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Gone? Not Toilet Paper, But Computer Printers

About two weeks ago, I shopped for canning supplies: Jar lids and bands and a new pressure canner.

There weren’t any to be had locally. My wife told me about another shortage. A local farm selling pastured meat products is having trouble finding freezers.

We are guessing that the COVID lockdown persuaded some stuck-at-home folks to start or enlarge gardens, especially if they are also out of work, as a feed-the-family necessity. That would drain the supply chain for canning supplies and freezers.

I asked some friends via Facebook about shortages.

Then, abruptly, I went shopping again. Our Hewlett Packard inkjet printer died. It had rumbled reliably for 15 years, an eternity for printers. This time, the rollers were worn past my meager ability to clean them.

The computer shelf areas at Staples and Walmart looked eerily like the grocery store aisles containing toilet paper had looked during the “Great TP COVID Shortage of 2020:” Nearly empty.

Though we all understood the toilet paper shortage, (Americans go crazy during crises), we seem to forget that, earlier this year, 30 million Americans were thrown out of work when entire industries shut down. Office workers, etc., can work from home. Assembly line workers cannot.

Why are computer printers in short supply?

A sales person at Way’s office supply in DuBois supplied an answer: “They are on a slow boat from China.” The dearth of printers might be one consequence of the trade/tariff war between China and the United States. But the COVID lockdown drove many school and college students to on line only classes, increasing demand for printers in homes.

I snagged a HP print-copy-fax model that uses just two ink cartridges, black and tri-color, for less than $200, including backup ink cartridges.

The fun part was stumbling through its setup after not having done such a thing for 15 years. There was no printed manual. I followed step-by-step HP directions via a web browser, watching a supposed HP technician take control of my computer and make the printer whir and blink. That took a troubling turn, leading me to suspect that my supposed link to HP had been phished to a computer hacker. I cut that call short and downloaded the PDF print-like version of the user manual. Everything seems to work.

But the shortages did take me aback.

I did locate the jar lids and pressure canner on line. I would have preferred to buy them locally had they been available.

Back in February when the COVID virus first hit, I had expected the toilet paper shortage. We probably contributed to it. It is now nearly October. We have not bought any toilet paper since we returned from Florida in April.

Our household use of those vital sheets has declined. Summer extended family visits have been few and far between, and conducted with social distancing and mask-up caution. Some fellow Americans don’t take those precautions. We do.

I doubt that my wife and I have consciously cut back on our use of toilet paper. But I am not about to ask her. I won’t answer if she asks me. Just “Shhh!” I estimate that we will need to buy more toilet paper before winter arrives.

Hoarding has its downsides.

I have always been a computer ink hoarder. I sometimes take “backup” to absurd levels. For our now-deceased printer, I had accumulated close to $200 worth of ink I could no longer use. I hated to simply throw away the dead computer or the ink.

My wife posted the availability of the ink on Facebook. Sure enough, we got rid of it the same day. I did something sneaky. Instead of charging money for the ink, I foisted the not-running printer onto the nice lady who came to pick up the ink. That saved me the trouble of storing it until the Jefferson County recycling people have another electronics collection day — and then trying to remember where I had stored the darn thing to save it from the landfill.

I have been told that there is anecdotal evidence of shortages of:

¯ Camper trailers and motor homes; kayaks (!).

¯ Headsets for listening via computers or smartphones; fitness workout equipment; strings for archery bows.

¯ Washing machines; tractors and tractor parts; paint rollers; straight razors; golf clubs (parts made in China); and, though why anyone would care, wind chimes.

Even canned pumpkin seems to be hard to find, and way overpriced at two cans for $21, according to a Facebook poster whose epic rant was both humorous and intense.

There could be a mystic moral to all this, but those of us who are living through it do not get to understand these things until after they have passed into history.

For now, hang on to the toilet paper and do not break your computer printer.

¯ ¯ ¯

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.

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