Yes, the photo is a recent purchase, from yesterday. I joined the madness. All that I have to say is:
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Beware the ides of March.
What man is that?
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15–19
Okay, yesterday, the Ides of March, I sort of attended the early service and then taught Sunday school. Actually, the classroom is the chapel which is close enough to the speakers in the Narthex. I sat in the classroom, a lot more than 6 feet away from anyone, and I listened to the sermon and sang along with the familiar hymns. Shockingly, the classroom was over half filled for Sunday school, the following hour. Shocking in that I was substituting for the usual teacher, and two couples had already e-mailed saying that they were skipping out, one legitimately sick – not the coronavirus – and the other as a precaution.
So, I left to do a little shopping, at about 10:30am on the Ides of March. For one, I needed a couple of items, and I was curious about toilet paper supplies. I first went to Costco. They had a guard at the toilet paper and a sign saying one per customer, the same for paper towels. But the meat that I was looking for was all gone. They had steaks, roasts, salmon, and cod – no chicken at all. And very little of what was in stock. Just to be curious, I went to the frozen section and there were no hamburger patties, no lunch meats, and few hot dogs, but a lot of empty shelves. I got one case of toilet paper, although we were not out – just low. I got some pears, carrots, and broccoli. The fresh vegetable area was less than a third filled.
Running short of ground beef, I went to Wal Mart. I have never gone down an aisle at Wal Mart with no merchandise on either side, but I did on the Ides of March. This was the area where they usually had bottled water and paper products. Okay, one shelf had 2-3 packages of paper plates, but everything else was empty. Of the ground beef, they had six packages left, and I took two of them. I had little hope walking toward the beef, because the meat coolers had been completely picked clean until I reached what I was looking for – the only thing left.
My wife called from Tennessee after I got home. She had attended church along with our son’s family in the living room of their house, live-streaming provided for those who had endangered immune systems. Our son hooked his computer into the television. She said that someone came on as a public service to suggest that the panic shoppers were not thinking of health. They had the toilet paper for months of use, food for a few weeks, but no one was buying sinus-related medicines, facial tissues, or pain killers in case they got sick. My son’s family is large in a small house. They cannot stockpile, but they need toilet paper and no store has any in their area.
All this toilet paper scare is ridiculous. People will need to get the other essentials long before they’ll need more toilet paper. The panic is a product of a lack of faith. No faith in the medical field. No faith in the government. And there is no faith in God, the God that they haven’t even thought about since this came up, unless it was to blame God for the virus.
But I did buy cases upon cases of toilet paper once, and for good reason.
I spent one summer in the late 70s as the construction officer / executive officer of a combat heavy engineering company (military construction) in West Germany. I make the distinction of West Germany, because we had a huge project near the borders of East Germany and Czechoslovakia, more than a half of a day’s drive away. Okay, besides the date, the geographical locations are all different now also. So this story is from roughly 42 years ago.
I was teased, because I had only made two trips to this huge job site all summer. But while I was the construction officer for that job, I was also the construction officer for a job at the Belgium Embassy and a couple of local jobs in Karlsruhe, Germany. I only had three opportunities to visit the site, and I opted out of one.
That fateful morning, not the Ides of March, I got a call from the lieutenant in charge of the project on site. He had about 200 people working on the site. A normal company sized unit was smaller than that. We had borrowed people from other companies to ensure this job was completed on time.
He sounded weak and he said, “Mark, we have a problem. There is some kind of virus running through this area. Everybody is sick. The biggest problem is the diarrhea. It’s not just us. It’s everybody, even the Germans in the local town – everybody. We’re out. The local quartermaster is out. The local town is out. Everybody is out!”
I interrupted, “Out where?”
“Not where, we’re all out of toilet paper. This is a major crisis here. Get as much toilet paper as you can get up here as quickly as you can get it. And hurry, I gotta GO!” And the line went dead.
I ran down the stairs to our supply sergeant and told him that I needed as much toilet paper as would fit in a helicopter. He asked what helicopter, but I didn’t know yet. When he asked by whose authority and what justification that I had, I said, “Sergeant, you can worry about that S#$% later, but the 200 guys that we have up north and east of here have a different kind of S#$% problem. This is a direct order, since I have orders as the temporary company commander. You will take a truck full of toilet paper to the airfield SOONEST! And while you are busting your backside, I will be upstairs begging a full-bird colonel out of his chopper. Understand?!” (To translate, ASAP means As Soon As Possible, but SOONEST is quicker than that. I know, that’s impossible, but that’s the Army way. In this case, do it and worry about the paperwork tomorrow.)
It was the only time that our beloved supply sergeant, with an attitude, ever swallowed hard and meekly said, “Yes, Sir.” And the company commander was in the area at the time, but no one knew where he was hiding, thus I was on ‘permanent’ orders as his ‘temporary’ replacement. Now do you know what kick started my GERD a few months later?
When I got back to my office, I called the Major who was the head of our little group of helicopters, for the brigade staff, not for battalion use, and definitely not for a lieutenant in a company sized unit. The phone call interrupted the Major as he was prepping the large Huey. The colonel needed to go to a meeting in Heidelberg and a job site near there. I asked how many people were going with him and he said just him and the XO. I explained my little problem, and meekly suggested that the reconnaissance helicopter could carry two passengers. The Major calmly, but firmly, asked, “Lieutenant, you are asking a Major to tell a full bird Colonel that he can’t use his big shiny helicopter, because you, a puny lieutenant, need to transport toilet paper?”
“Sir, Yes, Sir!” said boldly, and maybe a little too loud.
He laughed and said that I was in luck in that the Colonel would understand. He then asked, “Will you be accompanying this load of toilet paper?”
I replied, “Sir, I know you’ll need a co-pilot or a loadmaster, but if I don’t go, can you get more toilet paper on your bird?”
He laughed again, “With you not going, we’ll pull the seats and get a few extra cases on there. Your Special Operation, codename TP, is as good as done. By the way, I see a five-ton dump truck driving up. You do realize that I have a load limit? … Just kidding, we’ll load as much as we can.”
I submit this as a true story, but the conversations might not be word for word. After all, it was over 40 years ago. I think the Major said something about the loadmaster not going and converting that weight into more toilet paper, but I’m fuzzy on a few details.
So, if you were concerned that I was the construction officer for a huge project, but forfeited a chance to visit the job site, I hope you’ll understand. It was a case of Force Majeure.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.