GETTING LOST IN THE PANDEMIC SUPERMARKET by Donny Levit
My first COVID-19 shopping spree sets the pace
Shopping list. Check. Shopping bags. Check. Travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer. Check. Rubber gloves. Check. Face mask. Check. Wipes. Check. London Calling. Check.
I know it may sound superfluous but selecting the perfect album to play while driving to the grocery store during a pandemic rates high on my list of priorities. And the album London Calling by the Clash fits the bill.
On that sterling morning in early April, I backed out of the driveway to the upbeat “Rudie Can’t Fail” and headed over to the Stop & Shop on Valley Street. With a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old at home, I decided to go a little light on the accelerator so I could sneak in a few extra few minutes out of the house.
By the time I pulled into the parking lot, I was at “Lost in the Supermarket,” the eighth track (side two, track three for the vinyl purists) on the album. The tune has always been one of my favorite Clash songs. Joe Strummer’s lyrics contrast the shiny and clean grocery store with the lonely existence of the protagonist.
Before putting on my mask, I scooped up some Altoids and popped them in my mouth. I figured they would keep my breath fresh under my mask during the shopping spree (NB: that lasted all of 15 minutes and it was all downhill from there).
I whisked my cart over to the fruit and veggie section and started singing the first lines of the song under my still Altoid-friendly breath: “I’m all lost in the supermarket / I can no longer shop happily....” Strummer didn’t forecast a future pandemic when he wrote the song in 1979, but the first dozen words certainly do the trick. Had I discovered my pandemic theme song for this new normal?
The first rule of pandemic shopping is to be as efficient as possible: no email, no endless scrolling, and no texting goofy photos of adult diapers to my college friends. Unfortunately, I became indecisive as soon as I arrived at the apples. Fuji? Gala? Honey crisp? Nothing is more sinful in the Levit household than biting into a mealy apple, so the stakes were high. I soon noticed two patient shoppers waiting for me to make my decision and move on.
As I aimed my cart straight for the hummus, I noticed that Marty the robot failed to obey the six-foot rule. Admittedly, I find him to be a bit of a creeper on even the best of days. I held my tongue. I figured I didn’t need to add any more weirdness to the environment by jawing at a robot.
I then headed down the frozen food aisle and a fleet of shopping carts stood in my way, captained by well-intentioned shoppers who did not yet possess the finesse to steer smoothly in this new age of social distancing. Here we are, upholding the mandate of this new normal our society has asked us to follow. We are signed on for the long haul, but we are already weary. We’re weary from the relentless drone of the kids/work combo at home, the quarantine overachievers tsk-tsking on social media, and simply the lack of knowing if we’ll see our family for the December holidays.
And all of a sudden, it made sense: silently raging in the supermarket to a seminal punk album is in fact the best that one can do right now.
Checkout at the cash register went smoothly and I was soon on the way to pack up my bounty into the trunk. I jumped in the car seat, peeled off my mask, and got reacquainted with my peripheral vision. As I bid goodbye to the Stop & Shop for another week, I took a right turn onto Valley Street. The next song after “Lost in the Supermarket” came on. Joe Strummer is now singing “Clampdown” and once again, it’s a strangely appropriate title for what’s going on in our world. Looks like London Calling will be my soundtrack for the foreseeable future.
Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay nice. We’ll get through this.
Donny Levit is a journalist, writer, and Maplewood resident. He is the author of Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories. Follow him on Twitter @donnyreports and Instagram @undertheinfluenceradio.