So let’s see . . . is anything new happening? Ah yes, the plague. I had some concern early on that this very serious situation might dampen my curmudgeonly spirit and leave me with a dearth of things to write about. But predictably, people continue to behave illogically, and so here we are.
Now, we’ve been advised to do several things to protect ourselves and stay healthy. The first is what’s been termed “social distancing.” No problem. I’m more than happy to avoid people as much as possible as I don’t tend to enjoy them all that much to begin with. What’s more, my cat heartily approves of having me stay at home where I can serve as a constant source of petting and food. He’s never quite understood why anyone would go out anyway, and views my absences as pointless and highly inconvenient.
The second safeguard is to wash our hands. That this should be a new idea to anyone is almost as alarming as the fact that civilization is about to be obliterated. Haven’t we all been washing our hands all along, at least since kindergarten? What kind of boorish ruffians have infiltrated our midst posing as civilized humans, and how long has this been going on? I realize now that we should have had this talk long ago. Failing to wash one’s hands regularly is nothing short of barbaric, not to mention inconsiderate, lazy, and classless. And if it takes a pandemic to reintroduce the practice, then to some extent I must say I’m for the pandemic.
Thirdly, some have advised us to stock up on provisions in anticipation of possible quarantines. And it’s here we’ve all gone a bit ape-feces. Canned goods make sense. Frozen or freezable foods make sense. My local grocery stores still have plenty of those. They also have a full range of vitamins, minerals, and health supplements. Can you guess what they’re completely out of? If you said toilet paper—astoundingly—you are correct. For some strange reason, toilet paper . . . toilet paper . . . is flying off the shelves faster than they can make the stuff. It’s the Tickle Me Elmo of the COVID-19 scare.
Like all sensible people, I find myself more than a bit baffled. Why this lusty hoarding of toilet paper, of all things? Does it have some magical power of which I’m not aware? Does it form an impenetrable virus shield when wrapped around the hands and face? Does it ward off germs when burnt in a special bowl while chanting “go away germs, go away germs” over and over? When combined with hot water, does it produce a life-giving soup that can sustain a quarantined family of four for years in seclusion? Is bath tissue the new superfood? Or is the secret formula for the vaccine rumored to be hidden in a roll somewhere and—like the golden tickets in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—is it just a matter of buying the right one?
If none of these things are true, then the obsession is simply disproportionate. Look, no one enjoys running out of toilet paper, but here’s the difference: without nutrients, we perish; without toilet paper, we’re inconvenienced and possibly uncomfortable. (By the way, the other hot item these days is bottled water, which also makes no sense. Our water systems aren’t poisoned, nor does the virus cause water main breaks. There is no virus-related water shortage. In fact, most of us still have a source of filtered water right in our homes. Turn on the faucet; there it is.)
The press has even begun to investigate this goofy trend. It turns out the reason for the run on toilet paper is as simple as this: a few people started hoarding the stuff, other people noticed and figured they’d better do the same, and so on. Thus, a herd mentality triggered a stampede, and now everyone has lost their minds, caught up in this completely illogical desperation to assure they don't run out of an item that should be much further down their list of priorities.
According to Steven Taylor, clinical psychologist and author of The Psychology of Pandemics, “People, being social creatures, we look to each other for cues for what is safe and what is dangerous. And when you see someone in the store, panic buying, that can cause a fear contagion effect.” (See “The psychology behind why toilet paper, of all things, is the latest coronavirus panic buy.”)
Me, I just watch the whole thing from my apartment window and shake my head at the lack of mental follow-through . . . until it’s time to feed the cat again. I suppose there are some things neither of us will ever understand.
Hang on a moment. There is one more possible theory. Are people stocking up in preparation for an underground plan to TP the White House? If so, The Curmudgeon wants in. Now that would be worth leaving the house for.