The Third Third

Shopping for a Cure

When, in the course of online pandemic shopping, I am able to secure fresh-squeezed orange juice; a clean, new mop and bucket combo;  back-up supplies of tea and white wine; solar lights for the front walk;  unscorched lampshades for the sconces in our bathroom; sheltering-in-place Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and birthday cards, even downloadable and print-at-home cards; I experience an embarrassingly disproportionate sense of accomplishment and pleasure.  I’ve been heard to shout “Score!” from my computer, and I’ve been seen fist-pumping my way back to change the laundry.  Pathetic, I know.  

One of my most rewarding wins happened a couple of days ago when, frustrated by the unevenness of my stovetop grates which, when you move a pan from one burner to another causes spills, I got online to find the little hard rubber tips that hold the grates in place and level.  With my serial and model numbers in hand, I called a Viking parts store Google had found for me.  Indeed, they carried these “grate shoes” (they have a name!) and, yes, they’d be happy to send me two of them, along with some heat-resistant silicon glue to hold them in place. No charge for shipping.  What good fortune.  Or good shopping.  Of course, it made my day.  Here’s the thing, though: this kind of shopping wizardry had made a lot of peoples’ days.  The Viking parts guy told me that during the course of this pandemic with millions of people sheltering-in-place with (1) not quite enough to do; and/or (2) lots of cooking to do, they had sold out (!) of the grate feet for some models!

I have tried to make this story somehow larger than the tiny black grate feet. Have I spotted a national trend in shopping for appliance parts?  Or a common need to fix anything we think we might have control over in our households?  Or, do these particular ventures fall into the “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” category? (But that would suggest that the Viking parts worker was, in fact, essential in this pandemic economy, and I can’t really say that he is, despite the slight boost to my mental health his service provided).  I began to wonder:  In what other ways are we shopping, consuming, adjusting?  I’ve noticed, for example,  impressive and often moving television advertising and signage that very quickly incorporated the coronavirus in their messages. It cheers me, in a strange way, because, this is exactly the kind of creativity and initiative that I expected to see scaled up for the stuff that really matters — the stuff that will enable us to combat both the health crisis and the economic crisis it has spawned.

What’s truly essential, it seems to me, is widespread rapid testing on demand, contact tracing, strategic isolation, and non-stop work on developing mitigating therapies and effective vaccines. 

I don’t want to spend my days musing about grate feet, because it leads me to thinking about this:  What has happened to a country that once mustered all of its resources and factories to manufacture  the combat aircraft, tanks and other munitions (talk about appliance parts!) needed to win World War II?  Does it have neither the will nor the wherewithal today to save its people or the economy from this scourge?  Masks, gowns, shields, swabs, reagents, test tubes, tests, promising drugs. This isn’t rocket science; it’s basic public health. And, still, we haven’t made it happen.

I believe my husband and I are doing everything we can to avoid infection, and our children are doing the same, both for themselves and their children, and for us, and for the public good. So, having done what we can, I don’t actively worry about that.  But I do worry about our capacity as a country to address this particularly lethal challenge. Just as I readily assumed there was a part for my Viking stovetop, I have also assumed our democracy existed in service to a greater good. Our government under Donald Trump has betrayed that trust.  This, in turn, dashes my hope that American’s brilliant scientists and medical professionals will be able to produce, or partner with the world’s best to produce and distribute an effective vaccine anytime soon.  So more and more people will die.  We will have to stay quarantined.  And in the face of my despair, I guess I will continue to seek out small domestic victories with my wickedly successful online shopping.  To be sure, I’m not adding to the problem with my behavior in isolation, but I’m not contributing to the solutions I seek, either.  And, today,  that’s feeling really depressing.

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