A story from theHill.com revealed the ways people are dealing with the ketchup shortage. They're paying a premium price to buy fast-food ketchup packets on eBay. I'm not sure I'd want my burger slathered with something that's been sitting under the floor mats of a guy's car for nine months, but ...

"Waaaaait a minute there, mister," you say. "Back that one up. The ketchup shortage?"

I know. It was news to me, as well. According to theHill.com, we are experiencing a ketchup shortage, and Heinz is promising to increase production. Immediately, three thoughts galloped through my head:

Thought No. 1: How is the family set for ketchup? I'm sure we're good. I have never run out of ketchup in my entire life. There are at least three bottles in the pantry, plus the one in the cupboard, which is open. Yeah, yeah, refrigerate after opening, I know. I don't. And yet I thrive.

Think about it. Have you ever seen a hospital TV show where someone was brought into the ER minutes from death, and the young doctor — handsome, irritable, brilliant, flawed — leans over, checks the patient's eyes and pulse, then detects a small red fleck on the corner of the patient's mouth. He touches it.

Nurse: "Doctor — what are you doing? You're not wearing a glove!"

"I can't tell the temperature through a glove, nurse. I may be impulsive and unorthodox, but my methods get results."

"Funny, that's what they say about my husband, who's a cop on another TV show. What did you learn?"

Doctor scowls. "It's room-temperature ketchup. My God, they never learn. Prepare for a condimentoscopy! He also might have unrefrigerated relish in his system!"

"But doctor, I always assumed the vinegar preserved the ... "

"Just do it!"

No, you have not seen this on TV. Warm ketchup is fine.

Thought No. 2: Should I go get some ketchup?

Maybe. Hoarding is wrong, but, hey, it's not like I'm the only one whose moral compass has been reset to justify hoarding with some tissue-thin delusion you could see through during a solar eclipse. In this case, I tell myself, "I'll go to all the stores and see if they have ketchup, for work research. Maybe I can even expense it!"

The first store was a suburban chain known for being Clever and Fun. The ketchup is on the bottom shelf. There were a dozen bottles, and an empty spot where the rest would go. Well, it was the end of the day; perhaps they would restock. I could wedge myself in a corner and remain motionless for two hours to see if they had more, or just note that "signs of low supplies were evident" and move along to do some journalism elsewhere.

The second store was the Upscale Store. You pay a bit more, but it's worth it to have your self-perceived class status reinforced in a hundred little ways. It also was a bit low on ketchup. Interesting. I asked a stocker if there had been unusual ketchup demand lately, and his expression indicated he was trying to parse the difference between normal ketchup demand and unusual demand. "You mean unusual like someone with a fish on his head asking for it in Latin?"

The next store was a large, national, red-themed retailer. The ketchup department was huge, and showed signs of being hit hard. Conclusion: Target shoppers read theHill.com.

A few weeks ago I read a story about how the Suez Canal blockage might impact toilet paper supplies, and, sure enough, the next time I went to the store, the shelves were bare. Gah. Did people stocking up on toilet paper nod to the other hoarders and say, "You here to get ahead of the Suez-related supply-chain interruption, too?"

"Yep. I read there might be a temporary shortage of Crazy Glue, pitted olives and dog toothbrushes, so you might want to do something about that."

"Thank you, my good man."

"We're all in this together."

The last stop was at a warehouse store that doesn't want you to think of it as a warehouse store but will never shake that warehouse-store vibe. It had ketchup in abundance. "OK," I assured myself. "It's safe to buy one. Or six."

Thought No. 3: What if we are short of ketchup, but there's plenty of catsup? That really would be a story. They'd have to admit there was a difference. And then they'd have to tell us what it was.

Anyway, I apologize for bringing up the subject in the first place, because now you're wondering if you have enough ketchup. If I had no scruples, I would float the rumor that there was a looming pimento shortage, just to gauge my own power and influence. Hah! The shelves are empty! The rubes believed me!

Assuming most people know where the pimentos are.

Assuming most people know what pimentos are. I'm not sure I do, but now I'm wondering if we have enough.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks