To All the Toilet Paper I’ve Used Before

I can’t even right now, so instead of writing another long post that says exactly how I feel at the moment, I decided to write about something much more important on a global scale.

We’re talking about toilet paper, people.

Late last week, Denisa and I realized we’d fallen victim to one of the current blunders of the modern world. We’d assumed we had more toilet paper on hand than we actually did. When the truth came to light, I scrambled frantically through the house, counting up how many rolls we had in stock. Six. A grand total of six rolls between me and using the bidet attachment we’d installed on our toilet back when we were using cloth diapers for MC. The world may be a grim place, but the thought of using a communal bidet (even just among family members) was enough to make me start eyeing the trees outside to see what leaves might still be salvageable. (“Sure, that one looks pretty brittle, but I’ll bet it’ll get the job done . . .”)

Thankfully, after putting out The Call to a few friends, someone came across some toilet paper still on shelves in the store and bought us 24 rolls, putting me a much safer distance from that bidet attachment. (Breathe easy, friends.)

But that near miss made me reflect on the wonders of toilet paper, and how many varieties there really are out there. And that made me think what the world *really* needs is a post by yours truly discussing the finer nuances of TP, ranging from the very crude to the creme de la creme. I’ve been around the world a fair bit, so I’m going to rate my toilet paper experience to date in my life. (Hey. Don’t give me any guff. You’re in quarantine. Can you honestly tell me you’ve got something better to do?)

Let’s start at the bottom. (See what I did there?) The absolute worst toilet paper experience I have seen didn’t happen to me, but rather to an acquaintance. Camping. I’m sure you can already see where this is headed, but suffice it to say that I think we can all agree the worst potential toilet paper-like substance to use would be poison ivy. Sure, it might take care of the immediate need, but the aftermath of that experience would leave much to be desired. Just don’t do it.

Slightly above poison ivy, though, would be leaves in general. I’ve had to use them before, but let’s get specific here. When I was studying abroad in the Middle East, I went for a sunrise hike on Mt. Sinai. It sounds glorious, right? Hiking in the dark so you can be there at the top of the world when the sun comes up? And it was a pretty incredible experience, except for the fact that I got a bad case of diarrhea in the middle of the hike. And I had no toilet paper. I’ll stop there, but let’s just say that experience has permanently soured the concept of “just use leaves” for any bathroom experience. (Though some of that is due to the severe lack of any really big leaves on trees on Mt. Sinai. I’ve used leaves in other places in North America, and it’s been less than ideal, but still doable.)

(While I’m on the Middle East, I’ll mention Cairo, which gets a nod for a non-toilet paper experience. I was in the middle of the city and had to use the facilities, so I decided to go to the public bathroom. There was a little old lady standing outside the door offering to sell you toilet paper by the square. (Maybe a new side hustle in our post COVID-19 world?) I bought some, walked in, and discovered the public toilets were a series of holes in the ground. No walls. No toilets. No seats. Just holes and some well-worn foot prints on either side of each hole, indicating where to squat. Friends, it was at that moment that I realized I’m not nearly as ready to rough it as I thought I was. One glance at those holes, and my body decided that I probably wouldn’t need to go to the bathroom until I was out of the country.)

Moving on up the toilet paper pyramid, we come to the paper used by many in former East Germany. Or at least, the paper used by me as a missionary there. I was on a limited budget, and when I went to the store, I would inevitably buy the cheapest TP I could, because after all: it was just getting flushed once all was said and done. Why should I literally flush money down the toilet? Speaking from experience, cheap TP in Europe is just a few degrees above using sand paper to clean yourself up. Rough. Not soft. But ready to disintegrate at the most inopportune moments. Did that make me buy better toilet paper? No, but it made me use multiple sheets at the same time.

Next up would come the recycled toilet paper Denisa tried buying for the family a while ago. I’m all for saving the environment, but that day I discovered there was a line I wasn’t willing to cross. “Recreating my days in former East Germany toilets” was that line. We have since switched brands.

At this point, we leave behind (See? I did it again!) the truly uncomfortable TP experiences and move to the inconvenient. I think we can all agree that single-ply toilet paper is a less-than-user-friendly wiping experience. Yes, you can origami it together into a sort of multi-ply substitute, but you shouldn’t need to engage in a “Build Your Own Toilet Paper Adventure” to get such an essential task completed the right way. Plus, single ply has a tendency to betray you at all the wrong moments. When you need toilet paper, you need it to fulfill several basic functions. First, you’re looking for a degree of comfort. (Unless you’re a cheap missionary.) Second, it needs to keep itself together long enough to complete the task at hand. (I’m on a roll today, folks! I have ascended to the throne of puns here.) Third, you want that paper to vanish from the face of the earth as soon as your duty is done. (I’m going to stop noting the puns now, people. You can just play along at home.)

This leads me, ironically, to the next level. I’ve been to some bathrooms that have like triple or quadruple ply TP in stock. Scented stuff that probably costs as much as my children. And yes, I guess the experience is kind of like wiping with a pillow, but let’s be honest: do you really want to wipe with a pillow? Plus, that stuff is so thick, you could use it as a table cloth. And have you ever tried flushing a table cloth down the toilet? (Don’t answer that!) Top of the line TP has a tendency to clog the works. Sometimes better is anything but(t). (Sorry. Couldn’t resist. It just came out.)

So if it’s up to me, the best toilet paper for the job is just your average two ply, scent-free roll. In an ideal world, toilet paper blends into the background. You use it, and you don’t think about it. You don’t think it’s too soft or too hard or too thick or too thin. You just flush it away and move on with your life. If you come out of the bathroom with any sort of a story to tell about the toilet paper you used, trust me: no one wants to hear about it, and that toilet paper wasn’t doing its job right.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


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