Joe Pisani: Cleanup in aisle 7 — civility has collapsed

Empty food shelves at a Connecticut Stop & Shop in the spring of 2020.

Empty food shelves at a Connecticut Stop & Shop in the spring of 2020.

Contributed photo / Jennifer Simpson

Have you noticed? At the beginning of the pandemic, everybody was all lovey-dovey, helping out, making out, making calls, sharing, caring and following the rules. But as time went on, anarchy crept in. Fights broke out in supermarkets. There was screaming and swearing on city streets.

We had rules and we had regulations, but people were ignoring them in the great American pursuit of “self-interest.” (We’re the only people on Earth who have “rights” that haven’t been invented yet.)

Laws were broken — usually by lawmakers — at family parties, at office parties, at hair salons, in the Hamptons, in Manhattan, in the Capitol.

I’m already breaking my New Year’s resolution to complain less and compliment more, but my point is this. I don’t care if you’re smart or stupid, liberal or conservative, an Elk or a Lion, rich or poor, a criminal or a politician or both. Whoever you are, PLEASE stop going in the wrong direction down one-way aisles at ShopRite, Walmart, Big Y and Stop & Shop or wherever I keep running into you.

We’re all supposed to go in the same direction and social distance, not drive around like we’re in an FBI high-speed chase through downtown Boston.

At first, I thought it was my negative way of looking at the world, but after 16 times in one supermarket, I realized America is in big trouble. Even in a crisis, people can’t obey the rules. Maybe they’re rebelling because they don’t trust The System. (How’s that for a word right out of the ’60s lexicon?)

The ONE WAY signs are certainly big enough. They’re on the floor and hanging from the ceiling, and the message is explicit with an arrow pointing in the direction you’re supposed to travel. But no one cares. Please, President Joe Biden, can’t you issue an executive order to enforce driving regulations for supermarket carriages or require a license to operate a shopping cart?

There is one exception. Absolutely everybody travels in the right direction at Whole Foods — and that scares me. Are they Amazon bots? Unfortunately, I can’t shop there anymore because they play ’90s music, with assorted selections by Amy Grant and Billy Idol. The only thing worse than ’90s music is ’80s music.

The last time, I had to listen to “Baby, Baby” followed by a mind-blowing five minutes of “Rock the Cradle of Love” at 8 a.m. By the time I reached the checkout, I was so stressed, I needed a double chamomile latte. Even worse, the song got stuck in my head for four days. Do you know what it’s like to be in church with the torturous refrain “Rock the cradle of love!” bouncing around your brain?

Doesn’t anyone do market research to figure out what shoppers want to hear? How about some Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald?

When the coronavirus crisis started, we diligently obeyed the rules, but like everything else, we started to slip, intentionally. As a society, we’re not evolving, we’re devolving. I see signs everywhere. By the closing bell of my college classes, a fifth of the students are missing in action, hiding somewhere in the dark shadows of the internet. Where is Big Brother when we need him? Not to mention Big Sister.

I saw another foreboding sign while I was stopped at the intersection the other morning. My light turned green, and as I was about to pull out, my wife yelled for me to stop because three cars were running the red light. It’s a sure sign civilization is collapsing when people start breaking the little laws with impunity.

In America, rewriting history is a popular pastime, so before it gets completely rewritten, let me remind you of the Greatest Generation, who went through the Depression and World War II and preserved their decency, not to mention democracy and Western Civilization.

They helped one another, even at their own expense. We, on the other hand, can’t obey a few simple rules, and if we can’t obey the little rules, why should we obey the big rules, such as “pay your taxes”? No need to answer that.

Joe Pisani can be reached at