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I ventured back in to a grocery after a short hiatus since all this coronavirus social distancing began.  At this point in the process, I preferred that they changed the name to “Stay the hell away from me”, as that is surely what I wanted all the hoarding masses to do. I was on line in the Ralphs Grocery store with my lone sad box of Milk Bones, tripping over people with cases of water and stacks of toilet paper the likes of which I have never seen. I shook my head and asked the man in front of me,  “Why the water?  Do you really think that the water coming out of your faucet will get turned off if you get the virus?  Did I miss that memo?  And please spare me the,  “O you can’t drink water from a faucet. Yes, you can and you are probably doing that everyday.  Where do you think the greedy corporate water bottle companies get it from?   Perhaps I was derelict in my parental duties not thinking of my sons’ edible welfare and only of the dog‘s.   You have not met Moe Moe.  I would rather serve my sons ketchup sandwiches than suffer the wrath of my Milk Boneless dog giving me nasty looks all day long.  But even serving a ketchup sandwich would prove a daunting task six weeks later.  It seems even that was all gone.  Staring at the empty condiment shelf in the Albertsons one day, I thought, “What the hell is with the ketchup hoarding?” “They are trying to catch up,” said a nice man in a mask less than six feet away.  I laughed.  I really have to stop randomly putting sound to thoughts. He told me he would be here every Wednesday.  And that is one of the pandemic perks; random strangers talking to you in the grocery aisle.

I daresay, nothing prepared us for the great toilet paper famine of 2020, though.  This was the flagship of American pandemic panic. Could it be the result of failed potty training tactics on a few generations?   I know I won no medals in this parental event.  To this day, my kids, like so many of their peers, refuse to use public bathrooms, not even at school.  A non-genetic trait, I can assure you, as I will use any public restroom and in any condition. The other scar from a parent less than adept at potty training, is the fact my kids will use a roll of paper for each trip to the bathroom.   I now had to preach austerity and threaten them if this bad habit continued under these Depression era-like shortages, not to mention having to have random plumbing strangers with no proper COVID testing come to the house.  My sons rolled their eyes and denied their mortal fecal fear every time I mentioned it.

I must say I began to think of stocking up myself.  But where to start.  I first checked Amazon, seemed the likeliest place.  But they were completely out and not getting anymore anytime soon.  Next stop: EBay.   They had some for like $70 for a six pack of Scott Tissue.  They had refurbished toilet paper, which I don’t even want to hazard a guess on how that is exactly done.  I then came across some strange looking paper that was taller than a normal size roll of toilet paper but shorter than our paper towels.  Odd-looking things. I had to read the description three times to make sure it really said toilet tissue.  It did and O the irony; it came from China.  Aren’t they the reason we were hoarding the toilet paper in the first place?  I did not hesitate for a minute. They had it and so to hedge my bet, I ordered two packages even if they weren’t getting here for weeks.   What to do in the meantime?

The 11thof March brought the first college campus closure notices and so I aided my niece out of Pepperdine up in Malibu.   I had a thought that in this better heeled community perhaps the idea of hoarding toilet paper had not yet set in.  I was wrong.  I returned on the 14thof March for the rest of her things. On the way home I stopped at the local Ralphs Supermarket on Pacific Coast Highway.  There were no lines and no toilet paper either I found out from the nice lady at the little table in front of the store trying to sign up employees for the upcoming 2020 Census.  Yes, of course I signed up to do the Census.  I smiled as she regaled me with all the perks of working for the Federal Government and explained I knew them well having worked for them for over three decades. She was pleased and suggested I apply for supervisor online. Sure, why not. Apparently, she can spot talent when she sees it and I enjoyed it so much the first time around.  I was less excited when I found out that you must be assigned no more than five miles away from your home.  Somehow, a Census taker job in Compton is not as attractive sounding as one in Malibu.  But she gave me good advice and free Skittles. I needed the former, the latter not so much.  The Vitamin Store next door has toilet paper, she said.  A dollar a roll.  Well, that’s a bit steep I thought, and if they still had a supply, so did the rest of the shoppers and so on home I went. But first, a quick stop for dinner at a lovely pizzeria called D’Amore’s that served real New York single slices of pizza. Delicious.

The next day, my son was going to the liquor store even though he never touches a drop. This place, Jack’s, has been in our neighborhood for decades.  Ask Jack to save us some toilet paper, please, if he gets any, I tell my son.   After all, my cigarette habit and your father’s beer drinking kept him in business all those years ago.  My son returns with an industrial strength size roll of commercial toilet paper with a price tag of $7.99 not even neatly placed over the pre-pandemic price of $2.99.   As hoarding syndrome is now beginning to firmly entrench itself, I send my tenant back for a few more rolls.   By now, even my sister and cousin in Italy are shaking their heads and wondering what is wrong with us and the toilet tissue hoarding.   There were those with the braggadocio claims of,  “I don’t need actual paper, I’ll cut up cloths” or “My toilet is right near the shower, who needs paper”.  I daresay I was not in that illustrious group at any point in all this.

A week or so goes by and the quarantine and lockdown is firmly in place in California.  The paper gets more scarce, along with every single other paper product you can think of.  At one point I visited the local Party City and stock up on cocktail napkins just in case.  If we never see toilet paper again, they could come in handy, if we do, they will be nice for a post pandemic celebration.  I remember the Census lady and what she said about the Vitamin Shop. I remember the delicious pizza too, because eating now takes priority over all else.   One of my corona brave girls and I were making plans to take a drive, get some air.   It was very early on, so I did not want to tempt the COVID gods and so I said we’d only go if I have an errand to run.  Errands, the thing we liked least to do had now become my favorite pastime. Let’s go to Malibu for pizza and toilet paper, I suggested.  It was the first week of quarantine and we didn’t quite know all the rules as yet. I stopped for gas a few blocks from her house and asked to use the restroom. You can’t, said the attendant, no more public restrooms. What?? How is this even possible? Are they afraid we are going to steal the toilet paper?  We circle back to her house quickly so I can sneak in and use the restroom without sending her roommates into a panic and then off to Malibu we go.   I checked the Ralphs again, just to see if the school closure or time brought any sense to this community, but apparently not.  I approached the little Vitamin Shop. Inside the door on the right is a bookshelf and the bottom shelf is filled with pink-papered individual rolls of toilet paper. Odd looking for sure as I was used to the big boxes of 45 rolls at a time.  Timidly, I ask, can I buy some? Yes, she says, of course.  How many can I buy, I barely whispered? As many as you want, we have more. I felt like I had slipped through the bathroom looking glass.  I swept up 12 rolls as fast as I could, paid my $12 dollars which now after a week of quarantine-frenzied store emptying, seemed a bargain and left before she could change her mind.   Would you look at this I say to my friend.  We take a moment of silence to marvel at our good fortune.   Next stop, pizza at D’Amore’s to celebrate.

What a change social distancing has made.  The week before, I had sat in this small restaurant with a few tables, admiring the tons of celebrity pictures on the wall. Today, we are met at one door with a soda refrigerator for a barricade and we yell our order across the room along with our credit card numbers, as cash is no longer king here or anywhere else for that matter.  This establishment is in this tiny L-shaped strip mall. You practically drive up to the door. There is a karate place next door that is closed and then a huge store across from them that was already out of business before this all started.  So D’Amore’s, tucked in the corner near the elevator and the bathroom, is basically all by itself now.  A bathroom? We get the key with a big black placard attached handed delicately over with a wipe and I, in turn, grab it with my wipe.  We get to use this amazingly clean public sort of restroom.  I use my Clorox wipe all the way in and all the way out. Never touching a solid surface because I am now a commando when it comes to avoiding any potential viral landing strips.

When the food is ready, they come out the other door and using gloves and masks place your order on a small table they have out front in between the two doors.  They also were kind enough to leave two chairs on the sidewalk for folks to sit while they eat.   This place is on the east side of Pacific Coast Highway with the ocean on the west side. We had noticed a sign when we pulled in that said rooftop parking.   My friend with way better legs, in all manners, was sent up on a reconnaissance mission to see if we could eat up there. And sure enough at the front of what is beach parking in normal times, was a lovely large veranda with clear glass half walls and two concrete small round picnic tables and not a soul for miles and miles. Some potted plants here and there and an ocean view that took your breath away.  What a find amidst the lockdown and the constant same four walls. Now while I am not one to see fomites around every corner and under every bed, I do make it my business to go out with the supplies of a MASH unit these days.  Between the two of us, we had masks, kitchen gloves, Clorox wipes, regular wipes, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and plastic bags.  We could perform surgery if needed.  We commenced to wiping down anything we will touch. No one had been here for awhile and I’m not of the ilk to think the virus can fly through air for miles, land on a table and live there for weeks and neither was my friend. Having a sane brother for a doctor helps.  What a view we had. What a day we had.  This was in the beginning when it was easy to forget the quarantine and all its accouterments, when it still seemed like a temporary and quick inconvenience.  We ate our delicious pizza and salad, soaked in the sun and the beautiful ocean breezes and were ready to go back into lockdown.

When I got home, I inspected my new pink-papered toilet paper whose name was Cascade, a brand I had never seen before. I checked for the markings and lo and behold this paper was from Canada.  So now my new toilet paper collection was complete. I had some nice industrial size from the liquor store, some fine Chinese specialty toilet paper from EBay and now I added the pretty in pink Canadian paper from Malibu to the assortment.   All in all a good haul until the day that Scott returns to the shelves for good.

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