly grabbed a carton of eggs off the shelf and placed it in our shopping cart? And now, we’d been told, they were nowhere to be found. So, last Sunday, for the first time since The Coronavirus Panic of 2020 had begun, we headed to the grocery store.
A whirl of desperation enveloped us as we walked in the door. People pushing their carts too fast and too aggressively past empty shelves. Their wide eyes betrayed their thoughts: There’s no milk, how are the kids going to eat cereal? If there’s no spaghetti sauce, what am I going to put on the two pounds of pasta I just bought? How are we going to get along without fresh fruit and vegetables?
Of course, there were no eggs. We asked an employee when they might have some, and he replied, “Tuesday.”
We scrounged amid the rubble for a little while and bought a box of Melba Toast and a few other weird things so as not to leave empty handed: a real taste of Soviet-style shopping. We were quiet on the drive home.
On Tuesday my wife went back to the store after work, but the eggs were all gone. She said the shelves were so empty that people would walk in the door, stare for a second or two, and turn around and leave.
The next day, I decided to try another grocery store during lunch. I promised an equally egg-deprived guy at work that I’d pick up a dozen for him too and headed for the store. I made a beeline for the dairy section and spied a few remaining cartons of eggs beneath a sign limiting purchases to two per customer. As I happily grabbed two dozen, I noticed that several other shoppers were giving me the evil eye, but I was so glad that my coronavirus egg hunt had finally come to a successful end that I really didn’t pay them much attention.
When I got to the checkout aisle, I grabbed a couple of fifty cent peanut packets and put them on the conveyor belt along with my precious eggs.
The checker looked at my eggs and lifted a suspicious eye toward me, “You didn’t see the sign?” he asked pointedly. “You can only buy two.”
‘That is two,” I answered very confused.
“No,” he said, “that’s four.” Then he put one of the cartons down beside the register and broke the other into two halves and handed the half cartons to me. “That’s two,” he said.
“Alright,” I replied, reeling more than a little at the strangeness of our new reality.
Then as he scanned one of the bags of peanuts, I noticed it had been opened. “Let me get another bag,” I said.
He looked at me accusingly and asked,” Did you eat these peanuts?”
“No, I did not,” I declared.
“People have been eating from shelves all over the store,” he said.
“I just now reached over and grabbed them!” I angrily shot back.
He and the woman who was bagging my groceries then proceeded, as though I weren’t there, to talk about how tired they were of finding open, half-eaten packages of food that customers were leaving all around the store.
I didn’t so much leave the grocery store that day as escape from it.
These are trying, strange times. The kind of times we’ll always remember and that will define us. I regret my behavior in the store, but it all happened really fast, too fast for me to process. Maybe if we could just focus on one simple thing: doing unto others as we’d have them do unto us, we’ll get through this better, stronger, and more united for it.