"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

COVID And Unexpected Consequences–From Online Sex To Bad Home Cooking, Everything Has Changed

Most Americans remember the early days of COVID when shelves were empty.  Stores looked like they had been looted.   Empty, ripped boxes littered the aisles, only a few tired cabbages remained in the produce department; spotted, brown, and small bananas remained on the hooks; sugar, flour, rice, and baking powder were gone; and so were canned tomatoes, peas, beans, fish, and meat.  

Amazon was deluged with orders and shipped only in bulk – 100 gross rolls of toilet paper, light bulbs, disinfectants, and hand soap. 

Image result for images old bananas for sale

After the panic subsided, and people began to adjust to stay-at-home orders and mandatory quarantine, the economy began to adjust.  The reason for toilet paper shortages was because there were two separate production streams – one for commercial establishments and the other for home consumption.  It took time for the commercial producers of lower quality toilet tissue to retool for the softer home bathroom market.

Similarly, the supply chains for Italian canned tomatoes and pasta had to be streamlined and production and delivery accelerated to accommodate more cooking at home.  Suppliers of standard spices like basil and oregano could not keep up with the demand, and although stores looked to Southern Hemisphere producers to fill the gap, they were unable to do so; and it was months before these spices were once again available.  

The entire gasoline chain had to be reconfigured.  People were now working at home and using their cars less, so the price of gasoline plummeted, which meant shutting down oil rigs in the Gulf, closing refineries, and cancelling contracts with pipeline managers, trains, and truck companies.  Travel to work, for vacation, and to see relatives was down; so fewer new cars were sold, hotels shut down or closed off entire wings, airlines eliminated non-stop flights; and Amtrak, always flirting with bankruptcy was near demise.

Image result for images shut down oil refineries

Many businesses suffered and went under, and even medical services saw a dramatic decrease in appointments – a good thing in many ways because the pandemic cleared out the ‘frivolous’ appointments and made way for only the more serious.  Online chats with health providers became routine, until the demand rose to such a degree that Medicare considered withdrawing payment. The frivolous complaints had simply transferred from doctors’ offices to the computer.

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Professional services – consulting firms, architectural design companies, law offices, and physical therapy among others – went entirely virtual; and providers and consumers both realized that a personal visit was really not necessary since the advances in information technology, imaging, and recognition software made them almost obsolete.

The price of lumber skyrocketed and supplies were scarce as high-earning residents in well-off neighborhoods who still had their remunerative jobs, decided that this was the time to expand, renovate, and refinish.  Caterpillar saw its best and most profitable year ever.  Architects, builders, and developers had a halcyon year.  Home prices in center cities tapered off while those in the suburbs and exurbs skyrocketed, and the supply of availability large single family dwellings in Boston, San Francisco, and Washington dwindled to almost nothing.  If people had to work from home and were restricted in their ability to eat out and socialize publicly, then a move to the country made sense.

Image result for images residential home expansion building

In other words, COVID was not only responsible for an economic downturn, but a reconfiguration of the economy; and once restructured, would never return to ‘normal’.  Businesses quickly realized that brick and mortar was totally irrelevant when high-tech, innovative platforms for group work were available.  

Restaurants realized that take-out, home-delivery items were just as attractive as dining out.  People, now accustomed to either home-preparation or take out, and more and more used to congenial patio or open-door in-home dining would not return in the droves that restaurateurs hoped. 

Of course, many people would still want to belly up to the bar, eat oysters at the counter, and enjoy the attention of sommeliers and maître d’s at high-end restaurants; but most people came to realize that they were spending a lot for very little.  

Let’s face it, once you took the ‘getting out of the house’ from the restaurant equation, the quality of the food never made up for the high prices. Better order take out and invite friends and neighbors for a no-sweat, easy-to-clean-up, tasty meal, than struggle with parking, long waits for service, and a big tab.

Image result for images sommelier at high priced restaurant

Many families realized that they could actually cook a creative meal at home – a gourmet meal in fact, for earlier hard-to-find ingredients were now available online from Amazon and delivered in a day.  YouTube offered detailed, user-friendly tutorials on how to prepare Italian, Chinese, Thai, and French dishes; and pots and pans never used were brought into service.

The result of this transformation was bad food.  As every seasoned chef knows, no matter how explicit the recipe, execution is everything.  Food sites on the Internet proliferated with ideas and suggestions for innovative or renewed traditional dishes, but most came out soggy, over- or under-spiced, wilted, colorless, and no better than a can-of-this-can-of-that American home cooking.  

A panoply of ingredients might now be available, but the ability to put them together could never keep up.  It was like in the first days of food processors when women bought them to save time and to facilitate the preparation of new recipes; but little did they know that the medium is the message.  Old methods meant old foods, and new methods meant learning the calculus of the new cuisine.  Thousands of food processors went unused. New Northern Italian dishes – light, innovative, creative in combination, texture, and taste – were after a few tries, smothered in the usual garlic, olive oil, and breading of Southern Italian American cooking.

Image result for images southern italian american cutlets cooked in lots of oil

A little-known and obviously little-publicized consequence of COVID – at least in its early days – was online sex.  Young men and women, forced into celibate lockdown, had recourse only to virtual reality which, given the ineluctable laws of supply and demand and the rapid advances of virtual personalized technology, became almost as appealing as ‘the real thing’.

If you wanted to have sex with Marilyn Monroe, Scarlett Johansson, or any other Hollywood diva, you could subscribe to programs which would make it real. Virtual reality today is but one step away from complete computer-mind interface where there is no difference between the virtual and the real; but for the time being it is as real as you can get.  Self-pleasuring in the age of COVID came out of the closet, and established itself as a legitimate response to a changing sexual world.

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Not only that, but COVID, virtual reality, and the gender spectrum coincided perfectly.  Now men and women could pick and choose from the almost limitless variety of sexual options.  Any sexual fantasy could be satisfied at no risk.  Deviancy would no longer be an operational term in a world where everything goes. 

Why wait, said the ad for virtual ‘alternative’ sex, when you can have the woman/man of your dreams now in a world indistinguishable from the one you know (and are bored with).  COVID had finally and once and for all brought ‘deviancy’ into the mainstream far quicker than any transgender or gender-neutral movement on campus.  Virtual reality had become so ‘real’ and so ‘lifelike’ that elfin dwarves, Moroccan prostitutes, Indian hijras, and Bulgarian bull dykes were within a click.  

Not only that, but sexual fantasy could be personalized – more frilly, more butch, taller, darker, more zaftig.  Any permutation of an original was possible.  Sexual fantasy is, after all, a driving force in sexual pleasure and always has been. While enamored love for a new partner starts in reality, it quickly is transformed into fantasy.  It is not your wife of twenty years beneath you but Alma from Palestine, the gorgeous woman of insatiable desire from Ramallah.  

Even for those in a physical relationship, the virtual, mediated one surprisingly opened new doors.  Both partners were willing to do things online they never would have done in the bedroom.

Image result for images gender spectrum make fun ofit 

It is possible that a year of lockdowns, shortages, boredom, and insularity will make the old America even more appealing; but the laws of inertia apply to markets and society as well as physics.  Once structural changes have been effected and once new algorithms have been put into place, it is hard to go back – especially if the changes make economic and personal sense.  

America was already on the verge of a virtual, online, cybernetic world before COVID, and the pandemic only facilitated its establishment and full integration into society.  Just as no one wants to go back to library cards, the stacks, dry, airless carrels, and books; and everyone now prefers the world’s knowledge at a click; few people want to return to a solid world.  Why is an imagined, fantasy, virtually mediated world any less real or satisfying as the ‘real’ one?

America is the great zero sum country.  A free market economy beholden only to the laws of supply and demand takes advantage of downturns and turns them into upturns, declines to increases, disaffection into preference.  Our economy and our society is best suited to survive and emerge positively changed from COVID.  Other countries may go back to the way it was – perfunctory sex and all it stands for – but not here.

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