Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Running on empty

One of the greatest debates of civilization: which way should the toilet paper hang?

This came up - again - in conversation yesterday. So I thought I'd revisit a column I wrote in 2006....

It was at that pivotal moment, the very instant that I needed it the most, that I realized the awful truth.
The injustice of it all. The inhumanity of the moment. The horror of the fate that had befallen me.

It crashed in around me and caused my heart to beat a little faster, breathe a little harder, the blood pound through my veins a little quicker.

Hoping against hope that I had made a mistake, I closed my eyes and fought the panic swelling in my chest. I said a short prayer, gritted my teeth and opened my eyes.

And staring back at me was the same terrible truth I had bravely tried to deny before. But there it was. Set in its small alcove in the wall. Laid bare to a cruel, cold world.

An empty.



The bathroom was out of toilet paper. Again.

A small sliver of white flittered in the breeze, a tiny remnant of the proud roll it had once been. I took a brief moment to reflect on its passing.

And then I started yelling.

“You have GOT to be KIDDING me!”

I heard footsteps running in my direction. That’s right. You’d better be moving fast, Mister.

I looked up, prepared to face the one person responsible for this situation. Him. That man. The one who pees standing up.

My husband.

There are many challenges to a successful marriage in today’s stressful world. However, I consider none of them as detrimental, as poisonous, as outrageously sinister as the all-important matter of changing the empty toilet paper roll.

I even made my husband attend a class on the subject shortly after we were married.

Years of bachelorhood had warped his tender mind. Answering to no one but himself. The very idea of ensuring maximum toilet paper coverage for future bathroom users was beyond his scope of understanding.

While he breezed through my seminar, No Butts About It: The Secrets to Maintaining a Strong Marriage By Replacing a Used Toilet Paper Roll, he had some difficulty with the technical aspects of the lab assignment – learning the proper way to insert the roll onto the toilet paper holder.

I even made up a little rhyme for him. “Flap to the back means a wife won’t smack.”

It seemed simple enough. You always place the roll so the loose side hangs in the back and not in the front. I think Oprah did a show on it once.

“But I don’t understand the difference,” my husband whined as he fiddled with the squeezably soft roll laced with aloe and Vitamin E. His choice, not mine. “Why should it matter how I put it on?”

I sighed. Loudly. Then proceeded to demonstrate my very fine point.

“See, if you put the roll on with the flap in the front then the loose side won’t hang down free and clear after you tear off a hunk because physics necessitates that you rip it from the top and the end gets stuck up there. You with me so far?”

My husband looked like he’d just tried to eat a raccoon. I had my work cut out for me.

“So the poor schmuck who takes a seat after you has to spin the roll over and over, desperately looking for the loose end. He eventually forgoes all appearances of proper society, starts ripping at the paper like a maniac, leaving shreds of tiny white fluff all over the floor and effectively destroying the roll for any person who comes after.”

I won’t say that he understood my reasoning, but he decided it was in his best interest to follow it.

So where did I go wrong? For him to understand a complex direction like Flap to the Back but not buy into the simple act of the refill part of the equation totally baffled me.

And it was then that my husband reached the door, a new toilet paper roll in hand.

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I forgot Gabe was in here earlier.”

And that’s when I noticed our 18-month-old toddler running past the open door with a 10-foot-long piece of toilet paper trailing in his wake. One end of it clutched in his tiny fist.

The TP Bandit had struck again. He goes through more toilet paper than, well, his dad.

Like father, like son.

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