Just Another Shut In

I’ve discovered Instacart. What a tool!

I log in and browse the shelves of Wegman’s grocery story from the comfort of my own home. Click this. Click that. Sparkling water? Don’t mind if I do. A few hours later, my grocery boy arrives. He rings the door bell. He drives away before we have a chance to exchange enzymes. And there’s a week’s worth of groceries on my front porch.

Too expensive? Absolutely. Can I afford this luxury? Not really. Do I feel tremendous waves of Jewish guilt for sending a young man off to do my shopping. Oi vey! You betcha!

What am I? A bourgeoise factory owner? I’m afraid not. I’m but a humble working man, who feels obligated to increase my tip on Instacart because my grocery boy is risking his life for my sparkling water.

Here’s some real talk. I do not like grocery shopping in the time of Corona. Masks. Guards at the door. Sanitize this, sanitize that, and don’t step over the yellow line. And God forbid you get closer than six feet to me. So I’ve found alternative options. Like Instacart.

Or how about this?

Way’s Fruit Farm, a local fruit farm (did its name give it away?), makes deliveries. Fresh vegetables and fruit? Brussel sprouts that have been pickled by Amish farmers? Deli cheese? Apple Butter? Oi vey! Don’t mind if I do.

I’m not sure how long I can sustain this luxury. I’m not a rich man who can afford grocery boys and Amish Apple Butter. But all the luxuries of this modern age have allowed me to avoid grocery shopping.

I may never leave the house again.


Centre County, that’s where I live in Pennsylvania, moved from Red to Yellow last week. What does it mean to move from Red to Yellow? I assume it is similar to what happens at intersections. Don’t stop. But go slow.

Pennsylvania has detailed instructions about how one should function while their county is in yellow. No gatherings over 25 people. Stay home. Social distancing. Etc. I’m not sure there’s much logic in moving from red to yellow. My friend who works at the local hospital suspects that cases of Covid-19 in our area will peak at the end of June. Seems like we should stay red until we peak. Or figure out treatments. Vaccines and whatnots. But I’m no politician. No epidemiologist, either. I’m just a local shut in who can’t afford his grocery boy.

I got an email from a colleague in Australia last week.

“How’s it going in America?” they asked. “It looks pretty bleak over there.”

Australia has essentially eliminated new cases of Covid-19. They haven’t equated personal liberty with hair cuts or going to the beach. Instead, they spent a few months in serious quarantine. Waited until their cases went down. All but vanished. Then they opened things back up. That seems like a humane and reasonable thing to do in the face of an infectious virus without a cure. In the face of lots of sick and dying people. America has taken a different strategy.

A quote from my favorite author Kurt Vonnegut came to mind as I thought about my colleague in Australia’s question. A passage from the book I always quote. A Man Without a Country. Here’s what Kurt Vonnegut wrote about whether or not America was a humane and reasonable place:

But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts us absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power.”

K. Vonnegut

Seems to me that, rather than being humane and reasonable, there are all sorts of powerful people in this country who are losing money right now. So it makes sense they are putting money into efforts to trivialize the impact of an infectious virus to shore up profit margins. And lots of working people like me in this country get caught up in their rhetoric. And fight for and against their rhetoric on social media. Get all worked up.

All the while, the infectious disease does what it does. And the power-drunk chimpanzees do what they do. And humble working shut-ins like me do what we do:

Order groceries on Instacart.


Let me be clear. I’m not a politician. I’m not an epidemiologist. I, much like most of you reading this, am not really qualified to dictate public health policy. Economic policy, either. But I am a scholar of critical literacy. And that means I’ve spent lots of time studying how people create and interpret texts. I’ve learned quite a bit about how rhetoric, discourse, and power inform the stories we are told about how things work. The stories we tell ourselves. The stories we tell others.

Some examples of texts? War and Peace? A Man Without a Country? Beloved? Of course. But we are swimming in digital texts these days. Facebook posts. Websites about what it means for your county in Pennsylvania to move from red to yellow. Press conferences. These things are texts. Online articles. From the New York Times. Fox News. BBC. Mother Jones. Breitbart. These things are all texts.

I can say this with some measure of expertise: I do not have any faith in the messaging I’m receiving about what is happening with Covid-19 in the United States through most of the texts I’m reading. Most of what is driving political policy does not seem to be taking information seriously. Instead, it seems fueled by rhetoric. By power-drunk chimpanzees. This situation makes me uncomfortable. The stories people tell themselves about a virus seem to have more power than information about the virus. Yikes.

So there you have it. The musings of a recluse with a grocery boy he can’t afford during the times of Corona.

I wish this were over. No quarantine. No virus. I’m afraid that, regardless of the stories people are telling each other right now, I don’t really see an end in sight.

So I’ll just keep improvising. Working from home. Ordering from Instacart. A carton of Oreo Ice Cream delivered to my front porch? At three times the cost? If you insist, Instacart. If you insist.

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