Talking about Toilet Paper

Above is an advertisement for the sort of machine that in recent weeks would make its owner popular in any American neighborhood.  One of the most puzzling responses to the coronavirus outbreak has been the hoarding of toilet paper.

As one raised in the Pacific Northwest, I am more familiar with the forest products industry than many.  And, as an avid fan of industrial plant tours, I have been privileged to observe a more advanced version of a similar machine in action.

The machine I saw has an automated feed of long “parent rolls” of rolled paper and also an automatic cutter function.  Once cut, the smaller rolls are packaged in 96-unit boxes and shipped to industrial customers and government organizations like school districts.

As it happens, the machine is one among many different types in a paper factory founded by a longtime friend.   His business model is to buy large volumes of raw paper and fashion them into products sold in bulk, not in retail stores.

I called my friend recently after reading of a toilet paper heist: Thieves had shattered the rear window of an expensive automobile and made off with two 12-packs of Charmin Ultra Soft.

He had his own story.  One client of his, a porta-potty company, was burgled and relieved, so to speak, of its supply of toilet paper and hand sanitizers.

These are desperate times indeed.

“I don’t get the tissue hoarding thing,” he said, which makes sense: The Covid-19 virus doesn’t seem to correlate with a need for more frequent bathroom visits.

“Honestly, I expected our hand towels to be more popular,” he continued, “but maybe more people than you think do their business at work every day and now that they’re home, well….”

(“Doing their business” seems to be industry-speak for you-know-what.)

Perhaps I’m more cynical.  I’ll bet that, till now, not many employers kept the company TP supply locked in janitors’ closets.  My guess is that workers were panicked by empty tissue aisles they had seen in grocery stores and then reacted by taking employers’ tissue rolls home from work.  (For the record, I do not approve of this behavior.)

Anyway, my friend’s business is good.  Tissue orders have doubled, and he’s turning away inquiries from potential new customers.

“I have paper when other people don’t have paper.  I could sell a lot more, but I’m sticking with my regular price structure,” he says.

To meet demand, he’s added Saturday and Sunday overtime shifts, “but that’s it. Most of our guys have families.  If one of them gets sick, I’ll close for a couple weeks.”

Like all my longtime friends, he’s an upstanding individual.

On a Related Topic

This writer typically spends winters in a Southern California beach town; this year’s visit has been extended, naturally, by the unavailability of airline flights out.

The current locale is home to a large number of homeless persons, mostly young white guys, who seem to have learned since 2019 that their confreres up north in San Francisco have been “doing their business” on local sidewalks.  The local denizens have adopted the practice.

I discussed this with a police officer I saw on the sidewalk last week.  “We have to observe them actually doing it to write a citation, ” he said.  The look on his face looked something like this: I-didn’t-go-to-the-police-academy-to-catch-grown-men-pooping-in-public.   But I could have got it wrong.

Meanwhile, the city’s dog owners seem to have relaxed their standards in a similar way.  On the day before the local library closed, I looked out its window and saw a leashed schnauzer take a dump on the sidewalk outside.  Afterward, he and his owner walked away.  The schnauzer droppings were still there when I left.

(I haven’t been back since, of course, and so it’s entirely possible that some civic-minded person with a shovel and free time scooped up the feces and deposited them in the garbage can on the corner.)

Then, last week, on the grass space between my building and the beach sidewalk, one of my sneakers stepped into a human- or Labrador-sized pile of poop; my experience hasn’t equipped me to discern which variety it was.  I walk with greater care now.

At this moment and in this location, the veneer of civilization seems thinner than a square of single-ply toilet tissue.

2 thoughts on “Talking about Toilet Paper

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