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Outlook Columnist Sharon Nesbit says hoarding toilet paper is an odd choice for a pandemic that causes congestion, not indigestion.

SHARON NESBITSo far, so good. At the insistence of my children and in light of the pandemic, I am sheltering in place.

I try to be careful about maintaining supplies, ice cream and chocolate being particular necessities. But even those are limited to a four-week supply.

So I am perplexed about the run on toilet paper. Just when you want to think the best of your fellow man and woman, some of them sweep through the aisles and take all the toilet paper. And then they go to the gun shops for ammunition. (Being in isolation, I can't prove that these are the same people but I hope they are.) Now they sit in their houses surrounded by toilet paper, defending their stash with handguns.

Hoarding toilet paper seems an odd choice for a pandemic that involves congestion and not digestion, if I may be indelicate. When I first heard of the run on toilet tissue at Costco, I dismissed it because those shoppers buy (and in my view, waste) large quantities. And then the shelves went bare at Freddie's and Safeway, and it began to get personal.

What about leaving some for the rest of your neighbors? For the little old lady up the street? Just when you begin to think well of your fellow man, he/she buys more than they possibly need. (Though I also wonder why stores didn't act to limit individual sales of such items.)

So, I called Sister Sue in Phoenix to talk about this problem. It had been raining in Arizona, so she had opened all her windows and doors, let the moist air come in, and hunkered down for three days to watch British mystery shows. When the rain stopped, she looked around and realized a pandemic was on and stores had no toilet paper.

"I am thinking of getting out all my old clothes and ripping them into squares," she said. There are paper towels, of course, as well as dinner napkins and Kleenex-type tissues. But having worked for a city that takes care of sewage and other issues, she knows you can't flush that kind of stuff without gumming up the works somewhere way down the line at the sewer plant. And then where would we be?

A friend of hers who lives in the mountains says it won't be the first time he has used snow. But even that will melt soon.

I remember the outhouses that we had around the farm when I was young. We had installed toilets and indoor plumbing by then, but no one bothered to take away the old outhouse perched over a smelly pit at the back end of the property.

For one thing, it was handy if you didn't want to hike all the way into the house. For paper purposes in the privy, we used either the Sears or Montgomery Ward catalogs, big books with lots of pages. One learned fairly quickly that the black and white pages served better than the color pages.

The toilet paper crisis has diminished my faith in my fellow humans. On the other hand, the neighbors in Troutdale put shamrocks in their windows, inviting children to wander by and spot shamrocks. Similar plans that still maintain social distance are in the works for Easter.

Every day someone, knowing that I can't safely leave my house, offers to pick up whatever I need at the store. My neighbor trots down to take my garbage can in and out.

What I am hoping is that on April Fools Day someone will sneak by early in the morning and leave a roll of toilet paper at each door step.

Sharon Nesbit can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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