Life in the Box: On A Roll


It was a dark and stormy morning. Raining so hard that my in-car surveillance was opaque. I couldn’t see out my car window without running the wipers full-speed. I was following a tip that Super Target was getting an overnight shipment of gold—or what passes for gold these days: toilet paper.

It was 15 minutes before store opening. There were perhaps three other occupied cars spread between two doors. I was in a good position: watching the door closest to the TP aisle.

All was progressing beautifully until 5 minutes before store opening. Suddenly, cars were whipping into place at an unbelievable speed. Competition!! I took the plunge and raced for the “In” door, first in line. Luckily the overhang kept me dry enough. I tried to look casual to prevent the others from joining me. I knew once they started in, they would step over the “6-foot distance between people” rule.

It didn’t work. The store clerk opened the “Out” doors first. Before she made it over to my door, a dozen people had gathered. Despite the possible germs (maybe the wind would disperse them all) I turned to my fellow shoppers and asked, “Toilet paper, right?” They concurred. One 20-something said, “I set my alarm clock to get me here in time.” This was serious.

The day before, I had searched five different stores, all of which laughed me out. “We haven’t had toilet paper for a week,” said the clerk at Lowes. But the day wasn’t a waste, my boot leather had turned up the tip on Target’s shipment. And, I knew where the goods were located in the store… the very back of the store.

So the Target clerk unlocked our door. She had intel: “We have reserved the first hour of this store for the elderly and infirm. Please respect their need to get our most-sought items.” Ah, my AARP card was about to come in handy!

Then more news came: “We have received a shipment of only 6 units of toilet paper.” “Units?” I asked, hoping she meant cases. Nope. “Six packages.” From the dozen people at the door a cry of disbelief rose above the thundering rain.

One man about my age, who was second in line, raced ahead of me into the store. I tried to keep pace with him without running. I didn’t want to start a stampede. Luckily for me, he didn’t know where the toilet paper was. He asked me, and I told him to “follow me.”

Together we found the packages. Three different brands. The man decided to be gracious and allowed me first pick. I didn’t have time to do my usual price per sheet comparison. I grabbed the biggest package. There were two that size; he picked up the other. SCORE!

Instead of paying immediately, I picked up some cans of tuna and some chopped tomatoes that we use a lot. All the time feeling conspicuous with my huge package (15 rolls!) of TP. A few minutes later, someone asked me, “Where did you find that?” I told her the bad news that it was probably all gone. To her credit, she didn’t hit me and grab the goods.

After I got home, I realized that I could have opened the package and given away a few rolls to those who seemed needier than I. I just wasn’t feeling that generous at the time.

From a few days’ perspective, I realize that toilet paper isn’t a necessity. Friends on my text group remind each other that bidets are great for cleaning up after urinating, and even a squeeze bottle of warm water can do the job. The squeeze bottles are superior in some ways because cheap bidets only hook up to cold water.

And, for poop clean-up, people who hike sometimes use dead leaves as wipes. I wouldn’t flush leaves, however. Hiker protocol requires burying the “remains” in soil. Since that’s not likely in our civilized back yards, indoors people can use cloth wipes. When done, set them to soak in a Clorox bucket, preferably with a lid, just like a cloth diaper is treated. Yes, I remember the smell from when my baby brother was little, but it can work.

And, as a Vietnam veteran friend of mine once advised, just use your hands. Ick. That means washing the cling-on particles down your sink, and your sink might become a germ factory that needs immediate cleansing. Once again, not a great option, but it could be done in a survival setting.

It’s kind of humorous that, of all things we need to survive, toilet paper would be a top priority. Personally, in the early days, I went for the chocolate aisle first. Americans are used to comforts. Americans are not used to shortages. We’re used to stores having every shelf full and our favorite brands always available. Americans, I love you. Wipe off that frown and settle in with a grin. Just don’t come between me and aisle 45.

Nancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, narrating and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process and life issues, both inside and outside the box. Her opinions are her own, and are not necessarily those of this web site. 

Bidet Attachments on Amazon.

How to clean your bum without toilet paper from Men’s Health