by Peter Kravitz
Saturday morning. Once a reprieve from the exhaustion of a long-work week, it now dawns as just another day infecting our minds with reports of new cases and deaths caused by the coronavirus.
Before making coffee, I check the Target website hoping to find Purell at one of the 10 stores within 20 miles of me. No luck. But wait, there’s hand sanitizer two miles away. I’m out the door after washing what’s left of the skin on my hands.
In the Target parking lot, I put on my mask. I wish I had gloves. I sanitize my hands with a few precious drops of the ounce of Purell left in a two-ounce bottle. I put the Purell in a plastic bag in my jacket pocket. I really should wash this jacket.
I live on the border of Nassau and Suffolk counties, on Long Island. As of last month, those two counties totaled nearly 40,000 coronavirus cases and over 1,000 deaths. Nassau has more cases than any county nationwide, apart from nearby New York City, the pandemic’s epicenter, which now alone fast approaches double the number of deaths caused by the 9/11 attack. I know friends of friends who have died, guys younger than I who were healthy two weeks ago and are now gone. Many of this virus’s victims die alone. Refrigerated trailers parked next to hospitals fill up with corpses.
My wife and I social distance and stay in our house. We are careful. As Silver Sagers in an empty nest, we are so fearful of this incredibly contagious disease that each little throat tickle leads us to say, “I think I have it.”
The Target has been open for 15 minutes. I see masked men and women leaving with paper towels like they’ve won the lottery. Masked Target employees push carts with critical items in the aisles I’ve come to know well. “Do you have hand sanitizer?” I ask a young female employee sporting a colorful mask.
“Yeah right there,” she says. “But you can only take one.”
About 100 two-ounce bottles greet me. Two ounces of generic gold that boasts: “Kills 99.99% of germs.”
Should I take two bottles? I can’t do that. We are in this war together and others will come who need this more than I. I have about 5.6 ounces of sanitizer in my car and house. This will do. I grab a bottle of witch hazel off a worker’s cart, though I’m not totally sure how well it sanitizes. The employee says wipes are a few aisles away. I sprint-walk in a frenzy of excitement and grab a container of 40 antibacterial hand wipes and, of course, paper towels, which have nearly been erased from the shelves. I feel like I hit an ace on the river. What a haul!
At the checkout counter, an unmasked young employee bags my loot. “Why don’t you have a mask?” I ask.
“They give us gloves but not masks,” he says cheerfully.
I should keep extra masks in my car for workers like this Target check-out boy. He’s young and supposedly not as at risk, but I see him as one of the many heroes and heroines of this deadly plague, along with doctors, nurses, police, and others exposed on the front lines who can’t shelter in their homes.
The only reason I have masks is because we went on a New Year’s family trip to Puerto Rico. My nephew and my daughter’s boyfriend both got some type of annoying cold, the kind that wasn’t a big deal before.
As a renowned germaphobe even before all of this deadly insanity began, I tried to buy a mask in a San Juan CVS, but they only came in boxes of 30, so I reluctantly bought a box for a couple of dollars. I had planned to hand them out to family if my nephew coughed on the flight back to New York. My masks are the cheapest type, but since the CDC has said we should wear them, I’m heeding that advice.
I drive home and call my 27-year-old son. I brag to him about my haul. He laughs at my excitement and informs me that my wife, always the most-informed shopper, just told him that Ace Hardware always stocks hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and gloves.
“Oh well,” I say, still feeling good about my Target success.
“Where are you on the road?” I ask. My son, a geotechnical engineer, is driving back to his Denver home from a solar-farm project in Texas.
“I’m passing some town in New Mexico called Roswell,” he says.
“You’ve never heard of Roswell?” I say.
“In 1947 locals thought a flying saucer packed with aliens crashed there,” I say. “Then the military said it was a weather balloon. Roswell has since become a destination, even a pilgrimage, for alien believers.”
My son laughed. “Oh yeah, there’s an alien on a billboard. And another one. Lots of aliens and flying saucers—on signs.”
I realized then that the tale of Roswell’s alleged alien visit now seems almost normal and rational, part of the good old days, compared to how the coronavirus has so severely mutated our lives now.
Self portrait photo Pete Kravitz.