James Lileks

Last week I went to buy hand sanitizer. Oh, no reason!

Sometimes you just like to slather your palms with viscous zingy goop. And sometimes you just like to do it 16 times an hour, just because. And sometimes you forget and realize you just touched your face and now you're doomed. Why did you have to touch your face? Was there some doubt it was there? Is your head like a bankroll in your back pocket, and you need constant reassurance?

What happens if you touch your face and it's not there? At first you'd be relieved — "Well, at least I didn't give myself the virus" — but then you'd be, like: "Huh, I thought I had it with me. Maybe if I check my coat pocket."

Forgive the absurd digression, but if I was being straightforward, the column would consist of the following: Went to buy hand sanitizer. There wasn't any.

And we can't have that. We've miles to go and inches to fill before we sleep.

You have to admit the great Sanitizer Panic of '20 was not something you expected. Everyone is now cursing themselves for tossing out the 16 small containers of the stuff they had in the junk drawer. When you don't have any, and you want some, but there isn't any, you feel vulnerable all of a sudden.

Store No. 1: Big empty spot on the shelf where once the sanitizer was stocked. Someone had actually bought the last bottle, which in this state is a violation of our social compact. I'd like to think two people stood there in an interminable Minnesota standoff — "You take it." "No, you take it." "No, I don't have kids at home." "No, you're older." Then someone from New York shoves through and takes it, and the Minnesotans glare: Bet he merges at the top of the line, too.

Store No. 2: They had hand sanitizer foaming soap, which will do in a pinch. I bought two and left one because I am a decent person who cares about others. Also, it was on the top shelf way back, and I am short and couldn't reach it, but mostly the decent-person stuff.

Store No. 3: No hand sanitizer at all. Not surprising, since it was a liquor store and, in a sense, everything there is hand sanitizer. Don't kid yourself: When things get bad, people will be washing their mitts with single-malt.

Store No. 4: There was an employee standing by the door making eye contact with everyone who drove in the parking lot, and he kept shaking his head. We got the message.

Went home, then thought: Amazon! They have everything. But they didn't. The house brand was sold out, and the web page said they did not know when it would be back in stock. There was a robust selection from other vendors, though, all from the retailing firm of Heyletz, Gougem & Howe. A bottle that had been $1.50 a few weeks ago was now $9, with $6 shipping and handling. (Handling? Doesn't that defeat the entire purpose?)

One vendor was selling 200 small bottles for $1,000. At this point, you just think: "I'm going to pour bleach in some rubber gloves and wear those until this all blows over."

Then I remembered previous panics and thought surely I set aside some hand sanitizer to endure the bird flu that never came. Sure enough, there were 10 tiny bottles, each one full of transparent, glistening, false hopes.

I gave one to my wife, and said, "Tell no one you have this. People know you have hand sanitizer, they'll be beating down our door like neighbors in that 'Twilight Zone' episode where one guy has a bomb shelter and everyone thinks there's going to be a nuclear war." She understood.

Then a horrible thought hit me: I could sell these. I could go online and auction them off. Daughter's in college, every bit helps. But then what would I use?

Windex. Why not? The label says it "kills 99.9% of germs," and I'm thinking it's a slim chance the coronavirus lives in that 0.1%.

Or I could refill my one remaining container from the office jugs — knowing, of course, that I would be shunned forever by my co-workers if they caught me. So, I'll refill them from the sports department, I never go over there.

Of course, I could buy some stuffed porcupines from a taxidermist, take out the innards and wear them as gloves. After a week or two, that certainly would cure me of touching my face. Downside: My weekend job as a clown doing balloon tricks for birthday parties is pretty much over, for the duration. Unless I rebrand myself as Poppy the Clown!

See? No matter how bad it gets, we adapt.