Love in the Time of Coronavirus

If there is one thing I’ve discovered during this pandemic, it’s that we love our toilet paper. In fact, for those of us lucky enough to survive this (please stay home, folks), I believe that the enduring symbol of these times won’t be the social isolation, grocery store swarms, or the incoherent ramblings of our Commander in Chaos. No, I think it will be the lowly, unassuming roll of toilet paper.

Like so many of us, I have had a long and personal relationship with toilet paper. And yet, I’ve never given it the love it deserves for its contribution to my quality of life. As one of those things I’ve always had access to, it’s been easy to take it for granted. After a recent scare involving our water supply thanks to zebra mussels, I often marvel at the miracle of being able to summon potable water from my faucets, but I haven’t been similarly appreciative of toilet paper.

Even while camping as a Girl Scout, toilet paper was always available. We might have built latrines – digging big holes and lashing together poles to fashion a primitive tripod with a seat (because we weren’t up for squatting). But we always brought toilet paper – no making do with leaves or other primitive modes of getting the job done.

Then, there were the days as teenage girls when we literally wasted toilet paper, getting together to “paper” a guy’s house, or better said, his parent’s house. We’d get rolls of toilet paper and in the dark of night, throw them up in the tree branches to create looping streamers when the roll fell back.  What better way to let the young object of our affection know that some girls had a big crush on him? Waste a few rolls of toilet paper was the answer we came up with! Of course, today I think of the clean-up required and wince at our thoughtlessness (juvenile delinquency). But, it was a thing back then.

When I lived in Peru – I actually gave toilet paper a passing thought. But it wasn’t the lack of it, rather its disturbing characteristics, being only slightly softer than tissue paper and colored in a strange magenta hue. The good thing, however, was that houses generally came with bidets, so the uncivilized toilet paper could usually be eschewed in favor of the very civilized washing facilities. After 18 months of residence in the country, the bidet was the one thing I wanted to bring with me back to Texas, even where the toilet paper was high quality. Remember when we needed Mr. Whipple to remind us not to get overwhelmed by the softness of the Charmin in his grocery store?

So, this pandemic has forced me to contemplate what might happen if we were to run out of toilet paper. I’ve heard recent stories of people cutting up t-shirts, using them as toilet paper, flushing them down the toilet, and thereby clogging up sewer lines. Just. Don’t. Go. There. I have a friend who is contemplating some kind of rag solution, but is smart enough not to risk clogging up the system. Instead, he is toying with the idea of disposing the used ones in a pail like we used in the BDD days – before disposable diapers. If you had babies back then, you’ll undoubtedly remember the diaper pail, a lidded container with water and Pine Sol for tossing soiled diapers until it was time to run them through the washing machine.  You knew it was time when, upon opening, the wafting fragrance was more toilet bowl than pine forest.

But it’s nice to see how this love for toilet paper is bringing us closer to our friends and neighbors as we share in this looming crisis. On Next Door, one of my southwest Austin neighbors has written that he could show us how to use only one square of toilet paper at a time. Thankfully, he decided not to post the video, but I feel he would probably share it in a private message if asked. That alone brings us closer.

Similarly, as a public characterized by political divisiveness, it’s refreshing to find one thing we can all agree on.  We are a people divided into carnivores vs. vegetarians, MAGA hat owners vs. Obama lovers, dog vs. cat lovers, vaccinated vs. unvaccinated, Apple vs. Windows users, but we can ALL agree that toilet paper is a good thing.  Of course, we may have differences in preferred brands, but ultimately, when the need exists, the brand is negotiable.

And, by the way, we probably shouldn’t blame our neighbors for hoarding and, thereby, creating this shortage.  I urge you to read the explanation for the shortage as detailed in this article from Medium.

Basically, it explains that factories are hindered on the production end by the sudden shift from businesses and schools needing large amounts of industrial toilet paper on those big spools to residential consumers needing paper in little rolls, which works much better in our bathrooms. So there’s a mismatch of supply and demand for the two products, exacerbated by the fact that few factories make both types. The good news is we can go back to loving our neighbors; bad news, the mismatch isn’t easy to fix.

Right now, I’m glad that my bathroom is well-stocked with toilet paper. After all, I’m pretty much alone here so the metrics of my usage are pretty low. That said, I drink a lot of liquid, some to stay awake, some to quell my rising panic. But even if I were to run out, let me show you the one roll I will not use:

Preserving this roll is very important because it’s simply too wonderful to finally see Donald Trump’s visage somewhere that makes sense. Feel free to download my picture for your screensavers. After all, we need to take our pleasures wherever we can find them these days. Stay safe, my friends!

About nowandthenadays

Observer of life who writes about Austin, women's issues, history, and politics. I worked in the Texas Legislature for 9 years, moved to the State Comptroller's Office where I worked for 9 years, then went to work as an Assistant Attorney General after graduating from UT Law, for more than 20 years. Since retirement in May, 2013, I've identified myself as a writer, a caretaker, widow, grandmother, pandemic survivor, and finder of true love.
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9 Responses to Love in the Time of Coronavirus

  1. mawebre says:

    Cloth diapers bring back all sorts of memories. I asked mother one time why we had strung flags up in our living room. It was a foggy distant memory, after a while of trying to figure out what I was remembering, she laughed and said they weren’t flags but laundered diapers that she hung in the house to dry as it was raining outside. There was also a picture of me in a patterned diaper and I commented to her that I didn’t know they did anything but white diapers back in the day and I didn’t think she had been that fashion minded. Once again she laughed and said that I was wearing a dish towel as she had run out of clean dry diapers.


  2. robincravey says:

    I remember the diaper bucket very well. Our kids only wore cloth. And cloth diapers are so much superior to disposable diapers. I’ve often thought that curbside diaper service should be offered by the city solid waste (I mean resource recovery) department.

    There is a debate over just how bad disposable diapers are. But they’re bad. Check out this link.


    • Wow, Robin! The landfill statistics are compelling! The curbside diaper service would be a wonderful solution since so many parents are overwhelmed with work and all the other home-related tasks. Who wants to add the laundering of diapers? One issue about cloth diapers is mastering the safety pins — I stuck myself many times. But that’s probably just me! Thanks for sharing this info.


  3. Kathryn Anderson says:

    Loved this! Never knew you lived in Peru!!



    • Thanks, Kathryn! Yes, I went on a study abroad to Lima during my junior year at UT, where I met my future husband. I came back to the States after 6 months and he traveled here to get married. Then, we lived another year there until returning. There was a military dictatorship in power and there was considerable unrest, martial law, threats to socialize medicine and dentistry, etc. Otherwise, I loved it there….especially the food and the beach.


  4. Lindy McGinnis says:

    So funny Jeffee. And this brought back some fond memories of my teen-age days! Hope all is well with you and yours.

    Sent from my iPad



  5. Thanks for your ode to toilet paper.


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