March Madness

I went grocery shopping at Safeway yesterday, which I usually avoid like–I’ll say it–the plague. But it wasn’t what I expected at all. The store did not look like Venezuela, although the toilet paper shelves were practically bare. I say practically, because there was still plenty of toilet paper left. There just wasn’t enough to fill a shipping container, which is what we have become accustomed to in this country.

But I did notice a shift in people’s attitudes since the last time I went shopping. I didn’t find the usual courtesies afforded when, for instance, shopping cart met shopping cart around a blind turn of Cheezits. People acted churlish, rushed, focused on themselves, including an elderly lady who had filled her cart to the brim with canned soup and beans. I thought about her sodium levels and imagined saying something to her, but she probably would have growled at me.

As I wandered up and down the aisles, grabbing a can of WD-40 here, a bottle of Irish whiskey there, I thought about 9-11. Whereas before the attacks New York exhibited many of the behaviors as the people cutting me off and glaring, afterward the mood of the city changed dramatically. I noticed it when I moved back nearly a decade later. Much of the repressed hostility was gone and New Yorkers seemed to treat each other in a civilized manner. 

By the time I reached the cereal aisle, I had recounted the major tragedies I have lived through in my life: the JFK assassination in Dallas, the murders of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and RFK, the Challenger disaster, the Loma Prieta earthquake, and, of course, 9-11. These events happened in a flash, and the change that occurred in people took place afterward.

In contrast, the Coronavirus crisis is not instantaneous but evolving, heightening people’s anxiety on a daily basis, which points to a fundamental difference between tragedy and crisis. A crisis is ongoing whereas a tragedy is short lived. You could think of it in terms of the two theories of light: particle and wave. One is a point in time and space (e.g., the twin towers collapsing), the other an undercurrent like the tide.

With Coronavirus, the change taking place in people comes from a dread of contamination, illness, and death. It’s enough to make anybody churlish. But even though recent policies were enacted to protect the public, it doesn’t help that school districts have sent students home, municipalities have banned large gatherings, and churches have closed their doors. Hemingway described courage as “grace under pressure,” but it is especially troubling when the institution that is supposed to be all about grace–the church–erects barriers, literally.

Even worse, mainstream media has gone on a Coronavirus binge with 24/7 coverage including interviews with experts, celebrity updates (who has it and who doesn’t), and scathing commentary about what is not being done by the current administration. “Novel” seems to be the favorite adjective attached to the virus, although I have read and heard such hyperbole that you would think an asteroid was about to smash the planet to smithereens.

This is the new March Madness, and if you’re not in a panic about it, you must be a climate change or Holocaust denier. I deny neither, nor do I make light of a pandemic in which thousands have died. But you have to admit the irony, even humor, that dogs cannot get it. It may be their revenge against China. I see a Tom Hanks movie in the offing.

My final stop at Safeway was the beer aisle, and I just had to do it. I had to buy a twelve pack of Corona. I justified it later by pointing out that it was on sale. Funny, but I didn’t see anyone else buying it at the time. The shelf was fully stocked. Maybe I should have bought more. Actually, that’s the Italian reaction to the crisis, although they replace Corona with vino. They know in the end that everything will turn out fine, andrà tutto bene, which is something along the lines of Stay Calm and Carry On. They even made a public service video about it.

Image credits: shopping carts and emergency sign by Markus Spiske on Unsplash. For more, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”


  1. thank you Robert – that was another interesting short story — I especially like the part about the lady with all the canned food—it’s amazing that people are unaware of the extremely high salt amounts in certain foods–and the part about wanting to say something to her– I probably would have–it was nice of you to restrain yourself– I find that hard– the other day, a guy was tailgating me on Victory Blvd. on the way to the bank – I pulled over to let him go by— he was also going in the bank, and so, we got out of our cars at the same time– I walked along side of him and said “You know that tailgating is illegal right? it’s also rude”– he replied ” oh , is that why you pulled over back there?”- then held the door open for me to go into the bank – never said “sorry about that Miss” or any apology –at least I spoke my mind – I felt good that I did so–I’m hoping you feeling OK- if you get a chance , please let me know that you are


    1. Wow. You’re tough. The guy did hold the door open for you, and instead of telling you $#*&$(*&!!, he actually talked to you. But you stuck to your principles, which is great. As for viruses, I am ok. I hope you are well. SI must be nice right now without the rushing around.

  2. First dog found with coronavirus has died after returning home virus-free from quarantine, Hong Kong authorities reveal


    Wednesday, 18 Mar 2020
    2:41 PM MYT

    By Lilian Cheng

  3. “… that dogs cannot get it. It may be their revenge against China.” That seriously cracked me up! I think the difference between this and 9-11 other than it being instant is the the attackers died instantly too. Here we have everyone is a potential threat. In time like these I fear people more than the virus itself because people go crazy.

  4. Thank you, Robert:). Aye, Safeway, I knew you well. It has been over a year since I have gone shopping in a food market. What I can say is that those of us in the “groceries delivered through necessity” have experienced a sudden-72 hour change. I made our grocery order 4 days ago. The earliest delivery day and time was for tonight, Sunday, between 8-9 p.m. I am hoping that we will receive our delivery tonight, but, we won’t starve without it. It’s just different, and kind of scary… Nurse visits have been postponed for palliative care patients…In another perspective, it is comforting to have so many interest groups now moving to streaming seminars, meditation, and to hear so many people sharing the changes in their lives due to the absence of live community, and person-to-person contact. I feel less alone, less isolated.

    1. I am glad that you are seeing a positive outcome. There is such a thing as virtual presence, and maybe it will help make your work easier and Laura’s life better.

      Community and relationships are changing, hopefully in good ways. Will we be more truthful and open, or hide behind Internet identities? Probably a bit of both.

      On another note, I can tell you that not going to Mass is hard for me. I can’t imagine what it has been like for you all this time. I am trying to think of it as a Lenten sacrifice…

  5. I’ve been thinking about the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake. It took quite some time for things to get back to normal, and for me to stop jumping up whenever a truck rumbled down the block, but the sense of panic I feel now feeds on itself – to paraphrase the famous “Marathon Man” line, I’m in an ‘Are we safe?’ thought loop.

    Thanks so much for that Italian PSA announcement – truly inspiring! I sent it to an Italian friend living in Germany, and she was heartened by it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Verified by MonsterInsights