Dear Dirty America


The End of the Tissue Roll: When reality hits hard

The End of the Tissue Roll: When reality hits hard
March 03
17:00 2013

Los Angeles

There is no man more economical than the one who’s just finished up on the toilet and realizes he’s reaching for the last, nearly empty roll of toilet paper. What man is more efficient with his resources than that man who understands he has only three sheets left by which to clean himself?

It is in the heat of such moments that the Western man is thoroughly tested and pushed to the boundaries of how he views reality and delusion. Deep, deep down he knows great multitudes of the world’s inhabitants are not all blessed with abundant access to luxury goods like soft, quilted toilet paper. Yet, he feels alone. He feels he’s been tricked somehow. Despite that suppressed knowledge about how lucky he truly is, he sits on the toilet in fear and at a loss about what to do next.

Use every possible inch of those three meager sheets of tissue? Risk getting his fingers dirty in the process? How silly the mind is, despite knowing better, to keep redirecting itself from the problem at hand, and imagine there might be one lonely, dazzling white roll left beneath the bathroom sink.

In India, the man thinks, men just like him wipe themselves with their left hands. The masses do not have access to toilet paper. Hell, he says, it’s not just India without it. Downtown Los Angeles, too. There are fifty thousand homeless folks around there. What do they do? Perhaps that’s what the LA Weekly‘s for.

He even remembers a famous quote delivered by Charles Manson in a 2006 phone interview. America’s most famous prisoner, while talking about overpopulation, said in an abrasive tone, “And all you people keep cuttin’ the trees down for toilet paper.” He then paused, and reiterated, “Stop cuttin’ down the damn trees to wipe your asses!”

And Hollywood awarded Manson a star on the Walk of Fame, for his contributions in music. With that level of credibility, his words actually mean something to most Americans.

Back to the problem — the man tries to see his dilemma in a positive light. At least I have three sheets, he thinks. It’s a hell of a lot better than one, or none. And so he uses each more carefully, more thoughtfully than ever before. If nothing else, he thinks, if we have to cut down the trees to wipe ourselves, we might as well do it with this kind of care. Would Manson be happier with us if we stopped yanking a foot off the roll and gobbing it into a ball for one sloppy wipe?

How much is enough when we’re talking toilet tissue?

This is what I thought about while I scanned deals on toilet tissue at the local Rite-Aid. My eyesight was sharper than usual. My thoughts came and went at an extraordinary clip. I was hopped up on Peet’s coffee. The best, strongest cup in town. I rarely drink anything else. That day, I’d finished mine and remembered I needed toilet paper.

The sun was beginning to go down, and I’d parked a few blocks away, in the residential part of the neighborhood. The area was safe, mostly; posh homes with radiant green lawns, where a few TV and movie stars resided.

photo by Ville Säävuori

For one man, I don’t need much, I thought. Charmin. Quilted Northern. Cottenelle. Angel Soft. Green Forest. Naturelle. Soft N Gentle. Scott Naturals. They all had names that suggested more care and comfort than I deserved.

Get a good one, I told myself, because last time I had the shitty stuff. Of course, every brand was on sale. The small packages were more expensive, per roll, than the bigger packages. Buying thirty-six roles was more economical than buying only twenty-four. But forty roles was better than thirty-six.

After being financially ravished by a few years of graduate school, I was in no mood to miss the best deal on the shelf. Might as well stock up for the future and save in the long run. I chose a brand. On the thinly stretched package was a graphic that said toilet tissue had never felt so good. I was excited to get it home.

I hoisted the block of tissue on to my shoulder and waited in line to pay.

The tiny Filipino woman at the checkout counter peeked around the clunky package and had me lift it so she could scan the bar code on its underside. “No bag,” she said, shaking her little head, “big enough to fit that.”

The air outside, smelling of frying garlic and meat, had chilled in the twenty minutes that I’d been deliberating. I held the package against my stomach and squeezed my way through the meandering couples, children, and random folks out for a stroll or out to get dinner.

Three children teased each other by pinching one another’s shoulders. Their guardian, a woman with beautiful dark eyes and wild, curly hair, smiled at me and politely asked the children to make way “for this guy coming through with the big load.”

Big load!

The children giggled and stepped aside. They, along with their saucebox mother or aunt or whoever she was, watched me move past. With my arms stretched out wide, like I was hugging the tree that produced all that paper, I nodded to them for their courtesy and sent up a prayer to the Creator to bless them with unimaginable material and mental fulfillment.

I imagined the people watching me lumber past the decorated storefronts. My long tangled hair. My shrunken, worn gray pants. My scuffed brown shoes. Did they imagine me at home and using all this tissue? Were folks, either by accident or purposefully, picturing me with pants down, seated on the can? Did they imagine me unpacking the “big load” beneath my bathroom sink and then peeling the first strip of angel-soft paper from the first roll?

It seemed all eyes were on me. Look at that fool! All that toilet paper, just for him? Ho, ho, ho, is he stocking up? Or does he have some sort of unspeakable bowel trouble that requires him to buy tissue by the truckload?

I hauled my package by the coffee shop I’d been at earlier. I tried to scuttle by nonchalantly. My face is a familiar one there, and not long ago I’d made a scene with a particularly negative-thinking girl. I’d brought up Kim Kardashian and karmic debt and how too many bad actions in this lifetime will thwart hopes of having more prosperous future incarnations.

But what about royalty…

As I neared my car, I bolstered myself on the thought of Kim Kardashian needing toilet paper too. Does she buy her own? Is she ever seen in public carrying an enormous block of the extra soft stuff? Do her sharpened, painted nails poke through the thin plastic? Or does she pay others to buy her necessities? Does she have ‘assistants’ do the dirty work? Only recently, I thought, did the Queen of England begin wiping herself afterward. For centuries it had been done by an eager servant.

How many beer-swilling, sausage-eating sports fans and frat boys would line up to service Kardashian’s muddy backside? But those folks are deluded, anyway. Misguided in their thoughts that goddesses truly exist. They don’t, because they all must pay homage to the can now and again.

photo by Usien

In the bathroom, we are all equals. It’s where reality slices through our warm delusions of constantly living within clouds of perfume and fruity scents. We’ve lost our connection to the grittiness of being alive. It’s where every meal, no matter how expensive, nutritious, or delectable, gets deposited in a universally recognized form.

That $55 bowl of gourmet pasta at that gaudy box restaurant in West Hollywood turns into the same unseemly pile at the bottom of the porcelain bowl as the $2.50 box of fried rice from Grand Central Market.

I pushed the toilet paper on top of my car and unlocked the doors. Away from the stores and the people, I felt better. No more stares. Off in the growing darkness, a dog barked. Lights shone in the windows of the homes beside me. Fancy vehicles were parked in the easy-sloping driveways.

I yanked the block of tissue into my arms and realized I should have opened the back door first. A black SUV turned onto the street. I balanced the package between my hip and the car. I hooked my thumb around the door handle. The package slipped and landed on one corner. With an unexpected buoyancy, it took a leap into the middle of the street.

There was a squeal. Tires screeched against the pavement. The package of toilet paper, mid-bounce, collided with the SUV’s bumper. The thud, quiet yet deep, reminded me of my summer days as a young boy in North Dakota, when I’d light M80 firecrackers and throw them into the stale water sitting in the ditches. First, there was the tiny sizzle when the lit fuse struck the water and the explosive sunk. Next came the satisfying but squelched underwater thump.

The SUV’s owner pulled over down the street. She cut the ignition. Rolling spools of toilet paper were scattered in all directions. A few were still slowly coming to rest.

“This is the second accident I’ve been in this week,” she said. She was a tall, thin creature. She strode toward me like I was standing at the end of a fashion show runway. Behind her, the SUV made the bong-bong-bong warning that she’d left her door open and her keys in the ignition.

Strips of white paper blew into the neighbors’ yards. The plastic bundle lay twisted and broken about fifty feet from my car.

It’s my fault, I told the woman. I’ll clean up here. Really, I said.

The woman crawled back into her vehicle and started it. She rolled down her window. “You really should be more careful,” she said.

I know it! If you want to take a few of the rolls home with you, I said, I’d be OK with that. I think what’s left in that package is probably salvageable.

“Are you joking,” she said, smiling, “I don’t shit.” And she drove off.

I gathered into my arms as much of the fluffy white stuff as I could, and piled it into my backseat. I removed what was left of the bundle from the road. Because I’m sensitive to trespassing laws, I left the fluttering strips of tissue that had blown and caught in the lawns of the houses nearby. They’ll just have to deal with it, I said. No reason to have a private security team roar over and shoot me twelve times before asking me what I’m doing repeatedly bending over in the front yards of high-earning folks.

The mile-drive home was longer than usual. I did not turn on the radio. I lowered the windows to get some air, but the strips of tissue swirled and filled the car like a sports stadium that has just hosted the final game in a championship series.


The LA Weekly makes good toilet paper for homeless folks, & it’s also a pretty good read

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 27, 19:21


    I really liked this, especially the part about everyone being equal on the toilet and gourmet pasta ending up as plain old every day excrement. And the bit about the Queen wiping her own ass! Fantastic. I clicked the link and researched. And constantly rubbing her shoulders, easing her tensions and so on. I wonder if their attentions include, when required, appropriate manual stimulation “down there,” as they say.

    Donald O’Donovan

    Reply to this comment

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