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Al Batt: Where’s a Sears Big Book when you need one?

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I threw a boomerang three years ago, and I’ve lived in fear ever since.

Each time I step outside, I expect to be conked on the head by its return. Therefore, I’m used to anxiety.

Here’s a smooth segue. A caller asked if I’d heard about the toilet paper bandit. He got away Scott free.

It hasn’t been a hoot and a half, this plight of a pandemic. Predicaments proliferate.

I grew up with all the modern conveniences. We had an outhouse. I can’t complain. I didn’t live in it. Life in the fast lane wasn’t. A neighbor was using the facility when a 50-cent piece fell from his pocket down into the hole of the privy. The neighbor hooted and hollered. He was a day late and a holler short. I ran to see if he was OK. I watched as he put his opposable thumbs to use and took a $20 bill from his wallet. I barely recognized it as I hadn’t seen many bills of that size. He tossed the $20 down a hole. “Why did you do that?” I asked.

“I don’t want you to have to climb down in there for only 50 cents,” he said.

COVID-19 has had an eroding effect on the supply of toilet paper. Like everyone, I now have 2020 vision, but I didn’t see that coming. Apparently, hoarding toilet paper brings tranquility. In 2021, hoarding toilet paper will be an Olympic event. I suppose it’s human nature to stock up and some people have too much human nature. Some husbands try to be a Prince Charmin. If it were the Squirrel Flu, people would hoard acorns.

Apparently store-bought toilet paper was a hedonistic decadence in those dark days, because we recycled before people mentioned recycling. Our toilet paper came from mail order catalogs — Sears, Monkey Wards (Montgomery Ward), Alden’s and Herter’s. Catalog pages might not have been extravagantly soft, but they had one important thing going for them — they were there. Catalogs proliferated in those days, so we never ran out of TP. I learned to fear slick pages (they were capable of cutting diamonds) and staples. On fortunate days, we were privileged to utilize peach wrappers. That was a divine experience.

A dearth of TP could induce copious amounts of anxiety. The nice thing about being a writer is that I always have something that could act as toilet paper in an emergency. A reader told me that his parakeet had been troubled with constipation. The bird was so bound up that visits to a veterinarian couldn’t remedy the problem. Its owner placed my column with my photo facing up on the bottom of the bird’s cage. The parakeet was cured. All it needed was a target.

One day, nobody talked much about toilet paper. The next day, everyone talked about toilet paper. What would you use if you ran out of toilet paper? At least until the prize in every box of Cracker Jack becomes toilet paper. Please remember that not everything is flushable. Ancient Greeks used stones and clay. An Ancient Roman used a sponge on a stick. Contrary to popular belief, toilet paper wasn’t invented by Tommy Toiletpaper of Taopi. The Chinese invented paper, so we know what they used. Colonists in this country employed corncobs. My ancestors used lettuce leaves. That was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my family’s eccentricities. Plants and leaves work, but avoid poison ivy and stinging nettles. Don’t listen to your curmudgeonly neighbor who says that’s what cats are for. He says things like that just to get a rise out of you. Ignore your silly brother-in-law who tells you his dog had shown him the secret to getting by without TP. You could sit at home and wait until someone reports a toilet paper sighting. Or you could walk the roads. Toilet paper is applied with a paint roller over freshly laid tar used to fill cracks in asphalt. The paper absorbs the oil from the drying tar, keeping it from sticking to tires. If we can no longer employ reusable bags in grocery stores, perhaps they could be repurposed as reusable toilet paper. A black velvet painting of dogs playing poker, unmatched socks, discarded toothbrushes, frayed potholders and welcome mats are other possibilities. No matter what you use, the two old men (Statler and Waldorf) in the balcony of “The Muppet Show” will still be critical of you. Ignore the old goats.

It will all work out in the end.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday.