Ed Pfeifer: Fear causes toilet paper mayhem
Monday, March 16, 2020 | 12:01 AM
Back when the Cold War was still fairly hot, sometime between my first pimple and my first date, I remember sitting in a social studies class learning about the troubles in the U.S.S.R. To paraphrase my teacher, “They (those behind the Iron Curtain) experience bread shortages, heating fuel shortages, even toilet paper shortages.”
Since bread and heating oil meant little to a classroom full of pubescent numbskulls, the toilet paper shortage was the one thing we latched onto. Thirty kids immediately raised their hands to get an answer to the obvious question, “what do they use when they don’t have T.P?”
Well aware of and well prepared for the response he was about to get, the teacher wryly smiled and said “corncobs.” A wave of grimaces followed as did the desire among all present to never run out of toilet paper.
That was a long time ago but, unlike the hard-line communists of old Russia, the lesson, to this day, is relevant. Recently, the United States of America — the world’s greatest superpower — experienced a toilet paper shortage of its own. Talking heads and stuffed shirts from every link in the supply chain took to the airwaves to describe the origins of the problem and the steps they were taking to rectify the situation. But, take it from me — a guy who sells a mountain of toilet paper every year — consumers were unimpressed by “big paper’s” response to what they saw as a three-alarm crises.
In my hardware store, I heard plenty of negative comments directed at everyone from the timber industry to the trucking industry and even at me, the lowly hardware guy who had the audacity to limit buyers to one package of toilet paper per day. The whole thing was surreal — a toilet paper shortage, angry and panic-stricken customers, toilet paper executives defending the way they intended to absorb the messy fallout — it was T.P. mayhem.
As the situation unraveled, I became more and more aware of the fact that too many of us, myself included, are woefully unprepared for even the slightest interruption to our “regular” day-to-day operations. In columns past I have, from atop a humble soapbox, lamented our collective procrastination when it comes to preparedness and tried, in earnest, to encourage a change to that approach.
But, time and particularly good times, numb us to many of the harsh realities of our world and apparently prevent us from realizing that we need to keep more than two rolls of toilet paper in the house at all times. The resulting problems are hard to quickly remedy but remarkably easy to avoid.
Like we always do, we will overcome the challenges of these trying times and toilet paper will once again flow like the waters of the rivers three. My question is this; will we be ready next time?
I hope so because corncobs just won’t cut it.