Scaring the Shirt out of me: living with a busted supply chain

I hear about the messed up supply chain all the time. You know: the pandemic, a shutdown, an economic crash, China, the rollercoaster recovery, the Delta wave, etc., etc.

I’ve written about it too, how our washer has been on the blink for ten months now, waiting for a small part, made in China, which is Out There Somewhere. . . .

Well, here comes the complaint again, but this time there’s a bit of an upside. And I hope, some style. Because it’s about shirts.

l expect many readers are like me, and get catalogs in the (postal) mail. And if like me you’re of a certain age, you get catalogs aimed to make your “golden years” more comfortable.

But don’t worry, I’m not going for the gross-out stuff about geezer gadgets and gimmicks to help us relieve ourselves, replace our ears, hair, feet, backs, eyes and other incidentals.

Instead, let’s talk about shirts.

The other day one of these catalogs arrived, and it had two whole pages of short sleeve shirts. MY kind of shirts: bright colors, each with a pair of good-sized pockets, generous, um, collar sizes and more than one X on  the tab printed in the back of the neck.

I do have some shirts already, of course; and they still fit (at least in the Norwegian Bachelor Farmer manner,  mostly). But I’m a well-trained Anerican consumer, and in my eighth decade, impulse buying is one of few remaining pleasures I can manage that don’t involve the refrigerator.

So with a lustful gleam in my eye, and blood pressure rising, I turned to the alluring display of colorful no-iron cotton.

The real catalog image; I’ve obscured the company name, because I’m not on a vendetta here. But seriously folks . . . .

Look at those babies: they’re really stacked, solids, stripes, plaid and even madras. Almost forty different shirts.  After a few minutes of ogling, I was punching the numbers on the phone.

In another moment, a clerk with a heavy accent was on the line, and I was ready to order.

Hmm — if I picked three, it would qualify for a big discount . . . Hmmm—

I like solid colors, so how about this navy one here, and the royal blue there? And

what was that?

I had to ask her to repeat:

Both are on back order, Mr. Fager. Shipping in December for one, late November for the other.

Oh, okay then. Well . . .what about that dark purple . . . and the “rich burgundy” . . .?

Static on the other end. Then, again: both of those items are on backorder too, Mr. F, shipping dates not really settled . . .

Yikes, well what . . . about . . . the . . .  um . . .“Window pane,” and . . . um . . . the . . . “dark magenta plaid”?


The clerk had now said that these as well were delayed.

But, I said, then what IS available?

Stumbling now, she said, or really confessed, that of the thirty-nine shirts displayed in the catalog’s double-page spread I had eyed so hungrily, exactly two (2) were actually in stock right now.


And neither one was on my favorite list.

After letting this last disclosure sink in, I heard myself mutter that  maybe this call wasn’t really working out, and hit the red hangup button.

(Sigh.) I wondered, where are those shirts?

This is my best guess:

Cargo ships waiting their turn outside Los Angeles harbor, one of the world’s largest cargo transshipment sites.

Here I got some help with my weary speculation. An online transport newsletter said it plainly:

A Record Number Of Cargo Ships Are Stuck Outside Of California As Ports Can’t Keep Up — Shipping delays and shortages will continue as America’s supply chain continues to fail.

And USATODAY explains further:

“Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, told USA TODAY that, as of Sept. 21, there were 153 ships of all types at both the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Of those, 64 were at dock loading or unloading cargo, 60 were at anchor and 29 were adrift off the coast.
Cargo ships made up 132 of the vessels, and container ships numbered 99, according to Louttit. Of those, 30 were at a dock loading or unloading cargo, 44 were anchored and 25 were adrift off the coast.
That’s far less than 1,000, [claimed by some wild Facebook posts] but it’s certainly not typical either.

The normal number of container ships at anchor is zero to one. They normally meet the arrival time and go right to the dock,” Louttit said.
“The ships are waiting at anchor or adrift because there is a backup in the port because there is no room for more ships in the port,” Louttit said. “It is nothing to do with ‘allowed.’ There’s no space. The parking garage is full.”

Did I mention there’s also a major shortage of truck drivers to move the unloaded stuff from the harbor to stores cross the country?  This August report’s headline sums it up:

Truck driver shortage ‘is about as bad as I’ve ever seen’: US Xpress CEO

I said there was an upside to this: against my greedy intentions, the busted supply chain saved me from a hundred-dollar impulse buy. I don’t really need more shirts, especially as the summer days are fading, and the longsleeves will soon come off their hangers.  And with the Delta wave still in full roar, I don’t get out that much, even though I’ve had the shots.

So last week, eighty-nine big container ships were heaving at anchor outside LA. They’re part of a damaged and disrupted chain that crosses the Pacific into China, Vietnam, and other countries where they make, and we used to buy, thousands of different items —

— Including shirts.

Used to. Maybe this fall the Delta wave will crest and ebb, and those shirts will get off those ships and find their way again to my impulse-habituated gaze.

Maybe then I’ll indulge my urge and get a new shirt or two.

But if need be, I’d settle for that missing washer part, so I could at least be ready to keep them clean. Someday.

2 thoughts on “Scaring the Shirt out of me: living with a busted supply chain”

  1. Good read! Earlier in the Covid crisis we dealt with supply chain issues in replacing our 20+ year refrigerator. It died in May 2020 and not thinking I special ordered a refrigerator. After two failed delivery dates and the delivery of a badly damaged refrigerator, We canceled the special order and went into a store and bought one off the floor. Thank goodness they had given us a loaner to use through the process.

    Here is some more interesting info on those backed up cargo ships:
    Part of the problem is the ships are double or triple the size of the ships we were seeing 10 or 15 years ago,” Louttit said. “They take longer to unload. You need more trucks, more trains, more warehouses to put the cargo.” ~ Business Insider

    Each of those cargo ships are carrying 15,000 to 23,000 containers! Any strong able-bodied person looking for a job should head west to get a job unloading these ships so the newly hired truck drivers can hit the road.

  2. Where are all the 3D printers? You’d think this would be a grand opportunity to fire them up to make needed spare parts.

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