The coronavirus related fears reveal our true character
My daughter jumped out of bed at the crack of dawn so she could get to the supermarket when the doors opened because they advertised a great deal in the weekly flyer — a deal specially designed for a country in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. You could pick four Lysol products, including spray disinfectant, for $2.99 each and four Lysol cleaners for $1.50 each.
She arrived early and joined a growing crowd outside the grocery store. When the doors opened, it was as if someone fired a starting pistol for 60-meter dash at the Tokyo Olympics. Everyone raced into the store and down the household products aisle, shoving and pushing like contestants on that TV game show “Supermarket Sweep.”
In moments, the shelves were bare and she walked away empty-handed, as other people raced to the registers with their arms full of Lysol products. She would have been better off investing in Lysol stock for her 401(k).
Didn’t the supermarket realize that would cause a commotion? Or maybe they wanted to get people into the store to buy sirloin, rotisserie chickens and eggs because there certainly wasn’t going to be any household disinfectants, hand sanitizer, alcohol or wipes left. By the time I went, notices were taped to the shelves, informing customers that Lysol was temporarily unavailable.
Americans are filling their carts at Costco, Walmart and ShopRite with everything from Purell to alcohol and toilet paper to prepare for viral Armageddon. My other daughter was able to commandeer two containers of hand sanitizer at Staples, which everyone had overlooked on the top shelf.
Who could have imagined that hand sanitizer and masks would be in such demand and command triple-digit prices on the Internet? Some people are making their own concoctions by mixing aloe with rubbing alcohol, but now that you can’t even find alcohol, they may resort to Bacardi Rum.
A friend of mine went to Rite Aid to get sanitizer, but there was none left because a woman had grabbed the last five containers and was racing to the checkout. When someone asked whether she would share one, she ignored the request, paid and ran out. Another friend sniffling from allergies was afraid she might get assaulted by angry passengers on the New York City subway. Now, there’s no one on the subway.
During these days of fear and anger, the most-watched movie in America is “Contagion,” about a virus from Asia that causes a global pandemic and leads to the collapse of society. It shows unrest, rioting and looting, which is always a possibility given the right mixture of fear, shortages and incitement.
Last week I watched a video of Dr. Oz telling the public the situation can be controlled if we “work together.” What an odd concept in a divided society. Helping somebody. We live in a supposedly enlightened era of social progressiveness and technological advancement, but for all our progress, sometimes I think we’ve moved backward.
My parents lived through the Great Depression, which is something I couldn’t endure for 10 months, let alone 10 years. However, I’ve heard enough stories from that era to know Americans were different. They were stronger, more charitable, more resilient.
It was a decade of deprivation, joblessness and soup lines. Almost a quarter of the nation was unemployed. Most of those who worked had their income cut by more than 60 percent. The average take-home pay was $15 a week, although many made even less than that. Nevertheless, they shared what they had, including food, money, clothes and homes. I don’t think anyone would have resisted giving up a bottle of Purell ... if they had five.
But hope springs eternal, even hope in humanity. Yesterday I heard the story of a woman who lost her wallet in the supermarket amid all the chaos. She was sure it was gone, but when she called the service desk, she discovered it had been turned in. Sometimes as a species we can’t resist doing the right thing. It’s our nature.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.