Updated: Jan 12, 2022
I bought the last of my local supermarket's fresh chicken this morning—the last. Two packages of flavored chicken wings had to be sold today, and I got them. Now that I bought them, there is no chicken in that store outside of the frozen food section.
The meat counter clerk apologized but said there was nothing he could do. "Our supply chain is just all f*cked up," he complained. "It's frustrating because they have supplies of the things we need," he continued. "They just can't get them to us."
I dropped in my local CVS to pick up some meds and found a similar situation, but even worse. This is an excellent-sized store, open less than a year. Two pharmacists were on duty at the pharmacy, but only one person was working in the rest of the store. The manager had worked double shifts Saturday and Sunday.
At first, I didn't recognize the situation since the store is not overly staffed in the best of times. But when he came up to the register from where I had seen him restocking shelves a few minutes before, it struck me that he was doing both jobs.
"Yes, I am the only one..., he admitted, adding: "I'm so sleepy," I asked what happened to his shift workers, and he replied two were on holiday, and three were out sick, quarantined with COVID. "One of those on holiday is coming back tomorrow," he said, "so things will be a little better then."
These situations represent how the latest version of COVID has forced us and is forcing us to re-think who is an essential worker. That designation appears to be moving away from depending on the worker's skill set and edging toward their easy availability actually to do the job. If there is no one else to do it, any position in the country can become essential.
Also, these breakdowns in regular systems illustrate again how much we depend on one another. Because a supermarket company either lacked drivers for their trucks or the warehouse workers to load those trucks, I will have to make soup from chicken wings tonight and hope it turns out. Without his absent workers, a CVS store manager might have to close a store while he gets some much-needed sleep. Everything and everybody is interconnected in ways we can't even begin to recognize, much less understand.
When I was a boy, I learned a funny bit of doggerel that illustrated this point well.
"For the sake of nail, a shoe was lost." the poem began. "For the sake of the shoe, a horse was lost./ For the sake of a horse, a rider was lost./For the sake of a rider, a message was lost./For the sake of a message, a battle was lost./For the sake of a battle, a war was lost, until, finally, for the sake of a nail, a kingdom was lost."
Omicron, it seems to me, is stealing steadily more of our nails and everything else. I wonder how much we are going to have to lose.