THE PANDEMIC DIARIES: It Keeps Getting Weirder

It Keeps Getting Weirder

April 3, 2020 Three weeks into quarantine

I went to Trader Joe’s again today. It’s been a few days, but I keep running out of fresh produce. And wine. Things have changed. Now the line is two blocks long and it takes about half an hour to get in. Like waiting to get into a blockbuster movie on opening day, only with masks and big spaces between people.

The Trader Joe’s guy comes around to explain: “We’re only letting 25 people in at a time, and the produce aisle is one-way. And we’re not bagging your groceries inside anymore because we can’t make enough distance. We have bagging stations outside.”

So we all wait patiently, staring down at phones mostly. Occasionally taking a step or two to the next six foot chalk line. One woman is reading a book. I come up to a kiosk with the weekly local paper and reach inside to grab one. I hesitate for a second, wondering if it’s safe, but I figure it probably is okay because I have gloves on. The paper is usually about entertainment, restaurants, events and real estate. Today’s issue is eerily thinner than ever. The cover features a drawing of a woman’s face with a mask on. Her eyes are staring straight at you and even without seeing her nose or mouth, the fear and sadness is palpable.

Her mask is used to print the words for this week’s cover: “Awaiting the SURGE.” I tuck it in my purse to read later.

Inside the store, which is well stocked, I reconsider my list. All I really needed was tomatoes and cucumbers, but the length of time it’s taken me to get in there causes me to reconsider and eighty dollars later, I am stocked up with items like frozen burritos, another dozen eggs and Emergence-C, which I don’t need but they’ve been out of it for a while and now they have it so I should probably get it, the thinking went. Just a teeny hint of panic binge-buying.

TJ’s is an exercise in extreme social distancing. Only every other check-out counter is staffed. Customers pass their carts to the clerk and stay behind in a little square made from red tape, placed far far away from the check-out stand. The clerk smiles at me when I pass him my cart: “How are you doin’ today?” he says.

“I don’t know how to answer that.” I say.

Outside, my groceries are bagged by a man wearing gloves but no mask. Last week, when things were different and my groceries were bagged inside, my habit was to throw out my gloves when I got out of the store. This new regime has left me confused, so I leave them on. I get in my car. Usually, this is when I take my mask off. Today I leave it on, but as I drive away and realize I’m no longer in proximity to anybody, I take it off. With my gloves. That was probably wrong. Should I have taken my gloves off before I touched my mask? Too late now. A hair is tickling my eye. I don’t dare reach up.

At home, I take the groceries in. I’m aware that I’ve taken my keys out of my purse with my gloved hands. The gloves have touched everything. Car door handle. Grocery bags. Food. Should I be wiping down my car handle? How often?

Place groceries on counter, I take my gloves off and throw them away. I wash my hands, staring blankly out the kitchen window. I go to turn the water off. How long did I wash? I don’t know. Pump the soap and start over. Now I’m handling groceries. And bags. Did all the baggers have gloves? Should I have taken my gloves off before handling my keys? Is it true what they say that you shouldn’t even be wearing your shoes inside?

I don’t know how to do this anymore.