The apocalypse started with toilet paper.

Actually, it started with germs half way around the world, but for most Americans, it didn’t become real until the Charmins began disappearing off the shelves of their favorite big box stores.

Sure, there was news of China shutting down entire cities and locals stuck on cruise ships that were quarantined upon entering port. But our leaders were downplaying it, making fun of it, calling it a hoax.

Not long after that, cases and deaths started popping up in distant states inside the union, then in nearby states and finally in home states…

My teen son loads groceries part time at the local Big Box, and he told tales of people buying cases of toilet paper and pallets of bottled water.

The onset of the toilet paper panic hit just as spring break was staring for the kids. I already took the week off to hang out with them, so I was at a safe distance while work struggled with how to function in the pandemic. The CDC guidelines are to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, and my take is that work would be a safe place because corporate cuts had already throughly decimated our staff.

My plans for spring break had been modest. Drag the kids out once a day for a little fun. We don’t have any money in the budget for travel, and my wife is working through to figure out some computer coding. But everything is closed. No movies, no museums, The indoor pool closed. The restaurants only have carry out, if they are open at all. And it’s the Midwest, where spring is called “second winter.” Nothing to do outside. It actually snowed on the first day of the break, and it’s been cold and rainy ever since.

I was able to score a four-pack of off-brand paper at a downtown gas station that was immune to the hype a few days in. There were two on the shelf, but I only bought one. Only as much as we reasonably need.

The Big grocery store still hasn’t been able to keep it in stock. Yesterday, I dropped by the small, independent neighborhood grocery — the one with the healthy selection of Eastern European and Pacific Island and Southeast Asia fare. They had paper, but not on the shelves. I had to ask for it at the register. And then they only sell it one pack at a time. As the clerk went to the locked cabinet to retrieve it, she told me there was almost a fight over the stuff the previous day.