Personally, panic within usually lies dormant until the masses around me ratchet theirs up to a decibel that feels like nails on a chalkboard, a crying baby, a jackhammer, or the insistent drone of a garbage truck idling outside my bedroom window. A week ago, I did not feel panic. One day later, I fell prey to jangling nerves and tooted myself to the grocery store. What I found wasn’t great!
On my way out of my house, I was greeted by a neighbor, lugging a reusable shopping bag full of paper towels. “It’s chaos out there,” she said. “Do NOT go to Whole Foods. I have never seen lines like this in my entire life.” We chatted for a few moments, as I was grateful to speak to another person that was not my sibling with whom I live or my roommate, and I ambled on my merry way. Everything is going to be fine, I told myself, passing people on the street. I’ll get some stuff, sure!
As a grocery shopper, I value efficiency above everything; I will make a list of what I need based on the location of the items in the store so that I can hit my targets, avoid distractions like pre-packaged flan, and get the hell out. This efficiency, of which I am very proud, flew out the window immediately once I set foot in the grocery store. A harried worker handed me a basket, after dutifully removing a stray onion skin from its depths. My crucial mistake, however, was going to the store without a list or a plan; my second mistake was going to the store at 5 p.m., which was precisely the hour in which every single person in my neighborhood decided that the time to panic was NOW.
As if in a fugue state, I wandered the produce aisle, picking up vegetables at random, considering them for about three seconds, and then throwing them into my cart. Mushrooms: sure. A section of a calabeza squash. Nary a green vegetable. Some onions. After peeking down the meat aisle and discovering hordes of people squeezing styrofoam packages of hot Italian sausage and shoving giant rump roasts into their carts, I paused in front of the vegan meat aisle and considered jackfruit. I passed. Now is not the time to experiment, I told myself. Do it when this is over.
Despite my gentle warning to myself to stick to what I know, the things I put in my basket made absolutely no sense. A can of beans felt imperative, though I do not particularly care for beans. Finding said beans required whispering “Pardon me, excuse me, I’m sorry, excuse me” as I wended my way through the narrow aisles, which were clogged with people standing in line to pay for their groceries. The frozen food aisle was less horrible, but it is also where I selected a bag of vegan chorizo crumbles, envisioning some sort of kicky stew in my future. After I filled my basket with whatever weird-ass food items, I picked what felt like the shortest line, which was conveniently located in the cereal aisle. A man behind me in sweatpants and a Carhartt beanie worn atop his pate like a condom yelled into his phone about the virus, assuring the client of the sanctity of his deliverables. I stood in line for 15 minutes, adding S’Mores Pop Tarts and a small tin of peach iced tea bags to my cart: two purchases that I would never normally make but felt compelled to do so for reasons, again, unbeknownst.
The woman standing in front of me considered a packet of quinoa puffs. I followed in her stead. Neither one of us purchased it, but we had a very nice chat before parting ways to pay for our groceries. “New Yorkers love to panic,” she said. “I think we’re going to be fine.”