James Lileks
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For a long time I've been waiting for some evil microbe to spring from duck guts on the other side of the world and cause a pandemic, so the coronavirus isn't a surprise.

Note: This sort of concern does not make me a hypochondriac. Other things make me a hypochondriac, but not this.

I don't mean to downplay the danger of a pandemic, although this week is possibly the last window in which we can have a nervous chuckle about the subject. What's interesting to me are the news stories suggesting people have a plan in place in case they have to stay home a few days because there's a quarantine.

This is where the people who've been preparing for this sort of thing for years lean back, put on a grim smile, and say, "Oh, do go on."

We — oops, sorry, those people — live for crises so they can demonstrate forethought. Sometimes they're a bit too focused: "I haven't put away a dime for retirement, but I've got water purifying tablets!" But, for the most part, they are regarded as a bit odd — until everyone else starts looking around nervously and wondering whether it would be a good idea to drop 'round the drugstore and see if they have any masks.

I won't be among those lining up at the drugstore. Not because I don't see the need for masks; because I have masks leftover from the last pandemic. I don't remember if it was MERS or SARS or that one that only affected Scandinavian men, LARS. I have water purifying tablets in case Day 23 of the quarantine is designated "take a bucket to the lake day."

I have waterproof matches in case I have to light a cigar in the rain, a windup emergency radio that doesn't need batteries and gives you up to 16 words of Civil Defense transmissions after 200 cranks and enough candles for St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on Christmas Eve.

None of these things will be needed, of course. A quarantine does not mean the people in charge of electricity, gas and water shrug, turn everything off and go home.

No, all you have to worry about is food and not getting on each other's nerves — which is the vastly bigger problem. After two weeks in quarantine, the leading cause of homicide is an argument over whether the Monopoly money goes in the middle of the board until someone lands on Free Parking.

Let's say you have to stay home until the tanker trucks can go through all the neighborhoods and hose everything down with Purell or chlorine gas. Can you make it?

Day 1: It's a bit scary, but you want to carry on as normal, keep the kids from getting unnerved. You announce excitedly: "Taco Tuesday!"

"But it's Saturday."

"Then it's Salsa Saturday!"

"Why can't we just go out to dinner?"

"Because someone didn't respect containment procedures in a disease-control lab, and an authoritarian state wasted a fortnight on image control, Sweetie! Green sauce or red sauce?"

"Are we going to get sick?"

"No, because I'm cooking the ground beef to the recommended 185 degrees. Now go wash your hands for an hour."

Day 2 through 4: All the fresh stuff gets consumed. From now on, you'll be digging out the meat you put in the freezer when you noticed that the "use or freeze by" date had passed and you thought that freezing it would somehow turn back time.

Day 5: Empty-nesters run out of milk, because they stopped buying gallon containers when the last kid moved out and, to be honest they hardly get through a half-gallon before it goes sour these days.

Day 6: People in mansions on the lakes are strolling through the walk-in freezer, wondering if it's salmon or sea bass tonight; everyone else is thinking "Hormel chili with beans or without?"

(Oh, relax, I'm just having fun with stereotypes. The people in the mansions on the lakes would have the servants check the freezer.)

Day 9: The guy who's been prepping for this exact sort of thing is honestly shocked when the rest of the family balks at freeze-dried stroganoff again.

Day 14: Everyone's regretting not going to the grocery store and stocking up before this thing hit, because they're staring down the barrel of a dinner composed of Altoids and Ry-Krisp packets they took from the salad bar years ago.

Will it get this bad? I doubt it. Even if there's a run on the stores, don't worry. This is Minnesota, there will always be one item left on the shelf, because no one will take it.

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