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.

What’s so funny about COVID-19?

COVID Chronicles. The first in a whole pandemic of columns I wrote for The Sault Star for comic relief during our health crisis. This one was published March 19.

A whole chorus of imaginary voices screams that it’s too soon to crack jokes about the COVID-19 pandemic.

But then a vision pops into my head of a fool — a court jester — in Elizabethan England.

“Her Majesty sayeth she wanted to move the Royal Court to London,” the fool remarked.

“I advised her to avoid London like the plague.”

Black humour. It’s traditional in times of, well, blackness.

So let me just don this multicoloured hat with the bells dangling from it, pick up my quill and scratch a few stray observations on some foolscap.

Please wash your hands thoroughly after reading this column. Those unable to count to 20 should sing their favourite operatic aria.

An early COVID-related joke I read on twitter purported to be an official announcement from an NHL club. It went something like this:

“The Montreal Canadiens announced today that due to the pandemic they will not be competing in the playoffs this season.”

Cancellation of almost every sport (except the UFC, where fighters spit, sweat and bleed all over each other in an obvious attempt to infect their opponents with COVID-19) has many wondering what TSN and Sportsnet will broadcast.

Some suggested the networks relive past triumphs of Toronto teams: the Raptors of 2019, the Blue Jays of 1992 and 1993.

But grainy black-and-white newsreel footage of championship Maple Leafs might be too jarring for modern viewers. Kids wouldn’t understand why Foster Hewitt was greeting hockey fans in Canada, the U.S. and Newfoundland.

More likely one of Canada’s GTA-centric sports networks will employ a 24-hour AustonCam to ensure their standard NHL coverage continues seamlessly.

“Look, he’s flinching in his sleep. That must be goal number 50.”

On Facebook the other day someone wondered why a local nightspot had pulled the plug on its musical entertainment for last weekend.

I mused that bar-band music might be COVID-proof as long as those who took to the dance floor stayed the proper “social distance” of two metres away from each other. 

Then I imagined, somewhere in the hereafter, a whole scowl of those nuns who chaperoned high school dances in the 1950s and 1960s high-fiving each other and yelling “Finally!”

Ontario health officials recommended gatherings be limited to no more than 250 people, later dropping that to 50. You can cheat a little on that 50 as long as enough people go out for a smoke at any given time. But will we now see lines of smokers instead of the customary collegial clusters.

Social distancing comes naturally to those of us who can count the number of our nearest neighbours on the fingers of one hand (which he then wipes with a diesel-doused rag because he has no hand sanitizer).

The other day a neighbour and I met up on our communal snowshoeing trails. We had no idea what the protocol was, both because of COVID and because it’s rare to run into anyone else on the trails.

I think bumping telescopic snowshoeing poles would be appropriate. When you get home, wipe down the poles with a diesel-soaked rag.

Hoarding also comes naturally to those of us in the boonies. We stock up on too much of everything because unless you craft the perfect grocery list and follow it meticulously you’re facing a half-hour drive back into the city for a can of tuna.

Toilet paper is one of those commodities for which keeping ahead of the demand curve is in a country person’s best interest. A backhouse bidet wouldn’t make much sense when it’s 30 below, would it?

But we look down our noses at those speculating in TP or hand sanitizing diesel fuel.

Of course, it might make sense to pile toilet paper along the U.S. border to stop the flow from that COVID s – – – show.

I’m not worried that I’ll reach the end of my last roll.

I’ve got a filing cabinet full of old Humour Me column clippings.

Would that make me the butt of my own jokes or the joke of my own butt?

Pothole aren’t always the pits

A version of this appeared in The Sault Star in March. Catching up.

The other day I swerved to avoid a pothole near Farmer Bob’s on (appropriately named) Landslide Road.

Turns out it was just a decoy pothole. 

You know. Those threatening-looking potholes that are set out to lure unsuspecting motorists into even greater pothole peril.

Sure enough, my swerving smacked me right into one mother of a pothole, one big enough to hide a six-year-old child. 

Fortunately, all of the six-year-olds were in school spreading COVID-19 to each other and not washing their hands afterward. 

(In my childhood we just turned a tap on and off and then lied to our mothers. I suspect things haven’t changed much.)

Fortunately as well, I drive a pickup truck these days. If a pickup truck can bounce around on a bush road in a television commercial and come out glistening, potholes should be no problem, right?

Just put it in four-wheel-low and climb out of it. 

Car drivers, on the other hand, curse this time of year. 

One guy said in our hockey dressing room (so I know it must be true) that at his workplace a small car sustained two flat tires, front and rear, in a single pothole.

Joggers complain all of the potholes are turning them into steeplechase runners.

Bicyclists have mixed feelings. 

My days of commuting to work by bicycle were ended when I was forced off the road and into a pothole that crunched my front tire into an oval shape.

But I imagine people who find it exciting to ride bicycles over rough trails in the bush might even salivate over an obstacle course of gnarly springtime potholes.

On the whole, there’s a lot of grumbling about potholes at this time of year.

But shouldn’t we be celebrating them?

Aren’t potholes a sign of spring?

(OK, maybe in Sault Ste. Marie they’re omni-seasonal. But they’re most prolific in the spring.)

Other signs of spring aren’t too pleasant either.

The smell of a winter’s worth of dog poop exposed by melting snow.

Floods. Who looks forward to floods?

Robins. One of the most bird-brained of birds, with a song that makes rap seem melodic, especially when it wakes you at 4:30 a.m.

Dandelions? OK in a salad or a wine bottle, but not all over your lawn, right?

City works crews can’t do much about potholes. The warranty on cold patch expires in a matter of seconds. Hot patch repairs last until the city works truck disappears from view.

Might as well have some creative fun with them.

Works crews could erect signs, after completing their repairs, saying Slow Down or We Put the Potholes Back.

Or forget about repairs and just erect humourous notices to alert motorists. No Bungee Jumping in Potholes. No Boat Launching in Potholes. No Fishing in Potholes.

In some cities they put one of those cat-in-a-hat hat pylons in the centre of larger potholes.

The Sault could have a scuba diver figure emerging from its potholes. Or Satan. Or a pair of boots upside down. Or perhaps the helmeted heads of World War One soldiers peering over the edges.

Plant some pot plants in potholes. Only enough for personal use, of course.

Close down a particularly acned block and hold a paintball tournament in which combatants could scurry from pothole to pothole in their quest to capture the flag, or whatever it is paintballers do.

Ultimately, it might be a good idea to introduce a few man-made potholes into some traditional spring events to make them even more springy.

The Daytona 500 auto race, for example.

A few potholes would restore Daytona to a test of driving ability instead of the contest between car designers and mechanics that it has become.

But for the rest of us riding the potholed roads, my advice is to slow down and smell the melting dog poop.