A historic tribute to American toilet paper

by Jim Jones
| March 31, 2020 1:00 AM

As we hunker down in our homes, awaiting the all-clear signal from the epidemiologists, it is fair and right that we pay tribute to a product that has risen to prominence in this crisis. Toilet paper has always been there for us but it usually took its place behind the scenes. Although we were reared to avoid bathroom talk, TP has taken a front and center role in our lives during the Covid-19 crisis.

From the start of the epidemic, toilet paper flew off the shelves. The supplies of many retail outlets were completely wiped out. Runs are a problem that this indispensable product is ideally suited to deal with, although its experience is with runs of a slightly different nature. With its new-found fame, we can put TP’s obscurity to our backs.

My history with what we referred to in my juvenile days as ‘bum fodder” has come back to mind. In the mid-1940s, we had just one indoor bathroom, supplemented by a two-hole outhouse (we were country folk). Every privy back then was stocked with a thick Sears & Roebuck catalog, both to dazzle us with the wide array of products available and, more importantly, for use as a back-up substitute for TP. Back in those days, the Sears catalog would have eliminated the need for runs on retail outlets.

Sitting things out at home, I reflect on the fact that generations of Americans have had the benefit of gentle, even charming, tissues for nether region use. That was first brought to my attention during a 1964 summer in Europe. At that time, the West Germans deployed a tissue much like fine-grained sandpaper, while East Germans used a much coarser product that was slightly less abrasive than steel wool. You did not get much of either with your hotel or hostel room and you usually had to share a bathroom with many other visitors.

The French used razor-thin, slightly-slick tissues and they never provided enough of those. The ones offered in Czechoslovakia were much like waxed paper, causing one to wonder why they even bothered. If you hadn’t brought your own supply, things could get messy. The bottom line is that the European experience made me appreciate American toilet paper all the more.

Getting back to the present, those who flooded into the stores to snap up the TP supplies have been the butt of jokes. But I am reluctant to criticize even though the empty shelves caught me by surprise. I’m the one responsible for maintaining our household supply of such products and must confess to being caught with my pants down when the rush began. Luckily, I do have a supply of fine-grained sandpaper and some prior experience with that product.

Despite all of our troubles, I’m confident we can all get through this draining crisis and American toilet paper will have played its part.

Jim Jones’ previous columns can be found at https://JJCommonTater.com.