by Kyle K. Mann, editor-in-chief –
My first clue that buying food at the store would be weird was the plastic bag tied to the handle of the shopping cart.
Oh man, I thought. Really? This is the new normal?
I had been hiding out at my place in Topanga for about ten days after my film biz job stopped. That last day on the job was bizarre; we were prepping for a shoot at a mansion in Thousand Oaks when the Locations Manager walked up.
“Set dec isn’t coming.” He looked startled.
“Yup. Make it safe, and head home. The show is shutting down.”
I wasn’t too upset. For one thing, they had to pay me for the full day, thanks to Union rules. But I did feel edgy about the future. When Hollywood stops making shows, you know something is hugely wrong in the world.
Not that it affects me culturally if Show Biz grinds to a halt. I hate almost all teevee shows and don’t have cable, because I object to the mindset the tube projects. It’s evil, simply put. But, ironically, working on making these things pays the rent. And sometimes it’s even fun, like working on The “Mandalorian” or helping to wrangle 1934 period cars on a new Gary Oldman movie “Mank.” Actually, it hasn’t been boring being a union film crew worker.
I’d started putting money and some extra food supplies away when the whole Coronavirus thing started making news. From the New York Times and Reuters, to some of the fringe sites I monitor, the news was uniformly bad. Thousands dead! Quarantine and shutdowns! And impacting me potentially, panic buying at stores.
Down in Woodland Hills in The Valley I have a favorite place, Sprouts Market. It used to be Henry Market when I started shopping there about eight years ago. I liked it more before it got bought out. Sprouts isn’t bad, as corporations go, but it’s still a goddamn corporation. Evil, like teevee. But useful.
All right, I like one current show, “Better Call Saul.” I admit it, I binge watched a half dozen episodes of the current season, renewed my acquaintance with some old Hitchcock movies, and stuff like “Aliens,” and “Being There”. Strange films for strange days. And hey, time to get out the guitar! I enjoyed being able to relax and play my axe, as we used to say in the ’60s. Do some prose writing, talk on the phone to loved ones.
So a couple weeks after work ended, now the very end of March, I’m finally out of food. I motor down the hill on Topanga Canyon Boulevard warily. I climb out of my ’99 Civic looking around grimly for Kenny, the aggressive panhandler. I had to call the cops on the creep a couple times last year. Fortunately he’s not present. Good sign, I thought. Yeah right.
So there I am, pushing on this plastic-covered shopping cart handle through the doors of Sprouts Market. Welcome to your science-fiction future, I muse. Whoa, the empty shelves. Unreal, man.
The lack of paper products I had read about, but the shortages of some foodstuffs was notable, and alarming. No blueberries, for one thing. A staple for my smoothies, gone. I stared at the empty self numbly, wondering what was next.
On the way to the juice section, I came inside six feet of a young woman who appeared suddenly around a corner. She literally jumped away, making me feel like a leper. “Excuse me,” I mumbled, but she hurried off. Arg, I thought, how unsettling. I’m just a nice old guy trying to buy a bit of food, here. I’m not radioactive, fer chrissakes.
To minimize the elder stigma, I’d shaved off my white goatee before going out. No need to make myself a target, I thought. Maybe I can pass for late 50s. For good measure, I penciled my eyebrows dark brown, leaving a bit of white. Not bad, I’d thought, squinting at my reflection. Old but not ancient.
What the young woman thought, I’ll never know. I pushed on, plastic handle crinkling a bit. In the distance, in the far end of the store, I spotted a couple commando shoppers, carts piled high, equipped with masks and hoods. Yikes. Best to ignore, I thought. Let’s get what we can, and get out. Past the empty paper products shelves we go.
Orange juice: gone. Still some tangerine juice though. Take it, quick. And on the bottom shelf, way back and overlooked, there’s a carton of coconut water. Grab it. Things are looking up. Fresh ginger? One last nub. Wow, still some hummus. And salsa. Still dark chocolate bars, cool. OK.
But then the new horrid reality set back in. No, crackers or chips. The entire chip section was stripped. Chips. Jeeze. It’s hideously funny, I decide, and snap a photo, resisting the idea of making it a selfie. No canned soup, no chili. Nearly everything canned gone. On to the deli, where they know me. A couple veggie sandwiches. I’ll ration and eat a half a day. Let’s get outta here.
Long lines at checkout, with marker spots for you to stand at. Tension on everyone’s face. I sigh, leaning on my cart, and check the news on my phone. It’s not good. I straighten up and the plastic bag comes loose from the shopping cart handle. It flutters down, and I stare at it on the floor like it’s some kind of portent, an enigmatic omen from our newly twisted reality.
I finally am at the register, and ask the checker “Has the store been this crazy with people all day?”
He just shrugs, avoiding my gaze, seemingly unable to speak. But the bag boy looks at me and nods. “There’s a line outside when we open at seven.”
So now it’s dawn on the first day of April. I just looked at the online news, and it’s incredible. It’s finally good! People over 65, it says, will not be discriminated against. All non-violent offenders including drug violators, will be released from prisons. The world’s 100 richest people are voluntarily giving up 90% of their money to benefit the needy. The U.S. military is suspending all offensive operations, closing hundreds of overseas bases, and bringing troops home. Wow!
Kyle K. Mann
April 1, 2020