Home Commentary A State of Mind: Not a Square to Spare

A State of Mind: Not a Square to Spare

Rolls of white toilet paper on pink background. Creative minimalist pattern.
In the past month, it’s as if this global pandemic has reduced our entire civilization to an episode of the TV show Seinfeld, the one in which Elaine goes to the ladies room at a theater and discovers—after the fact—there is no toilet paper in her stall. She asks the woman using the next stall to loan her some, but the woman refuses. Elaine begs the woman to share the toilet paper, but the woman continues to refuse, saying “there’s not a square to spare.” 

This hoarding of toilet paper has got to stop! It’s starting to interfere with free, local, and independent journalism, and that is a violation of the First Amendment. Everybody knows we journalists often do our best work sitting in small rooms for long periods of time thinking.

It’s gotten so bad that last week I had to unlock my linen closet and go into my personal stash to loan a few rolls to a colleague here at The Bridge. Actually “loan” is not exactly the right word. Toilet paper is not like a power tool—I don’t want it back after it’s used. But my point is that this person—an investigative reporter no less—searched for over a week and was unable to find any toilet paper in the supermarkets. That was causing, shall we say, an increasing level of, uhh, . . . consternation.

Fortunately for my colleague, my wife and I had gone to Costco a few weeks before the crisis began, on one of our quarterly shopping sprees. Now, I want to make it clear we do not go to Costco to hoard. We are just typical American consumers purchasing in bulk. 

We came home with a truckload of huge packages of paper towels and toilet paper, along with many other essentials, such as a two-pack of one-quart jars of nonpareil capers in brine (enough to last us a decade or more), an 80-pound bag of rice (it was the smallest one available), a 55-gallon drum of ketchup, and a three-pound wedge of Mother Fletcher’s Fotchamara Mozzaroni cheese. Okay, just kidding on the cheese (anyone out there remember Jackie Gleason’s character Stanley R. Sogg on TV?).  And the ketchup was really for my friend Ed, who asked me to pick it up for him because he feeds it to his kids as a vegetable. Ketchup IS a vegetable, you know—by presidential decree. Ed is really into cooking, so he occasionally garnishes those blood-red puddles on their plates with a little steamed broccoli to enhance the presentation.

So my wife and I were as prepared as we could be for this crisis and happy to help a friend. My colleague showed up at the office the next day looking much less, uhh, . . .  consternated.

Those of us who have been around for a while know exactly who to blame for the shortage of toilet paper: Sears, Roebuck and Company. Back on the farm, the Sears catalog came in handy in many more ways than just ordering from it. As a kid, I remember sitting on a Sears catalog as a booster seat for Sunday dinners. And when they were replaced by a newer edition, the catalogs always ended up in the outhouse—for entertainment and other uses. But Sears no longer publishes a catalog, and that has increased the demand for the stuff that is made for one specific purpose.

Now I’ve just completed an inventory, and I must warn everyone—I cannot make any more loans of toilet paper. Are you listening, Bridge staff? I have my career to think about. And I am NOT HOARDING. In fact, if you need some capers or rice, I’m open to negotiation.