Buying School Supplies during Covid-19

Writer’s note: I started this piece on April 13, 2020. With the help of my lifelong friend and editor Megan Lee Dunbar, I am able to publish it now, as a reflection of an experience during the first few weeks of New Orlean’s Stay-at-Home Mandate. 

I have an 88% B+ in a science class for the first time in my life and no excuses not to keep it up. Except needing a new notebook, because I cannot handle making the switch from lined eight and a half by eleven college ruled three hole paper to blank paper. Those blue and red lines are the only structure I have in my life.

In order to unpack where I am these days, it is essential that you know how much I love excuses. I frequently canceled plans, found excuses to leave early, and stayed home. My self-decided minimum time to be at a public or private event is an hour. Now, here I am, the fortunate introvert in a global crisis. Of course, the restrictions have changed the structure of my life with store closures, limited entry, and in some cases – limited access to “inessential” supplies. 

I’ve been taking the recommended precautions, because I want to avoid being exposed or exposing someone else. So I chose to buy my new notebook at Walgreens because:

  1. Of the closest stores, it is the only one with a drive thru pharmacy, meaning a good majority of people with illnesses and possible symptoms don’t have to go into the store.
  2. The store layout is optimal – office supplies are right off from the central check out area.
  3. I have a rewards card there, which meant the possibility of not having to pay full overblown retail price of $6.99 +tax for a single subject notebook (spoiler alert: I didn’t have a rewards balance and I paid full price).

I put all of this strategic planning into going to buy a notebook. I didn’t bring cash, because I think that’s somehow dirtier than a card I never sanitized in 3 years prior to this global pandemic, because I’m thinking critically about how many places everything I own has been. I didn’t bring my phone in so I wouldn’t touch my phone until after washing my hands when I got home, because that also seems like the right thing to do. I put on hand sanitizer before and after to lower the chance of contamination. 

And then the strap of the mask I wear in public snapped right before I got out of my car. I held it up to my face with the elastic band still hanging from it, because I’ve gotta get the notebook so I can finish this biology course. I walked into the store, I paid attention to the stickers on the floor encouraging 6 feet of distance between myself and the shopper in front of me. My glasses fogged up as I bent to pick up the notebook. 

Someone in the store coughed. I snapped up like a deer breaking from eating grass to be more aware of the signs of a predator.

I put the notebook under my arm, mask still tightly pressed into my face, and headed to the check out. I waited, hopping from line of masking tape to the next as I made my way up to the cashier 6 feet at a time.

The mental calculation of risk for buying a notebook continued as I waited. Each time the door opened, myself and the people in front of me looked up to see who it was, whether they were wearing a mask, if they looked like someone at higher risk for infection.

I thought about the interaction I would be having shortly with the cashier. Should I put the notebook down on the counter, or hand it directly to the cashier? Can I lessen my exposure (or risk of exposing) by selecting credit, rather than putting my pin number in? Does it make a difference?

I don’t remember much about the cashier, except my hesitation when she handed me a receipt. For once in my life, I was relieved to get a pharmacy receipt, known for their length. More distance, less interaction.

When I left the store, I walked out of my way to avoid car doors which were opening for people to get out. After getting into my car, I did what felt right: take off my mask, place it away from my other belongings, and sanitize my hands before I touched my keys or steering wheel.

As I head home, I’m reminded of the quote I’ve been repeating like a mantra to myself since this all started:

“If the measures we’re taking to fight the coronavirus work, they’ll look excessive later on. But the alternative is worse.” Ian Bogost, The Atlantic March 16, 2020

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