Guest column: A run on the rolls

  • Wednesday, April 15, 2020 1:30am
  • Opinion

Many years ago, my two daughters — now 40 and 42 — were University of Washington students, and after a couple of years of dorm living, decided to share an apartment for their remaining one and two years. It was an interesting apartment in the university district.

Those who are familiar with the area know what I mean when I write “interesting.” Actually, it was the lower level of a two-story house, with the owners living in the upper level. Okay, it was a basement, quite small, one bedroom, one bath, kitchen and a tiny living/eating area. But it worked for my daughters and was close enough to the university to be on time for classes.

At the time, I lived in Moses Lake, a small city smack-dab in the middle of Eastern Washington. I would make the trek over the mountains and through the Seattle traffic about once a month to visit the daughters (my husband had died about a year earlier). That meant staying at the hovel … I mean, apartment. The girls had a bunkbed in the very small bedroom and I would curl up — literally — on the two-seater couch.

One night I when was sleeping over, nature called. I crept into the bathroom, which was in the girls’ room, took care of business and reached for the toilet paper, of which there was none on the roll. By none, I mean not even the last few sheets that stick to the roll. From the toilet seat I could easily reach the nearby cabinet, but did not find any fresh rolls of paper. Maybe Kleenex? No.

At that point I decided to check out the kitchen for paper towels. None of those either. Eventually I drip-dried and went back to bed.

The next morning I asked about the total lack of paper products in the hovel, uh, apartment. My oldest admitted she heard me rummaging around for anything made out of paper, but didn’t want to face the music until morning.

Of course, all of us have had occasions when toilet paper wasn’t available; camping and having to use the outhouse facilities, sometimes without any TP, and no one in the near vicinity to come to the rescue; public restrooms, which are notorious for not refilling toilet paper holders, which of course you don’t realize until you have relieved yourself; and maybe even your own home where you forgot to refill the roll and the new ones are stored in the linen closet down the hall.

But even after having faced all the above situations, I have never had a fear for of running out of toilet paper. That is, until a few weeks ago. Never did I imagine I would spend several days checking the toilet paper aisle at all the stores in Sequim and a few in Port Angeles, only to find bare shelves.

When people become aware of the COVID-19 situation, most of us didn’t give a thought to whether toilet paper or other essentials would be difficult to find. I surely didn’t. I wasn’t in dire need of toilet paper when talk began about it being difficult to find, and those who did find it filling their shopping carts with several 30-packs from Costco.

I stared at those overloaded carts, wondering how much toilet paper a person, or family for that matter, could use, even if there was to be a quarantine of any sort.

So when I began in earnest to find some of the sparse TP, store clerks would look at me like I had asked if they had green cheese from the moon in stock, or why I didn’t buy 200 rolls when everyone else was doing so. Were there not others who waited until they had only five rolls on hand? When I was down to three I considered taking a bag around the neighborhood, trick-or-treating for a roll of toilet paper.

After the incident at my daughters’ place, I decided one could tell the age of someone by how much toilet paper they had in their home. Those under 30, one or two four-roll packs would do. From 30 to around 60, maybe 10 four-packs. Over 60, 10 Costco-size 30 packs — once a week, just in case.

But now we can’t blame our seniors for the toilet paper shortage. We are in uncharted territory, trying to make sense of a sometimes deadly virus with no cure or vaccine to prevent it, spreading quickly throughout the world. And with it has come shortages, not only toilet paper, but sundries we are used to easily buying at our nearest grocery store.

Now we face empty shelves, as people stock up on everything from soup to hand soap to paper towels and of course, toilet paper. Stocking up, as I prefer to call it rather than hoarding, is a natural instinct when facing shortages. It may not be rational, but for most of us, it’s become a symbol of safety.

What do folks do when a tornado, hurricane, flood or other disasters are predicted? Hunker down after stocking up on essentials.

However, when it comes to the elusive toilet paper, worry not. Turns out, the U.S.produces a lot of toilet paper and has been doing so since 1800. Very little is imported, and that is from our close neighbors, Mexico and Canada.

Today there are almost 150 U.S. companies making toilet paper. Plenty to go around.

Bottom line: Relax, take care of one another, be kind, and know that a 30-roll package of toilet paper will do just fine.

Mary Powell is the former editor of the Sequim Gazette and was able to buy a 30-pack of TP just in time.

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