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The Law of Scarcity

Count how many rolls of toilet paper you currently have in your house, shoved into closets and cabinets. Four? Twelve? The Costco 48? Contrast that to what you might have kept on hand a year ago. Did that make you laugh a little?

Someday, we will be telling our great grandchildren about the great T.P. crisis of 2020 and the pandemic that changed the way we see the world and ourselves in it. There will be no need to embellish or create a tall tale; the truth of this experience has been scary enough.

One of the first indications that the menacing virus might potentially be a threat on our domestic shores happened when we walked into Walmart or Target and discovered empty shelves. As whispered rumors hinted that quarantine was imminent, the liquor stores got busy, too. It reminded me of living in South Louisiana and the frantic hours of hurricane prep as a threatening storm approached: bread, milk, eggs, and booze were essentials. They quickly disappeared from grocery stores. Personally, I would probably add chocolate to that list.

Inadequate resources and many demands create a sort of feeding frenzy. We scamper around, trying to make sure we get our slice of the pie, which most certainly is about to disappear from the face of the earth, leaving us standing there, hat in hands, feeling hungry and dejected…. Or worse.

In my lifetime, I have waited in fuel long lines during the oil embargo, when the talking heads warned us that gasoline, which had doubled in price overnight, would be difficult to buy as supplies ran short. A full tank suddenly felt like a triumph.

I have stood for hours in never-ending store lines for the must-have toy that appeared at the top of my kids’ Christmas lists, you know, the one that was virtually impossible to find. How about arriving before dawn to wait for a place to open because the advertised sale and limited quantities were just too tempting? Black Friday, anyone?

We infer value in something that has limited availability or is promoted as being scarce. And we become obsessed with being one of the lucky ones to get it. Human beings are interesting, aren’t they? Predictable, too.

And now that there is a vaccine for the Corona virus, that law of scarcity has been the cause of concern for many of us as we struggle to find availability, book an appointment. With each dead end, the anxiety and frustration grows. Trust me, I know.

Like so many programs rolled out without much forethought, it has often been a disorganized mess. Some places have had a bountiful supply. Others, like my small county, have little to offer for those who are eligible. Pharmacies that have received the vaccine and are ready to administer have been inundated. Time slots are filled for the next few months within an hour of the announcement. I try to remind myself that such a huge undertaking is bound to have problems. But then, I remember as a child patiently lining up with hundreds of others to get my sugar cube saturated with the polio vaccine. Certainly, we have made progress in how we tackle widespread immunizations since then, especially with the tech tools at our disposal.

Facebook, which has suddenly become the social media equivalent of The Hunger Games, is full of folks proudly boasting about getting their first injection. As we scroll through the posts, we become convinced that “everybody and their cousin,” a common Southern phrase by the way, has won the life-saving lottery but us. Who wants to be left out, especially with talk of the next strain, even worse than the first, that has us all wanting our turn to be protected?

Of course, I, with my weakened immune system, think I should get a fast pass, like at Disney. But this isn’t a ride on Space Mountain. Having a chronic illness makes me vulnerable, but not special or entitled, And to compound the dilemma, I worry if this elusive drug is even safe for somebody like me. Who knows? Even the medical folks have no definitive answers. So most days, I see-saw between ambivalence and panic. There is a growing concern in my mind as I weigh the risks of taking a vaccine, whose long term effects have not been studied in cancer patients, against the fear of contracting a virus that might do me in. It reminds me of that short story about the guy who stands in an arena and is forced to pick a door, one of which conceals a beautiful damsel and the other, a hungry tiger. It is all a crapshoot, but then, I suppose so is life.

Currently, I am on a list (I hope) to be informed if and when an adequate supply will arrive at our County Health Department and a local pharmacy. I keep in touch with the underground network of folks who whisper when the newest provider has been approved. Like hungry mice, who scurry toward the precious morsel of cheese, those appointments get gobbled up quickly.

Of course, in contrast to the law of scarcity, there is the law of abundance. I am optimistic that there will be enough to go around, and that soon we will all be able to toss our mask collection and vats of hand sanitizer. The toliet paper supply will be restored, and life will be as we once knew it. Heck, I might even plan a cruise. But until then, I am staying home and counting on herd immunity.

Fingers crossed for all of us.


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