It’s a Funny Thing, Seriously.
I don’t know when I first noticed it. It’s one of those things you wouldn’t normally notice. But I gradually came to the realization that I’m always changing the toilet paper. I mean always. Everywhere I go. In all seasons, all times of day and night, all situations, all locations, including several states in New England and all along the eastern seaboard.
I know it’s been going on more than a decade, because I remember laughing about it with my ex. How changing the toilet paper was my “thing,” like being a traffic magnet was his “thing.” We would be driving in the middle of the night through a deserted area, not a car in sight. As soon as we needed to make a turn, there would appear a car, one solo, lonely, well-timed car –one-- and we’d have to wait to make the turn.
I’ve talked to other people, and they have a “thing” like that too. One of my relatives always gets a good parking spot but ends up having to wait in line wherever he goes, even if he picks the shortest line. Another always gets through lines quickly but can’t get a close parking spot to save his life. Although maybe, ultimately, the extra exercise will help prolong it.
My daughter, it seems, has inherited her Dad’s traffic magnetism, along with the misfortune to get locked out of places, usually by me.
No. My thing is toilet paper roll replacement. And I want to know why.
At one wedding reception it happened three times, enough so I jokingly mentioned it to the bride. It happens whenever I travel and use the well-maintained restrooms, where there’s even an attendant in there cleaning up. An attendant, who I assume, would check to make sure there’s enough toilet paper. By now I’ve learned to always check to make sure there’s toilet paper, because God knows I’ve had times there was an empty roll and none to replace it. So I choose the stall carefully. There’s always paper on the roll, but invariably it’s the fake-out end-of-the-roll situation which has me scrambling to find a replacement, or dig through my pocketbook (hanging, of course, from a hook out of arms reach on the stall door) for a tissue or napkin. I’ve learned to allow for this toilet paper “thing” and stash napkins in my pocketbook at every pit stop.
I’m not talking about the run-of-the-mill toilet paper replacement situations, like at home or at work. Where I am one of the few who will always replace the empty roll. But of course it happens there most of all. I mean, when I go to stores, at concerts and movies, when I visit other people’s homes, doctor’s offices, restaurants, public restrooms at quaint New England coastal towns, or Capital Region bike trails, even porta-potties and on airplanes.
No. This is more than a coincidence. It’s more like karma. What have I done in a past lifetime or this one to deserve such an odd fate?
I thought back to how I was raised, the first girl after two boys in my family. Is it a way to keep me humble because I was spoiled as a kid? Or remind me how fortunate I am to have toilet paper at all? I have relatives who used to use outhouses and were happy to have the Sears and Roebuck catalog. And there are people today who don’t have access to fresh water or indoor plumbing. Toilet paper is actually an under-appreciated and fairly recent luxury in human history.
Or is it a way to atone for being some tyrant in another lifetime, mistreating servants and expecting other people to take care of even my most basic needs for me? Is it a way to remind me, with my tendency to isolate and be a hermit for periods of time, that I’m not alone--I am connected to other human beings, and actually all living creatures by this most basic need? Does asking the person in the next stall to hand me toilet paper underneath the divider a way to help me practice reaching out to others and be willing to ask for help?
At times when other people are trying to think of cures for cancer and ways to end world hunger, I’m trying to puzzle out why I always end up changing the toilet paper. I have noticed that I tend to be someone who helps other people through transitional times in their lives--for example, when they move from one home to another, or when one of their parents dies. Is it a cosmic symbol for my mission to help with endings and new beginnings?
Maybe it’s a lesson in letting go. I tend to have trouble with transitions myself, having difficulty in letting go and moving on to the next thing or phase in my life, full of fears of change, fear of the unknown. When the roll of toilet paper ends, it’s over. No extending it, no hanging on. I literally just have to roll with it. Let go and move to the next roll, which may or may not be of a texture or type I like.
I don’t know.
My father liked to tell jokes, often over and over again. He would ask, “Did I tell you the one about the rabbit?” and even if you said “Yes,” he’d proceed to tell you again. Well one of his jokes went like this:
Dad: “What is the longest piece of furniture in the house?”
Me: “The couch?”
“The coffee table?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“The toilet paper.”
“Oh.” Then silence and a puzzled expression. I didn’t want him to know I didn’t get the joke, though it was obvious I didn’t from the resounding lack of laughter.
He told me this joke over the span of several years and I never got it, but didn’t want to admit it. Finally, when I was in my late teens, he told me the joke again, but this time I risked looking stupid and said, “But toilet paper isn’t a piece of furniture.”
And he said, “Any a**hole knows that!” He looked so happy, I couldn’t believe he used a swear word, and that he loved jokes and humor so much he could delay the gratification of delivering the punch line—however lame--for 10 years, not knowing if he’d ever get to deliver the punch line at all.
Maybe this “toilet paper thing” is a way to remember my father and honor him, his sense of humor, and two of his life lessons for me, the ability to persist and to delay gratification.
And there’s another thing--I like to see things changed for the better. I love when talk shows have transformation themes. I used to love helping my Mom with the ironing because I liked seeing clothing go from wrinkled and messy to smooth and neat. I tend to wait until my house is really messy before I clean because I like to see the difference. It’s why I enjoy editing, proofreading and publication layout.
My family’s philosophy is, “Try to leave things better than you found them. Leave them better for the next person.” Or on a grander scale, do what you can to make a better life for the next generation.
I used to get angry that other people didn’t bother to change the toilet paper. Angry that they were so inconsiderate. Why couldn’t they change the toilet paper and leave that tiny little corner of the world better for me? But I’ve come to feel differently about it.
I’ve come to understand the “toilet paper thing,” is a manifestation of my conflict between wanting to be helpful and not wanting to be taken advantage of.
So maybe it isn’t a punishment at all. Maybe it’s the proof of some good impulse in me. A very small thing I can do to make things better or easier for other people. A symbol of my willingness to do a menial task that most people avoid or don’t even notice. To be of service to others in some way, even a small, thankless, mostly invisible way. And a possible stepping stone to being willing to help in other, bigger ways.
At that wedding, the new bride laughed when I told her about my “toilet paper thing,” and she said, “Well, maybe it says something nice about you that you are one of the few people who are willing to change it.”
Yes, indeed. I am out to change the world, one roll at a time.