McFadyen Musings: Paper Products

Most of society, me included, shares an acute awareness of the negative medical and financial effects of the COVID pandemic.  Many have lost or at least have had suspended their employment.  Landlords have lost their rents.  Businesses have shuttered.  Worse still, and most significantly, people are dying.  Many more are locked away in their homes, apartment buildings and assisted care facilities with no physical contact to family.  The world has turned inside-out. 

If you are glass-half-full type, then there are parts of the forced slowdown that can be viewed as positive.  For instance, one person said it seemed that there were more birds this spring.  Surely, that is perception, not fact.  It has to be the result of sitting on the back stoop and noticing the birds whereas in the past we have hustled past those same birds to the next commitment. 

I caught myself telling someone that I thought it was the prettiest spring in my hometown that I ever remember.  Was it? Or did I just expose my own experience of heightened observation, there being less that had to be done and more time to absorb the bloomings? 

The primary goal in this frightening time is to stay healthy – to adhere with obedience to Dr. Fauci’s recommendations.  Secondly, we are called to master the art of zoom.us such that we can connect with people on our computer screens.  At our house, that has been the primary method of keeping an adult Sunday School class connected, of catching up in real time with our travel companions, and of even having a “first-date” date night with a couple here in town with whom we have wanted to play for a long time. 

In this time of COVID lockdown, there has arisen one phenomenon across the country that frankly I cannot positively explain, though I have given it much thought.  Where and why is all the toilet paper being stashed? 

I am not the primary shopper for our family.  Susanna is.  Still, I end up in the grocery store by her request for those things that she missed on her regular trips.  Sometimes I visit for lunch.  Since the time that the country went into lockdown, I have been in the grocery stores maybe five times.  Each time, I wander nonchalantly to the paper products aisle.  I have yet to see toilet paper on the shelves.  Susanna has a reserved parking spot at several grocery stores, due to the regularity of her visits.  She too reports that she has never seen toilet paper since all this started. 

I was at a friend’s farm walking last week.  Another visitor showed up.  Under his arm, he had a 24-pack of highgrade, namebrand toilet paper.  When we who visit the farm show up, there is an unwritten rule that we bring something with us to help sustain the lodge.  For instance, I took four quarts of Brunswick stew on my visit.  Staples that we contribute include paper towels, soap, washing powder, bottles of liquid fermentation and related mixers, and bottled water, to name a few.  Also, there is the regular contribution of toilet paper.  Honestly, it is a staple that I have never thought about twice in any trip. 

When I saw visitor No. 2 (no pun intended) carrying his 24-pack of toilet paper, I stopped and stared.  “Where did you get that?”  We then had a three-minute conversation on his methods for obtaining the now-precious commodity.  It was a first, my having never discussed before a strategy for toilet paper acquisition. 

Before I left the farm, I opened the cupboard above the washing machine and gazed longingly at the 30 or so rolls of toilet paper that served as the overstock.  I had a bit of an out-of-body experience where I hovered over myself as my body was staring into the cupboard.  There came a realization that I resembled Homer Simpson gazing into a display case of fresh doughnuts. 

Our daughter lives in Wilmington.  She called the other night to check in and catch up.  Shortly after “Hello”, she said with excitement, “Guess what I got today?”  A new boyfriend?  An A on an online exam?  A stimulus check?  “I found an 18-pack of toilet paper!”  We miss our daughter when she is gone.  Phone calls are not rare, but they are nonetheless precious.  I was struck at how quickly my fatherly doting upon her turned to jealousy of her.  How could Maggie score that much toilet paper when my shopper-accomplished wife could not even scratch? 

What remains unexplained in my mind is “why”.  COVID is not reported to cause significant gastrointestinal events.  So, for what purpose is this apparent hoarding of the Charmin?  So far, my most believable explanation proportionately relates to the shutdown or restrictive openings of many of the country’s restaurants.  It occurs to me that the fervent need for toilet paper must come from our populace having to learn to eat its own cooking.  As a result, there is an intestinal adjustment through which many people are going which translates into a need for a greater quantities of toilet paper. 

Our prayer is that those around us stay well, especially our patriarchs and matriarchs who are most susceptible to the worst effects of the COVID virus.  At our home, we will not stoop so low as to pray for toilet paper.  Still, it would be a falsehood to say that we don’t care whether we find any or not in the grocery store.   

I have found myself looking in the storage closet of our apartment office, counting how many rolls there are and whether it will serve as an adequate backup if Susanna and I do not manage to break the code of securing toilet paper at the retail stores.  Just in case we do not, we have started culling the threadbare towels and washcloths into a pile, and we have rehearsed our plans to scissor them into hand-sized cloth-squares.  We have also expedited and effected our formerly secondary plan to obtain a new washer and dryer.  It just seemed prudent to buy them now in the event that we return to protocol of my infant years where cloth diapers ruled. 

If even that it is not enough to get us through, then I expect that I will be making another visit to my friend’s farmhouse in the near future. On my way out, I will be visiting his cupboard above his washing machine again, only not when he is looking.  I promise him in this writing that I will replenish what I “borrow,” but I cannot at this time say when that re-supplying will take place. 

If I must return to the farm for that purpose, rest assured that it will qualify as an essential service.