March into madness


Out of an abundance of misanthropy, I have decided to self-quarantine until further notice.

No, I’m not reacting to the coronavirus. I’m responding to the sheer panic that has overtaken the human population in the last week, including some normally level-headed leaders.

I’m in Stop & Shop about every other day under normal circumstances. But when I went there late last Thursday afternoon, I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me.

We were in the early stages of the mass hysteria that has gripped us for the last week and shows no signs of abating. The first round of major cancellations had been announced that day.

Earlier last week, colleges and universities announced that they were closing down for the rest of the year, but nobody took that seriously. After all, campus dwellers freak out if someone tries to deliver a speech they disagree with.

But then the NBA season was suspended (yawn). March Madness was canceled (double yawn). Same with hockey (eh?). Then Major League Baseball announced a delay in the start of their season (bastards).

Soon, the rest of the dominoes fell: public schools, libraries, golf tournaments, long planned events were all canceled.
Then they called off St. Patrick’s Day and the Boston Marathon. That really got people’s attention. Suddenly, everyone knew what they had to do: stockpile toilet paper.

Gov. Charlie Baker banned gatherings of more than 250 people. At least Town Meeting was still safe. But now we’re down to 25 people. Soon, you won’t be allowed to look at your reflection in the mirror.

Fortunately, when I went to the store last Thursday, I wasn’t in the market for toilet paper or hand sanitizer, so the magnitude of the situation didn’t hit me until I got to the self-check-out and saw the longest line ever.

They say disaster brings out the best in people, so naturally I got into a conversation with the guy behind me in line. (Normally, I avoid such interactions like the plague.)

In his cart, he had two of those 10 gallon jugs for office water dispensers. He explained that he had innocently stopped in for his weekly purchase of two cases of Poland Spring, but there was no bottled water whatsoever on the shelves. So, he bought the two behemoths. He wondered how he was going to pour a glass of water.

It got worse on Friday. Half the population pays no attention whatsoever to the news, so they didn’t find out until they got to work the next day that all human activity had been canceled.

Starting Friday morning, the low-information crowd decided to self-quarantine – but only after they mingled with several hundred other people at the supermarket, clearing out what little was left on the shelves.

The public hysteria was not homogeneous. Some shoppers really were panicked. But many others were more worried that if they waited until after the hordes of hoarders were done, there wouldn’t be anything left when they went to do their weekly shopping.

Now, restaurants and bars have been ordered closed. Then they shut down the gyms and the hair salons. Banks have closed their lobbies and are only doing drive-up transactions. There goes the bank robbery industry.
I’m way ahead of you on on precautions. I haven’t touched a door handle in 20 years and I’ve been practicing social distancing for decades. Besides, there’s absolutely nothing to do. Everything’s closed or cancelled and there isn’t anything left in any store worth buying.

Well, at least I’ll finally be able to catch up on my reading. Then I remembered that all the libraries are closed. So, I’ve decided to use the time to write to Seth Moulton and demand a congressional investigation into the role of Big Toilet Paper in this crisis.

I understand that at times like these, we’re all supposed to do as we’re told and not ask questions.

But I can’t help wondering if there wasn’t some way to deal with this bug without cratering the entire economy.

One thing’s for sure. As we get deeper into the spring, this will dissipate just like every cold and flu season does every year. Then we can all stand six feet apart among the economic rubble, take a bow and declare that our proactive measures saved us from certain ruin.

That day can’t come soon enough.

[This column originally appeared in the March 19, 2020 Wakefield Daily Item.]

2 Responses to “March into madness”

  1. 1 Heather Locke

    My husband read this to me. I think it is designed for the ears and not the eyes. I laughed so hard that tears ran down my cheeks. I had not laughed like that in a long time. Everything you wrote happened, and the situation is serious, but you put it all in a novel light.

  2. 2 Anthony Antetomaso

    Great article, Mark. All true. Hey, if you do write to Moulton ask him what “sensible gun control” looks like. I’ve asked him a few times on his FB page but he doesn’t respond to me. Maybe he’ll talk to the Press.
    ps: “Soon, you won’t be allowed to look at your reflection in the mirror” Excellent line.

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