Physical distancing in Aisle 6

COVID Chrinicles. The second in a whole pandemic of columns I wrote for The Sault Star to provide comic relief during our health crisis. This one was published March 25.

With all bars closed to avoid spreading the coronavirus, these religious leaders in Haifa resorted to less-secular pursuits

A priest, a minister and a rabbi don’t walk into a bar.

Yes, dear readers, COVID-19 closures have deprived humour practitioners of many of our most mirthful motifs. 

I seems there aren’t a lot of belly laughs to be had in these pandemic days. If you doubt me, keep reading this column.

In fact, COVID comic relief is so badly needed that the government is urging columnists who normally specialize in gardening, wine, food, fashion, gossip or advice to retool and crank out humour.

But this pestilence isn’t just a good excuse not to visit your grandmother. There are chuckles to be had out there, whether we’re out there actually or virtually. 

Last week I had to drive in to the city on some medical and legal errands so thought I might as well do some shopping. Besides, a quick inventory of supplies in my bathroom, front-hall closet, attic and under that 14 x 20 tarpaulin in the yard told me I was dangerously low in toilet paper.

Like many a dis-gruntled consumer, I’m wondering when these runs on toilet paper are going to end.

I decided to try out Day Two of the senior citizens shopping hour at a supermarkets.

A friend who had attended Day One described it as a s – – – show. And, despite the obvious need for toilet paper at a s – – – show, there was none on the shelves.

But, I thought, this is Sault Ste. Marie, where people will claw each other’s eyes out to be first in line for anything new that comes to town.

If they reinstated capital punishment and installed a gallows in the city’s new public square, the lineup would stretch all the way to Bay View.

With their final postmortem spasms, cadavers would be texting their friends to brag that hanging was a life-changing experience and the friends really should try it.

So of course there was pandemic pandemonium at the debut of seniors hour.

By Day Two, most of us old fogeys were keeping a safe couple-of-walkers-lengths away from each other in the store.

I had a brief moment of unease when an older woman in front of me tried to “tidy up” my purchases on the checkout counter belt. But she recognized her pandemic faux pas when I explained:

“Listen, grandma, unless you want to wear that cane as a necklace you’d better get your pestilent paws off my groceries.”

I also had to smirk at one of the songs on the store soundtrack. (I’m one of those people who actually hear store soundtracks, sometimes even grabbing an English cucumber as a mic and singing along.)

The song that gave me pause was It’s the End of the World As We Know It, that R.E.M. classic. Might as well play that on a loop, I thought.

But when I returned to the store this week they were playing James Brown singing I Break Out In a Cold Sweat.

Don’t be tempted to belt out that one in aisle six, folks, lest a squad of Algoma Health Unit goons in protective gowns, masks and gloves clean you up.

My next stop was a smaller meat and grocery store, closed to shoppers but offering pickup sales if you called in an order.

I highly recommend this experience to those of you nostalgic for those high times when purchasing pot was against the law.

Make a phone call, then idle on a side street, glancing around furtively. An unmarked door opens, you roll down a window, the goods are placed hastily onto the passenger seat. You squeal your tires as you roar away.

I half expected the store staffer to say “pssst” and pull aside a butcher’s apron to reveal a roll of toilet paper and some hand sanitizer.

But no.

The Jane Goodall of grocery shoppers, I pursued my quest for the elusive and apparently endangered TP at a certain giant store in the part of town where the big box stores hang out. I won’t name this store. I don’t have to.

No sign of social distancing there, though clerks at the self-checkout tried valiantly to break up rugby scums while simultaneously sanitizing screens and keypads.

Shoppers lurched into each other and elbowed each other aside for tins of diced tomatoes and boxes of KD. Dodging from aisle to aisle I felt like a dot in a Pac-Man game.

The only evidence of orderly behaviour was when employees wheeled out skids of toilet paper and passed out packages only to those who lined up properly. Those lucky folk tucked their prize under an arm like an intercepted football and followed their blocking to the checkout.


Not me. First I had to detour to look for another tarpaulin.

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