You’ll recall when toilet paper was in short supply.
Preppers were ready.
These are not privileged boarding school graduates — the old "preppy" gang once famous for plaid Bermudas, oxford button-downs and names like Bitsy and Chandler — but folks who, for a variety of reasons, have embraced with unusual ardor the famous Scout motto, Be Prepared!
Prepared? Better believe it.
Some preppers are anti-government, pro-militia survivalists stockpiling enough freeze-dried sausage crumbles and chicken a la king to outlast the apocalypse but, increasingly, it appears, most are just vigilant folks hedging their bets against life’s endless surprises and comeuppances.
Did anyone expect Superstorm Sandy? COVID-19? The recent heat dome? Case closed.
"The community has pretty much soundly rejected 'old school' conspiracy and fringe-theory kind of stuff," John Ramey, a leading figure in the movement, told the BBC. "The vast majority of preppers … are serious and rational people, and their number is growing exponentially. It's gone mainstream."
In his online newsletter, "The Prepared," Ramey says the point is to "survive emergencies — from everyday stuff like car accidents to natural disasters and big SHTF things like societal collapse or war."
(If stumped by "SHTF," think about the time you dropped the lasagna on the kitchen floor and had to order pizza and Buffalo wings for six dinner guests as your wife stood, arms folded, fiddling with her wedding ring. It will come to you.)
Maybe preparation has its place.
No one wants to be short a pouch of Sweet and Sour Asian Rice or White Bean and Lime Chili — each with a shelf life of a quarter-century — when the lights go out. Survival kits with more menu choices than your local diner are widely available on the internet and, depending on how well you intend to stock the doomsday pantry, can easily run beyond $2,000.
"Clean and simple ingredients will keep your family’s health and wellness at the forefront while protecting them with long term food storage for up to 25 years!" promises one survival kit supplier.
But I don’t know.
My kids call me "Mr. Negative" largely because in any victory of the New York Mets I see an impending eight-game losing streak, and I feel the negativity rising now in regard to prepping.
Isn’t there a chance that by anticipating the worst you will hasten it — fate being so notoriously fickle?
When, indeed, I was a Scout back in the Pleistocene Epoch, our troop went on an autumnal hike somewhere upstate. The idea didn’t hold much appeal to a timid Tenderfoot — bulky packs, outdoor latrines, brisk weather, why? — but peer pressure won.
Lacking a bedroll, I fashioned one — this is true — from two of my mother’s old wool blankets and between them spread layers of Dad’s evening New York Journal-American for insulation (such a brilliant boy!). Holding everything together were large safety pins from Mom’s bottomless sewing basket.
Night fell in the chilly wilderness. I crawled into my high-concept sleeping bag. As I squirmed, the Journal-American rustled like squirrels in the underbrush.
"Mmm," I assured myself. "Cozy."
Then, ba-boom, came the downpour. Details are dim. I was in a tent or perhaps a lean-to but, anyway, there was a leak. Soon the drenched wool blankets smelled like a shearing station and the Journal American surely was soaked through to the editorial page. Scouts in waterproof gear slept soundly. Anticipating the Arctic, I overlooked the rainforest.
This is not necessarily the sort of thing that causes lifelong distress or explains why my adult idea of camping is a Hampton Inn, but here I am, 65 years later, recalling the episode.
There have been others.
My wife and I have four children. Some might say the head count, alone, shows a failure of foresight but that is beside the point. Children defy readiness, especially if there are four.
Once we started on a family outing: lunches packed, coloring books distributed, destination set.
Less than a block from home, my wife took attendance.
"Go back," she cried. "We forgot one."
I admire the preppers’ cautious approach to life but can’t get aboard. Intuition is overrated.
One website suggests keeping a year’s worth of toilet paper in reserve. OK. But I have question: What happens if the apocalypse drags on for two?