Baby Steps Toward the New Normal

One lingering sign of my suspect masculinity is my relative indifference to hardware stores. I have nothing against them, and they sometimes give me mild pleasure. But I’m a stranger there. I feel no intimacy walking aisles full of incomprehensibly shaped metal objects. (OK, I know what some of them are, but still….)

This came to mind the other day when I caught a good vibe while shopping in an office supply store, open now that we are in Phase 3 of New York State’s business reopening. These aisles were filled with the tools of my trade. Here I know—and have opinions about—everything on the shelves. I even know the print shop. I’ve written case histories about their business plans and press releases about a manufacturer winning the contract to supply their printing devices. Not much gets by me here. 

Probably my mild ecstasy came about in part because my long stretch in pandemic isolation rendered my office supply experience into something bordering on sensory overload. An early warning came when rolling out of the driveway felt like a Springsteen song: “The night’s busting open, these two lanes can take us anywhere.” 

Staples or OfficeMax! 

But I confess to also having an affinity for office supply stores. When I went out on my own two dozen years ago as a freelance writer / public relations practitioner / communications consultant / fill in the blank for whatever title my paying clients preferred, this was where I bought all the little and some of the big things I needed to become a real business. It felt good at the time, exercising my self-reliance and simultaneously getting a little payback. The agency I’d left wouldn’t give me a laptop computer, so while I could type my notes to phone meetings on my company-supplied desktop computer, I reverted to handwriting at in-person meetings—while others typed on laptops. No more! And the new laptop I bought, wasn’t the Windows machine the agency mandated, but the Macintosh I preferred. 

Truth be told I bought the laptop from a mail order company. But the office supply store acquisitions—a headset telephone, a small collection of pens, a well-upholstered office chair and so on—were nearly as exhilarating, fueled by a similar “It’s my time now” esprit.

And what was I doing at the store on this day? I had a two-item list, both throwbacks. A phone splitter would help me rejuvenate the long idle fax capability in my multifunctional printer enabling me to respond to a financial institution’s limited and oddly antiquated information delivery options. (That’s another topic.) And I replenished our paper supply with a new 10-ream (5,000-sheet) box. Didn’t they cost $20 or $30 the last time I came here, I thought as I perused the multi-level shelves of copy paper? I’d heard that paper prices were rising, but double what I paid two years ago?

Hold on, I was in luck. The Hammermill box was on sale just over $30, roughly the amount I expected. It felt like a reprieve, like for once, an institution was watching out for me. (Well, twice if you count the $1,200 pandemic payment from the federal government.) 

The warning registered though. Next time out I should expect to pay more for paper. Amid the Black Lives Matters protests, the healthcare failures and the stalled culture and economy, the changes forthcoming in our new normal are starting to pile up. 

Photo at the top of the page by Santeri Viinamäki, CC BY-SA 4.0,