Thursday, April 2, 2020
The day dawned cloudy and lukewarm and the forecast is for pure gloom for years to come. I thought about going back to bed, but it was almost noon.
I shrugged off the covers, fed the cat and brewed some coffee. I had no idea what day it was. We are living the new abnormal now, and calendars are all but useless. Only the numbers change.
But when I turned on the computer and stared at the 4-2-2020 in the corner of the screen, I realized that this was supposed to be a sacred day for those of us who love baseball. The home opener. Except the stadium was empty, and so were the streets.
I contemplated an appropriate way to observe the day, but my heart wasn’t in it. Sure, it would have been nice to get a look at Donaldson and Buxton, but I was more interested in hearing what Fauci and Cuomo had to say.
Nostalgia just saddens me; it suggests that the future won’t be nearly as rewarding as the past. And when that suggestion is almost certainly true, the sadness is profound. I don’t blame my friends for watching the seventh game of the 1991 World Series for the 30th time. At least there’s comfort in knowing you’re going to see a happy ending.
But in real life, there are no happy endings. Life is neither a Hollywood movie nor a massage parlor.
Still, I was determined to make this day special. It was a day to tempt fate, a day to live the life of danger, to go where few men dared to go. Namely, the grocery store.
The Twins were scheduled to face the A’s at exactly 3:10, so at 3 p.m. I got into my car and began my fateful journey. I was flying without radar. The grocery list was in my head and a pair of vinyl gloves were on my hands.
I had a game plan. I would hit the store running. No impulse shopping today. I knew what I wanted and where it was and I allotted seven minutes to get from the front door to the check-out. If I had the rotation figured out, Homer Bailey would be throwing a 93 mph fastball to Marcus Semien just as I was hunting down oatmeal. Speed and distancing would give me a chance of getting home uninfected, and if all went well, I’d be back by 3:45.
But all rarely goes well now. In my mind, Bailey made quick work of Semien, the A’s leadoff guy, but I had to take a few detours before I bagged a couple of big containers of oatmeal. Just as a pitcher named Homer is ironic, so too was the fact that getting to the one-minute oatmeal was a five-minute odyssey.
I was making good progress toward the cereal section, but there would be roadblocks. The first was a woman who decided to decamp at the canned beans section while she talked on her phone. Which makes about as much sense as Jose Altuve crowding the plate vs. Clayton Kershaw.
Getting past her would mean violating the law of social distancing, so I reversed course, headed back one aisle and then had to slam on the brakes when I saw a guy about 10 feet ahead who had come to a complete stop, apparently mesmerized by the ingredients in Wheat Thins. And not just any Wheat Thins. I’m talking the basil and tomato version. I finally gave up and turned back. This was like waiting for David Price to throw a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded.
You don’t play chicken with a stationary cart in a grocery store.
By the time I made it to my favorite section — household cleaners — I imagined the Twins were coming to bat. Max Kepler had probably lined out to the first baseman, and Jorge Polanco had punched a single into short center field. Grandpa Bremer was telling his rapt listeners why it would be foolish for Polanco — or any Twins player — to attempt to steal second base. Once a purist, poor Dick now finds himself saying that the only thing that matters are homers. The thought cheered me up. I wasn’t missing all that much.
For me, however, what really mattered was toilet paper. No doubt that a 12-pack of Ultra Soft Charmin might have been worth trying to steal. But the shelves were empty. I cut my losses by grabbing an off-brand of paper towels. One to a customer.
It went more smoothly after that. With a lot of zigs and zags I had scooped up about 20 items and was behind by maybe five minutes. By then I was sweating again, although I wasn’t sure whether the beads on my forehead were caused by exertion or anxiety.
And then the walls started to close in. Something was missing. And that something was cashiers.
Normally — why do I keep using that word when it’s a thing of the past? — there might have been 10 check-out lines. Now there were two. This wasn’t anxiety; it was terror. What if someone coughed? I thought about faking a sneeze, figuring it would empty the joint and get me to the front of the line. But it was dangerous enough just being in line — which, with people standing a good 10 or 12 feet from each other, just about snaked all the way to the back of the store.
I calmed myself by imagining that Josh Donaldson was coming to bat. But what I really imagined was his four-year deal, worth $92 million. I’m pretty sure Donaldson wasn’t standing in line somewhere. Then it struck me: professional athletes are some of the richest dudes in the world. I knew a few stars had written some big checks to help out laid-off workers or overwhelmed hospitals, but what about Donaldson and his teammates?
Another thing I wondered about after I’d been in line for exactly 46 minutes: why was the middle-aged gentleman in front of me holding onto two frozen pizzas — Tombstone, of course — and a couple of two-liter bottles of Diet Coke? No cart. No actual food. I’m not judging the guy. We had all left our homes for essential items, and I guess these were essential for him. But if you’re going to stand in line for an hour, why not pick out a few other items? Like, say, bleach? Or Windex? There might even have been some fresh vegetables in the produce section.
Looking ahead, I could just barely see a couple arriving at the check-out counter with a cart that was so full it reminded me of the loaded-down jalopy that the Joads drove to California. I thought I saw an elderly grandmother sitting atop a mound of cat litter, but perhaps I was hallucinating. I was supposed to be home now, perhaps watching Buxton ending his season in the third inning with a crash into the center-field wall. But now I was the one hitting the wall.
We inched forward. I called my youngest son and told him that I might need medical attention. This was supposed to be a great adventure, but I had no appetite — not for food or baseball. I didn’t give a damn about Miguel Sano‘s inability to hit the curve. All I cared about was flattening the curve.
Dark clouds were drifting over the city when I got back home at 4:30. I left the bags in my car, giving my purchases 48 hours to shed pathogens. I tossed all my clothes in the washer and scrubbed my hands and then I scrubbed my hands.
Then I got the score update: 742-18. Meaning 742 confirmed Coronavirus cases in Minnesota, and 18 dead. Globally, over one million infected and 53,000 dead.
I saw a few games at Target Field last year, and not long ago I was eager to see a few more. But right now I don’t care if I never get back.