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VIDEO | 02:53
LA Times Today: Patt Says: Shortages
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LA Times Today: Patt Says: Shortages

Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99.

It was just a question that I put out there on Twitter. And I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was surprised by the answers.

My question – which admittedly sounds like bad standup comedy – was, what’s going on with the pandemic that I can’t find diet root beer in glass bottles?

Masks and gowns and disinfectants – of course they were hard to come by, and the great toilet paper panic of 2020 is a national legend.

But what else?

My fellow tweeters listed their own products missing in action. Diet lemonade. Bucatini, a pasta I didn’t know about but which has a fervent following.

And no-salt peanuts.

How could there be a shortage of no-salt?

The supply-demand dynamic’s been thrown out of whack by the pandemic. Virtually every shortage has a logical cause in raw materials or production capacity or distribution bungles.

But the deeper point is that Americans are just not used to shortages of anything.

Oh, water and batteries before a hurricane, or two by fours after an earthquake, and Playstations on Black Friday – but week upon week of bare shelves?

In the World Wars, American civilians went without or went with less, so the boys at the front could be warm and fed and well supplied.

With nylon going to the war effort, women used eyebrow pencil to draw a line up the back of their legs to make it look like they were wearing seamed stockings.

But that, as they say, was “for the duration.”

Since then, having a lot of stuff -- not just enough but an abundance – it’s our national patrimony.

During the Cold War, even kids’ publications played up plenty as part of freedom.

We were told just how many hours on the job it took for an American worker to buy a pair of shoes, or a bicycle, or a TV set, versus how many days it took some poor Soviet worker to buy the same thing, which was always a lousy imitation of the American model, and even then Mr. and Mrs. Commie had to stand in line to get it.

If wars were fought by shopping cart, we’d alway win.

So here is Covid, another kind of enemy, and it’s not about root beer or pasta or even PPE.

It’s about whether we can think of ourselves differently … now as a country that, as the book title goes, can get along without “too much and never enough.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just check my Amazon wish list for that diet root beer … Chin-chin!