I’m 69 years old,
Living at the end of a long dirt road and drive.
They haven’t called me back to work yet
But I imagine it won’t be long.
(My job that I get a paycheck for
Is not quite essential.)
I haven’t been to town for a long time.
My car has been running on the same tank of gas
For going on 6 weeks.
(I guess you’ve heard,
The demand for gas has been plummeting.)
Today I am driving to town.
It is a beautiful Saturday.
I pull into
The Home Depot parking lot
To buy material for a cold-frame my wife wants to build.
She has her heart in this project.
She has just been waiting
For the weather’s permission
To get started.
(We have both agreed that this summer,
And for the foreseeable future,
The garden will be one of our highest priorities.)
Don’t come home without everything she needs,
I tell myself.
This is important!
I am doing something important.
The first thing I notice is the number of vehicles
And then, closer to the store,
The number of people
Entering and exiting
And just standing around.
The building is long
And they have big signs set up
At the left entrance reading “Exit Only”
With one of those expanding orange fences
Reinforcing the message:
One way in, one way out.
OK, this is weird but I’m game.
I go over my list of materials and hardware.
I want to be efficient
Once I’m in there.
I don’t want to spend hours.
I locate one of those orange metal push-carts
In the parking lot
For the two sheets of plywood
And head for the entrance
Rattling and clanking
Over the irregular surfaces of the asphalt.
Once I am in the store
It feels more like an airport.
There are cordoned-off lines on the left side
Of, mostly masked, customers.
The ones who aren’t masked are in the minority
And I can see that some are embarrassed,
Trying unsuccessfully to look confident.
(No doubt the tables would be turned
In the Trump-loving states.)
Me? I’m wearing my N-95
That I purchased before it was a no-no.
My glasses keep fogging up
So I am squinting
Like trying to find my way through a private fog,
Trying to stay six feet away from other bodies.
Make that ten feet from those who
Aren’t wearing masks.
It concerns me that my lenses fog up when I exhale
And defog slightly when I inhale.
I imagine the air is full of little Covid-viruses.
I try not to think about it,
Imagining that I am relatively safe
Compared to the ones who are
Acting as if it’s just another day.
Occasionally I eye one of the maskless ones
A little boy riding on a cart
Looks up at me timorously.
Neither he nor his father is protected.
After I pass him, I regret
That I didn’t make any effort
To smile with my eyes.
There are two little Scotch Terriers
Dressed in plaid jackets.
I picture them in masks
And then I feel bad
For making light of this whole situation.
But why is it like. . .like. . .
Not like an airport,
But like, yeah, like the farmer’s market!
People seem happy or relieved or something.
Are they thinking, This is ending?
That the nightmare is passing?
I admit, I am not the best interpreter
Of the mood here
Because my own mood
Disqualifies me as an objective observer,
But now I’m asking myself,
Is this about buying stuff
Or is it about being together
In a place that is big enough
To accommodate all of us and
We still feel like we’re following the rules?
At the farmer’s market
There is always a feeling in the air
That is reminiscent of an old-time fair,
Minus the farm animals and the rides
And the pie competition
And the bands,
And the bluster and the banter. . .
In fact minus almost everything
That makes it a fair except the venders
With their booths of good food
And the good smells
And the, mostly, happy people.
Home Depot? Like a fair?
There are families here!
But while I’m looking around,
Realizing I’m at a weird kind of fair,
I become aware of how much time has passed
While I’ve been foraging
Up and down the colossal aisles,
Trying to decipher my list
Through the pulsing condensation on my glasses.
I have decided to get the hardware first
And the plywood and plexi-glass panels last
So the cart isn’t weighted down
Until I’m ready to check out.
The employees I ask for directions
Are very nice but I wish I could intuit
Which ones actually know the inventory
And which ones are winging it.
The plexi-glass is in aisle #30,
Which is about a quarter of a mile away,
So that will be last.
And there are twenty-four bricks for the base
Of the frame.
The bricks will be second to last.
I picture my wife looking happy
When I pull into the drive with everything.
She will ask, How did it go?
And I will say,
Great. I was able to find everything!
But that isn’t how things are unfolding.
They don’t have the 50 1 ½ inch #6 flat head screws I need.
And they are out of a few other things.
But I find an employee who is being super-helpful
So I decide to ask about the plywood.
I want them rough-cut to a size I can fit in the car.
She says, a little sheepishly,
The panel-saw hasn’t been working for two weeks.
Now I am picturing my wife’s disappointment
When I tell her
That I was only able to find
Half of what she needs.
Now that I know that I am going to fail
On my mission,
I am trying to hurry
So I don’t have to use the Men’s Room.
I really don’t want to use the Men’s Room!
After almost an hour and a half I cut my losses
And decide to check out.
How many kinds of receipts do you want?
Asks the cashier.
(I’m a little irritated now.)
Is it always this busy? I ask.
Oh no, he says,
During the week it’s dead.
I walk back to my car with my modest bag of hardware
Feeling like a foreigner,
Feeling how liminal life has become.
Man, am I anxious to get back to my quarantine
And to my wonderful disappointed wife!
Epidemic Epistle V: Becoming a Marginalized Person in a Pandemic is Eye-opening
Epidemic Epistle IV: Stalking the message
Epidemic Epistle III: It’s Spring and I’ve Turned 71 in a Pandemic-Induced Recession
Epidemic Epistle II: Wading through – It’s all poetry, bad poetry
Epidemic Epistle I: A Triage Crisis is Coming, and It’s Personal