N95 Masks I Get But No Toilet Paper – Huh?

I asked the “ODA Today” staff to let me try to put some levity in this issue devoted to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I pulled my original column and now pose a tongue-in-cheek conundrum that I’ve been “sitting on” since all this started!

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our way of life and we’ll look back on it years from now and recall the best and worst of it; we’ll get through this, but some questions may never be answered – like where did all the toilet paper go and why?

When I first heard about the run on toilet paper, I just assumed it was a knee-jerk reaction to an impending catastrophe like a hurricane or flood. But then the shelves emptied quite selectively, also losing all types of cleaning supplies suggesting a virus-specific method to the madness. Then I discovered that CDC does not list GI symptoms for coronavirus, so the plot thickened!

As a scientist, I looked for evidence, but found none. I tried to recall my own developmental history with toilet paper and of course had no recollection of skill acquisition, technique perfecting, and other aspects of its use in my early childhood. Freudian and Piagetian theory solved that dilemma – no, not repression, but simply a relatively common collision of the anal-retentive with neuro-developmental phases of early childhood!

Still, risking evoking readers’ combined “yuk, TMI!” I wondered how someone could go through so much TP to prompt hoarding. In normal use, “three sheets to the wind” will do it for most people. Maybe to feel really secure, others “lift-off” after a 3-2-1 approach. During my child-rearing years, the Casamassimo family used a “code” system with our kids and so bodily functions (and you knew this was coming) were color-coded appropriately. A “Code Brown” from an obviously distraught child was not to be taken lightly and the ply-count to deal with that level of urgency was (obviously) – a two-phase 9-11!

It was actually my grown son’s plea to me to buy any toilet paper I saw because he feared an impending shortage for his family of five that prompted this research. I still wondered about how two adults and three small kids, one still in diapers, could go through so much TP.

I didn’t ask …

I don’t know if other parents ever look back and wonder what they would do differently in rearing their children, but I occasionally do. My recollection of toilet training my kids is cloudy, but I do remember using M&Ms to get desired results – maybe that’s why I think outcomes-based health care has some merit. While my memory is cloudy, the fact that my toilets barely flush after my grandkids and their parents visit suggests I may have contributed to Generation X’s overdependence on TP!

My research continues but I want to give it up. The COVID-19 has brought out mostly the best in all of us, but this TP thing is pushing me to the dark side! Like when I see a full-sized person at the check-out with what I consider an excessive amount of toilet paper, I find myself doing a quick mental calculation of their “posterior square footage” and if the ratio of TP rolls-to-ft2 seems off, I want to call them out! Then there are the smug “Gucci’d-out” folks with no toilet paper, but lots of wine and I imagine they laugh and smirk all the way home just waiting to take a seat on their bidet! Then there was the out-of-control guy screaming in the face of the poor checkout kid trying to justify his dozens of TP rolls at checkout by pointing out a chronic and painful problem in his posterior region – gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, “roid rage!”

I guess it is all based on producers’ knowledge that toilet paper use is pretty constant, so they don’t warehouse it and make it as needed according to predictable use rates. This “just in time” approach is used in many industries, but if you’re the one looking for a roll at 3 a.m. that term has very different meaning!

But like in any crisis, we see glimpses of the best in humanity, like the elderly couple, smiles on their faces and holding hands, and with a shopping cart overflowing with Depends not TP … and no, I didn’t ask. Like Italy, Ohio’s citizens and artists have responded with impromptu live and Internet concerts to help us deal with the toilet paper shortage – with names like Cold-Ply, Purell-Jam, and some celebrity impersonators like the guy made up like Frank Sinatra – Charmin of the Board!

We’ll get through this. But in case you missed these announcements, I wanted to let everyone know. The TP “extreme-ultra-users” whose motto is “One and Done” have canceled monthly meetings until further notice and the support/therapy group known as the “Heavy Handers” (motto, “That’s how we roll”) have also called it quits until the crisis “passes.”

(Look, I wasn’t supposed to say this, but in a pinch, you can use this issue of “ODA Today,” but if you do, you can never, ever question what you get for your ODA dues!)

Everyone, stay healthy!

Dr. Casamassimo may be reached at casamassimo.1@osu.edu.