The big grocery store seemed crowded for 10 a.m. in the middle of the week. I parked my car and walked towards the entrance. Shoppers who had finished were pushing their full carts toward their cars. One woman had bought so much and had it piled so high that I couldn’t see her until she’d passed. It was all wrong. This is Lent, not Advent. A season of less, not more.
One of my friends had texted me the night before, during the basketball game, that he was unable to find any toilet paper. We didn’t know it then but that was the last basketball game of the year. The NCAA cancelled the tournament. No March Madness. Then Disney World shut down.
Was this the end?
I was somewhat relieved to see the store was full of shoppers. At least the rapture hadn’t happened yet. Or maybe it had. But I couldn’t think of that at the moment and headed toward the toilet paper aisle. When I got there I found three women and their empty shopping carts, which told me they had also made a beeline for the suddenly precious commodity. An armed security guard stood in front of the empty shelves. He stared warily at the women, who circled slowly, ever-moving, like sharks waiting for a human to fall off a boat. I wondered why, if the shelves were empty, why a guard was needed. It could only be that more Charmin was about to be delivered by Brinks, and the guard was there to quell the likely violence.
Not confident in my fighting skills against the women, I walked out of the store, with just a 12-pack, wondering what the reasons were behind the sudden run on TP anyway. I got answers later that evening when I was watching Tucker Carlson interview an expert on economics, about the effects the pandemic could have on goods and services. The expert had written a book called something like, “The Basics of Supply and Demand for Dummies,” and began the interview by saying that when more people are buying, less is available.
On the split screen, Carlson had a look on his face that said, “Did you just really say that?” So he tried to move it along by asking the expert what was on everyone’s mind.
TC: So we’re hearing there is a shortage of toilet paper.
Expert: I’m hearing that as well Tucker.
TC: But why? I mean, what does the Coronavirus have to do with needing more toilet paper?
Expert: Well, it’s like this. Someone tells you they are getting extra toilet paper, and you think, ‘Huh, maybe I should too.’ Then you tell other people and they do the same, and suddenly the shelves begin emptying so everyone dashes to other stores until it’s all bought up. It’s really got nothing to do with needing it as much as the illusion of needing it. And, heh heh, it’s one of those things you don’t want to be without for very long.
TC: So is there a shortage of toilet paper?
Expert: I really have no idea.
TC: OK. So did you rush out and buy toilet paper?
Expert: Yes I did Tucker.
TC: Why is that?
Expert: Because everyone else is.
I was talking with Fred about this as I was driving down the road, trying to remember how much toilet paper I had and hoping to spot a store the other panickers might have overlooked.
Fred: There isn’t any toilet paper up here. (Fred lives in a ways off.)
Me: I’ve heard. I’m out looking for some now.
Fred: Buy me some if you find any. I’ll drive down and get it.
Me: Sure you can wait that long?
Fred: You know, toilet paper is one of those things people really take for granted. You never really think about it until it’s gone.
Me: Uh-huh, sorry to cut you off but there’s a Walgreens I’m gonna try.
Inside the Walgreens, by some miracle, I spotted the last 4-pack of some brand I’ve never heard of. It was only a one-ply, but that’s better than a no-ply so I snatched it up, and, hoping for more good fortune, went looking for the Purell aisle.