What Zarathustra Said

Tamsen’s review: Nothing new under the sun. Same as it ever was. But somehow, everything has changed… especially grocery shopping!

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ▪ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

It all started here

I’m pointing a finger at Nietzsche.  Eternal recurrence, a philosophy he embraced through the character of Zarathustra, which embodies the belief that every event happens over and over infinitely, seems thoroughly possible at this time in my life, like a remake of Groundhog Day in the horror genre. The moments that make up my days feel monotonously and repetitively the same. 


I never thought going to the grocery store on Sunday morning would be the highlight of my week.  My husband and I make a joke of it.  The big outing.  I don my least baggy pair of yoga pants and a clean t-shirt.  My “going to the store” shoes hide in the deepest recess of my closet, so I sit on a little foot stool we keep in the closet and put them on my ready feet.  Getting back up is a bitch, but I manage with a bit of rocking and a lot of thrusting my weight forward. 

Kitchen window

My hair is well beyond the need-a-haircut range, so I cover it with my West Asheville Library cap.  Not that I can visit the West Asheville Library these days.  Neither can I work up the enthusiasm to go online and read from their vast collection of e-books. That would be adding to my computer time, sitting in front of a screen, longing for my real, multifarious life to return.   I am happy reading Pinterest, and scouring my dog-training book for what went wrong.  The good news —yes!  there is good news here at our little mountain casita, we received a new Mabel (that cord that attaches the computer to the TV) and can now anticipate many more hours of watching stuff on television, while relaxing, asleep on the couch.  But first, the groceries.

Cookbook Corner

Before we head over to experience the latest craze in shopping adventures, I must decide which coat to wear, as I will a) need to be warm but b) not too warm as I will not be taking it off in the store.  Which coat to wear to the grocery store may very well be the most angst-filled deliberation of the week.  It is springtime in the mountains.  It could be 35 degrees or 62 with gusty winds.  This is a difficult decision because whatever I choose, I will not be wearing it again for at least a week and will have to carefully place it away from all other coats in a place where I will have no further contact with it for the duration.  It’s hard to wash a coat.  I currently have two coats in the “highly contaminated coat area.”  Now if only I could remember which one was most recently used.  I may have to scour the closet for a third option and mark the date I used it last so that the other coats have a chance to regain my trust.  I must also strategically leave some environmentally appropriate spring jackets available for our daily walks.  Once outerwear is chosen, I can move on to the lesser decisions of the day.

Training supplies

We no longer bring our own shopping bags to the store, all surfaces within being potential virus-laden harbingers of death.  We bring our N-95 masks and place them over our faces upon arrival at the parking lot.  Sometimes we must wait in line at the entrance, behind the yellow taped lines that signify the socially-sanctioned 6-foot distance.  The early morning old folks’ hour is helpful, as we learned long ago that most people hate getting up early on Sunday, even if it means they won’t have to wait in a line or deal with the afternoon crowds.  I am the morning person in this duo of shoppers.  Going out at 8 am is well within my wheelhouse and getting unpleasant chores done early allows me to feel more relaxed for the rest of my not-so-busy day. 


Appropriately attired, and granted the privilege of entry, we head into the store, safely girded for the challenge of running the channels now routing shoppers through the Whole Foods Market.  With the aisles blocked and the arrows on the floor, we are trapped in what feels like a cross between the snaking TSA line at the airport and a corn maize as we navigate through the stacks of bananas and pasta and large empty spaces in the shelves where the toilet paper once stood.  There are helpful young people ready to lend a (gloved) hand if you get lost or can’t find the shelf-stable tofu (also being hoarded it seems) or if you require special dispensation to backtrack to the baking powder.  Lingering is not encouraged—there’s a line of appropriately spaced shoppers waiting to get where I am, as I vacillate between the vegan, organic shortening or the regular vegetable shortening, which costs less. 

Fresh fruit

Whole Foods has done well keeping fresh produce available for our early morning run.  Many of the nonperishable items we normally buy are sometimes out of stock.  I stand hesitantly with my list, wondering what I might use in place of a missing ingredient.  Often it is the case of buying the higher-priced brand of safflower oil or the untested version of almond milk.  I had a near-meltdown when it became apparent that the brown rice farina I use to make my hot cereal mix is much more popular than I would have thought.  So, I spent a few precious minutes and committed illegal maneuverings around the store to make sure the thing I wanted wasn’t lurking elsewhere than its usual spot.  Would corn grits work?  They were out of organic.  How about cream of wheat?  I don’t even know what that is.  The pressure to move on was mounting, so I simply gave up and headed to the checkout.

Pantry shelf

Remember when grocery store clerks asked that innocuous question, “Find everything you needed?”  They have stopped doing that now, behind their piece of protective Plexiglas, longing for their shift to be over.  I let them know what I could not find, unprompted.  Before the crisis, they made an attempt to see if you somehow missed your unfound item and can be pacified with a quick search by another clerk.  Now they raise their shoulders as if to say “Whatcha gonna do?” or nod in agreement that, yes indeed, we don’t have that.  Finding the most elusive items seems to depend on good timing.  Store stockers have literally handed us the items we wanted straight from the pallets.   We scored a pack of toilet paper one Sunday morning, encouraged by our friendly cashier to run and grab some.  The truck had just come in.  It would all be gone by noon, we were advised.  I make it a point to thank our grocery store cashier and shelf stockers.  When it’s all over, I plan to hug each and every one of them.

From the garden

Before we left home, I placed an old towel on the counter in the kitchen.  This is where we place the bags and unpack them.  We give our items a spritz with our hydrogen peroxide mix and allow them to dry. Then we instantly recycle the paper bags provided by the store.   We wipe down all the surfaces we touched, from the car into the kitchen, with alcohol and remove the offending coats.  I change my pants and throw the shopping shoes to the back of the closet and give my hands a good washing.  We are happy with the thought that even if it seems ridiculous and over-the-top, we have taken the proper precautions and can relax, play with the dog, wash hands, walk in the neighborhood, wash hands, make dinner, wash hands, eat a meal worthy of non-discriminating tastes, wash hands, repeat ad nauseum.

My husband and I never have intelligent discussions about the philosophies of Nietzsche, who was a bit of a weirdo in his day.  Thousands of people have tried to interpret his writings and feed us conflicting information about what he meant.  Since five Sundays of grocery store runs have taken on a repetitiveness of their own, his notion of eternal recurrence of the same is one of those concepts I am beginning to wrap my consciousness around, yet I still have hope that the circumstances of our time will become just another short chapter in history, much like the man himself.

—I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful.  F. Nietzsche (The Gay Science)



I haven’t seen Guest Editor Tamsen since our separate incarcerations began.  She is keeping her days busy with writing and working from home.  She has now edited more Ethel posts than anyone else.  And she still calls me friend! 


  1. Oy. We are avoiding going in as much as possible. “Click and collect”. Here they highly suggest only one person per household go inside.

    I’m a stay at home don’t wanna stay hond but I do kind of girl and now I’m forced to. Booo but better safe than sick.

    We let our groceries sit on the floor near the entry way for 24 hours. (Not refrigerated stuffs). We don’t wipe down. We probably should.

    • We can’t leave anything on the floor as the dog will make a meal or a mess of it! We don’t have very many grocery stores here, so waiting for an open time for pickup is a nightmare. I love hearing the strategies employed for getting what’s needed and the “decontamination” process once in the house. We do what makes us comfortable and then when we see that we are still okay, we continue with the whatever it was we were doing. Keep up the good work!

  2. Well done. I feel your pain. We all do. A suggestion for rotating coats to avoid reusing one before its time: after wearing one, place it on the right side of the coat quarantine section of your closet. After wearing another one, move the hanger with the previous one to the left and place the newly worn coat in its place at the far right. Repeat like Zarawhatever and after using all the coats you have the one now on the far left has had the most time to air out. Sounds complicated to describe but easy to do. You’re welcome.

    • Okay, what? You have hangers? All the clean coats protest if I put the contaminated one in the closet with them. I like the idea though. Time to move some of the winter-weather coats down to the basement to make room for Coat Musical Chairs (hangers). Thanks!

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