Quarantine Chronicles Day 11: The successful quest for the Holy Grail of the ice-cream aisle

On Day 11, as the predicted doldrums of this once-novel idea of self-quarantine looms, I began looking for a way to not have to once again write about what it’s like being stuck in my house, away from the banter of co-workers and having no one to talk to except my dogs who suddenly have ceased talking back.

Artificial intelligence, obviously, would enable me to do this, so I searched Google for an automatic writing machine to replace me. I settled on AI-Writer, a website that assured me that all I had to do was give it a headline and then sit back and let technology do the thinking and writing.

I gave it my Day 8 headline, “The days of wine (and vodka) and roses (and toilet paper).”

And it came back in about four minutes with something even more confusing than my usual musings.  About the only thing salvageable was this brief paragraph stuck in the middle:

“Owner Rudy Gabriele declined to comment and drove off, but was spotted heading to his car with a bag of detergent and a bottle of wine in hand before driving away.”

A second option at AI-Writer was to just dump a whole column into it and it would reword it in a way that my editors wouldn’t recognize it as self-plagiarism. And I reckon this re-jiggered passage from an earlier opus of mine would throw them off the scent:

“Do you ever have to buy a five-pound jar of mayonnaise if you want to experience the New Year? A stock of canned vegetables, which have a longer shelf life; the same applies to bottled goods. Only some institutions use five pounds out of three-bean salad when things are going badly, and only for a limited time.”

Sadly, then, today’s column is going to have to be written the old-fashioned way, though in this one, technology works a little better, if still far from perfectly.

Running low on some kitchen staples, like bread, eggs, butter and yogurt, I decided to go shopping by signing up with Instacart which allows me to e-shop at several stores and, because money apparently means nothing to me, I decided on Gelson’s for my shopping experience.

And it was a pleasant enough experience. I checked off various items making a dream shopping list for my real-life shopper, Anthony B, with whom I could communicate through the Instacart app as he scrambled up and down the largely empty aisles trying to fill my order.

“Unfortunately, they are out of stock of most bread options,” messaged Anthony. “If you would like, I can check the bakery for other sliced-bread options.”

I wasn’t hopeful about the bakery, so I declined and let him scamper off for yogurt. “OK, it looks like they are all out of Chobani Yogurt, did you want to go with a different brand?” Perhaps overly mindful of Anthony’s time and fairly unfamiliar with other brands of yogurt and being fully aware of the potential tragedy of buying something creepy like cashewgurt, I again passed.

Eventually, my cart looked like it does when my wife’s out of town and I do all the shopping for myself. It was a bachelor’s care kit of Lay’s sour cream chips, a pack of Columbus Italian dry salami, a bag of Pirate’s Booty aged white cheddar rice and corn puffs and—what?—they had McConnell’s Eureka Lemon & Marionberries ice cream in stock?

That changes everything. McConnell’s Eureka Lemon & Marionberries is the Holy Grail of the ice-cream aisle. It’s difficult to find even when America is in fighting shape, never mind when zombies are brawling over a roll of toilet paper. I’m serious, I almost passed out.

Anthony hopped in his car and drove the order to my house (I could watch his car, and my pint of McConnell’s Eureka Lemon & Marionberries ice cream on the app as he drove down Studebaker Road).

Anthony hopped out of the car in front of my house and handed me the cooler bag. Quaking like an aspen I peered inside and it glowed like the briefcase in “Pulp Fiction.”

We happy? Yeah, we happy.

Don’t expect Instacart to make all your coronavirus needs come true. I searched several other stores serviced by Instacart—Mother’s Market, Pavilions, Stater Bros., Aldi, El Super, Ralphs, Target and more for toilet paper and all I came away with were alternative suggestions. Aldi offered, in lieu of TP, basket coffee filters; Gelson’s tried Paper Chef parchment paper; and El Super suggested El Guapo tamale paper wraps.

Thankfully, I’m good for now.

And how is your life going as we dive deeper into Isolationland? Tell me some stories, or just drop by and say hi through contact-free email at [email protected] or @grobaty on Twitter and Facebook.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.