Maybe I should call Bennie, my barber. Let him know I’m thinking of him. It’s been months since I last visited.

It’s starting to show. My do is something of an unruly hedge surrounding a barren field. I don’t mind too much. I had longer hair in my college days. So I guess I’m reliving my youth, with less overall coverage.

I hope Bennie understands, in any case. These are the days and weeks — and perhaps months — of social distancing. Better that than getting sick. Or getting somebody else sick.

For Cindy and me, sheltering in place is an inconvenience but not a hardship. We’re retired. We don’t face the hardship that comes with being put out of work. Or shuttering a business. As rent, mortgage and other expenses pile up.

Our daughter is still working. We’re thankful for that. She lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts. It’s in the western half of the state. She’s a graduate student and teaches a class at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, about a half hour up the road.

Until March, she taught in the classroom. Same time a few days a week. The students have since been sent home. Sarah now teaches remotely. It takes more time. Students can’t all attend at a set hour. They live in different times zones. Some halfway around the world.

She and her roommates are playing it safe. They have groceries delivered. They hike in woods and parks that allow a good social distance.

I planned to visit her in mid-April. I had booked Amtrak for a cross-country excursion. Sarah thinks I should cancel my train trip. I think so, too. It’s just not a good time to travel.

I had reserved a flight back. American Airlines sent an email about doing its part in the age of coronavirus. Like only serving beer in first class. The schlubs in economy get soda pop. I’ll cancel that reservation, too. I can’t see paying an extra $1,000 for a beer.

I’m social distancing for this column. I had planned to meet with Rose Gipson and ask her about growing up in Pinal County. I met Rose after a memorial for George Mack, my neighbor. He was an art and antiques dealer. He had cancer and died on Feb. 29.

George and I practically shared mailboxes. We’d chat about politics. We were of the same mind. We liked Obama. We’d chat about music. George was African American, about my age. He liked jazz and The Beatles. Sometime I’d hear him play the piano, soft soothing melodies coming out of his garage-turned-studio.

George’s memorial was early last month. Cindy and I attended. It seemed safe at the time. We’re still healthy anyway. One of the speakers was the Rev. Grady Whatley, now retired. He used to preach in Casa Grande. I said hi afterwards. He’s a cousin of George’s wife, Valorye.

Valorye’s brother, Darryl Farthing, attended as well. He lives in Casa Grande, as does Rose. She’s also a cousin of Valorye.

Rose told me she planned to write a book about her life. An interesting life it was. I told her I’d like to interview her for a column, in person. I’d call after I got back from the train trip.

Well, the train trip’s off. And so is the interview, for a while anyway.

We’re all sheltering in place now. Some things we all share, like social distancing, and where’d all the toilet paper go?

How far we have fallen.

During the Cold War, toilet paper was America’s Exhibit A in our case for the free enterprise system. Commie Russia was always short of toilet paper. So I was told in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I pictured the average Russian trudging gloomily to his unheated bathroom. The average Russian, in my mind, was always gloomy. He’d cart in the latest issue of Pravda, but not for reading.

Our American shelves, on the other hand, had stacks and stacks of toilet paper. The hardest part was choosing. Mr. Whipple told us not to squeeze the Charmin. Of course, we were going to squeeze it anyway. And think, it’s so soft. Much softer than Pravda. We could fill our carts with Charmin. It was always there.

Under capitalism, there was no toilet paper rationing. Except in gas stations. I recall this on family trips in our very large 1959 Plymouth station wagon. We’d stop at a gas station and everybody had a turn in the bathroom. The gas station did not stock Charmin. Maybe recycled Pravdas. Still, it was toilet paper, if you could get at it. The roll was usually secured inside a very stingy dispenser. Ten minutes of wrestling with it yielded one lousy square.

Now you can’t even get that. Toilet paper aisles at the market look like a scene out of Venezuela. Empty. In our case, it’s not a failure of socialism, Venezuela style. It’s a shortage borne of good old American panic-buying. It’s every man and woman for themselves, so grab all you can.

Here at retirement central, anyway, we’re good for now. And if we do run short of toilet paper, I have an old issue of Pravda handy. It’ll be my moment of truth.


Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at