Let’s Talk About Toilet Paper


You’ve already done it today. Maybe even multiple times, depending on your body rhythms and how long you’ve been awake, and perhaps, how much cheese you’ve ingested in the last 24 hours. I’ve done it. Your boss has done it. The mayor has done it. We’ve all done it.

We’ve all wiped our ass.

It’s not a particularly enjoyable task to perform, discuss, or even think about. But, like REM sings in their achingly beautiful song “Everybody Poops”:

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on

He’s singing about pooping. When he sings, “hang on,” he means, “let go.” Of course it’s open to interpretation, but Michael Stipe recognized the universal angst we all feel, however briefly, when we settle down onto that toilet seat to purge ourselves of all we’ve taken in over the course of the day. It’s that zen-like calm that requires complete concentration in the moment leading up to that irresistible urge to just let go. Then the bomb bay doors open, we drop our payload, and all the toxic, turbulent, malignant ballast that’s built up inside is jettisoned from our bodies in a single, almost euphoric surrender. The relief is immediate. Like a hot air balloon that has dropped its sandbags, we feel instantly lighter, ready to soar to great new heights of inspiration and action, even if it turns out to be just a fart.

But wait. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You have to, as they say, do the paperwork.

Now we’re getting down to the subject at hand: toilet paper. You might be one of those types to winds up a ball of toilet paper as soon as you sit down, then you hold it expectantly in your fist, like a kidnapper with a chloroform-soaked rag waiting for his victim to lock up her office and walk to her car in the dark parking lot. Or, like me, you might prefer the more pragmatic approach, the Japanese attitude: “Don’t open your umbrella until it rains.” You just never know. You might need just a couple of sheets for a dainty dab, or this might be a surprise attack that turns into a two-flusher, all-hands-on-deck, wish-I-had-a-bidet, call-in-the-hazmat-team cleanup effort that requires two showers and a mop-up crew with absorbent oil spill booms and an EPA damage assessment. But that’s more common during flu season.

Let's talk about toilet paper

Problem Solved

Let’s not lose our focus here; we’re talking about toilet paper. I won’t even get into that whole “over vs. under” issue. That’s a passionate holy war akin to the Mac vs PC debate, a tired argument that is completely unwinnable, especially for the losers who use PCs. Over, under, it doesn’t really matter, man, as long as that roll I’m counting on keeps cranking out the sheets like Andy Jacksons at Mark Zuckerberg’s ATM.

A little toilet paper cultural history here: You might remember in the 1970s and into the early ’80s, colored and scented toilet paper was all the rage. That bit of home decorating overachievement faded out when we realized the actual rage was coming from our sensitive heinies that were inflamed by the perfumes and dyes used to make rolls of Scott Tissue match the coral wall paper and smell like Tide. When it comes to toilet paper, as they say in the Klan, white is right.

The toilet paper marketing community took a hard left after that debacle, and softer tissue became the desirable quality. Charmin went all in on the concept, and George Whipple became a household name by appearing in their commercials and admonishing the pent-up housewives in his grocery store to “please don’t squeeze the Charmin,” which they insisted on doing with orgasmic ecstasy. That must have been some mighty enticing bum wad.

As technology in all fields has developed with blinding speed over the last couple of generations, wiping your ass has pretty much remained unchanged. Hell, it’s involved basically the same routine as when cavemen first discovered the benefits of this personal hygiene using very, very soft rocks 50,000 years ago. Toilet paper technology has evolved from that, of course, but it definitely peaked decades ago. Once they got the pulping and milling process down to where there were no splinters or wood knots in the paper, that was pretty much it.

Companies like Scott have come out with super-sized, thousand-sheet behemoths, but those bad boys barely fit into a standard housing. You have to use half of it up before it begins to roll freely. And it must roll freely.

These toilet paper companies need to understand that this product will always be about function over form. Like Levi’s 501s and the Fender Precision bass, there is zero room for improvement. Still, Big TP keeps trying to reinvent the roll.

Charmin kicked George Whipple to the curb sometime around 2000, and replaced him with a family of bears that go through toilet paper like it grows on trees. The message is that not only do bears, in fact, shit in the woods, but they use long flowing ribbons of ultra-strong Charmin to wipe their butts afterwards. It’s not only ultra-strong, but super-smooth and soft. You know, so it won’t irritate the delicate ass of a bear.

I think they’ve gone too far with the softness. I’m not saying that I want to do my business with a sheet of 60-grit sandpaper, but neither do I want some teflon-slick, buttery fluff that’s more suited to blowing a nose into. I need some purchase. A bit of traction. I need an all-weather radial, not a cheater slick.

And strong? Son, this is a one-use mission. Strength comes from quantity, not design. Anyone who has ever used the toilet paper found in a Forest Service pit toilet can tell you that stuff is so thin you can read the tiny print on the back of a tube of KY Jelly through it. You just use more of it, that’s all. If you need toilet paper that’s so strong you can rinse it and wring it out and use it to wipe off your kitchen counters, well, I will not be coming to brunch at your house any time soon.

Look, I know it’s a lot to digest about an intimate subject we all deal with but rarely speak about. Maybe you’d better sit down for a little while and think it over. Just don’t forget to flush.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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