This isn’t something I normally think about. But in this moment of national emergency, when life as we know it has changed in such dramatic ways, seemingly overnight, the truly important …
This isn’t something I normally think about. But in this moment of national emergency, when life as we know it has changed in such dramatic ways, seemingly overnight, the truly important question really can’t be avoided.
Who the heck took all the toilet paper?
From Target to Zup’s, last week’s emergency declaration cleared retailers’ shelves of toilet paper within hours. A friend posted a photo of her husband on Facebook this past weekend, proudly displaying the last package of toilet paper from the Zup’s store in Tower, which he managed to score Sunday afternoon.
I mean, I get it. Schools are closed. Virtually every event is being cancelled for the foreseeable future. Professional sports have shut down. Senior living facilities are on lock-down. People are hunkering down in hopes of containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It’s serious stuff, the kind of thing that really focuses us all on what really matters. Which, to some, appears to be a hall closet stacked to the ceiling with Charmin. I guess people have decided the sh__ is really going to hit the fan… and we’re all assigned to the clean-up detail. And some folks obviously think it’s going to get messy. Really messy.
It’s helped to give me a new perspective on the things that really count in an emergency. So, if my house ever catches fire, I’ll know what to say: “Honey, forget the photo album! Just grab the toilet paper!”
It’s got me rethinking priorities for any number of pending End of Days scenarios. I had long bought into the theory of a friend of mine who had his own priorities for the post-apocalypse, which included filling his basement with whiskey and ammo. That made more sense to me. When things get bad, I figured we’d revert to the law-of-the-jungle sensibilities of the frontier— think Mad Max, A Boy and His Dog, or Terminator. Whiskey and ammo would be the perfect currency in such a dystopian future.
Perhaps the run on toilet paper is a hopeful sign that true societal breakdown has not yet arrived. We’ll recognize dystopia when we no longer care just how clean things are down there.
But it has made us all aware of just how central toilet paper has become as a symbol of modern life, even though we’re only a generation or two removed from the time when the Sears and Roebuck catalog served as the paper of choice, at least in most rural outhouses. Both my parents still remember those days well, if not exactly fondly.
The astonishing disappearance of toilet paper from store shelves reminds us that in a time of national angst, a closet full of the stuff is like the new comfort food, or an emotional support animal. The latest hyperventilation on cable news may leave us unsettled, but at least we can be soothed at the thought of our hall closet stuffed to overflowing.
It probably wasn’t always that way. Even as toilet paper came into common usage in this country, it clearly didn’t provide the lush and quilted comfort we’ve come to expect these days. As recently as the 1930s, the Northern Tissue company advertised their toilet paper as “splinter-free,” which certainly suggests there was a period of refinement involved in the manufacturing process. Just imagine the hardships faced by our forebearers. That’s definitely one place you don’t want a splinter!
At this point, I’m not really complaining. If buying up shopping carts of toilet paper is the emotional salve some people need to make it through the current emergency, I guess I’m willing to make accommodations. But the day I have to pull out an old Sears and Roebuck catalog to get things done down there, well… then I’ll start taking names!