I vividly remember the day of March 14, 2020, standing in an abandoned parking lot, in a mall that I had never seen before. A veil had settled on the earth. It was the first weekend of the pandemic, as we commemorate. I had hastily cut off a jubilant phone call from my brother in Texas, who towered over me a stash of toilet paper he’d just tagged at Costco, a club I wasn’t a member of.
My brother, who considers his morning session to be “the best part of the day”, was ready to optimize the pandemic. For me, despair was setting in.
In my neighborhood, Whole Foods, Lunds, Target, and Cub, the shelves were bare. Does Trader Joe’s sell TP, I wondered? Not sure it was worth the trip to find out, I opened up Google Maps and searched for “toilet paper near me”. All that came out were office supply stores.
So I started driving, down the river, through the woods, until I almost ran out of gas, punishing myself for not following my uncle’s advice and installing one of these toilet seats with integrated bidet.
Finally, I spotted a desperate looking mall above a ridge. Only one of those dollar stores was left, staples of rural America, where a dollar still goes a long way, they tell me.
As I walked through the empty, pothole-filled parking lot, avoiding the snow flurries, I looked up at the sky and shouted, “What can a man count on, in these unprecedented times?” ?
Things inside looked grim – no cleaners of any kind, very little shelf life food, and absolutely no toilet paper. I filled my cart with everything I could find … cans of devil’s meat, frozen focaccia funfetti (“viva Italia!”), Something that looks like Spaghetti Os but with seafood , celery bottoms (two for $ 1).
On my way out I took one last look down the paper aisle and there, standing alone on a vast empty shelf, was a four-lab pack. 1,000 sheets per roll, he boasted.
I ran the numbers. If one were really disciplined – and could find soap – a person could get 200 best parts of the day per roll. Like an episode of Survivor, but at home. In our 3.5-person household, that meant we could possibly survive for eight to nine months on Mackerel Bone, allergen-free gelatin, and the miracle pack of four, which appeared while I was checking the sodium content. spread without butter.
I held the treasure to my chest with the same sense of pride that a first settler in our state might have felt when bringing home a downcast moose.
Bad luck! I thought, as I passed some shoppers who had just arrived – probably from Inver or Maple Grove – as they scurried in vain to the back of the store, looking for what. was buried in my basket under Easter-themed pet camouflage. Clothes.
I chose the self-service checkout, imagining that a stingy employee might declare the four-pack damaged or expired and therefore unavailable for sale. As I passed it over the scanner, I stopped at words I had never seen before: “One Ply”.
Wait, no. Hadn’t Minneapolis City Council banned that, and menthol cigarettes?
I could feel the glare behind my back of the buyers desperate to hit their next hoarding cache. I decided that if the pressure grew, our teens and college kids would use it. Or we could turn it into face masks, a renewable resource of ultimate protection.
I loaded my bags and escaped texting my brother a photo, to which he replied, “No, absolutely not, never. Our mother did not raise Philistines.” You haven’t met my sister, but I digress.
Fast forward 21 months. Although we are still living on Pandemic LyfeÂ®, I try to carry on and have returned to my housekeeping mentality just in time. It took a while, but we ate all the rice cauliflower, the White Castle meatless sliders, the rehydrated (“farm-use”) pickles, and the unscented mini frittatas. Davanni’s party-sized lasagna stays in the freezer because it’s difficult to get 20 people to your house in a pandemic. And gluten.
Last summer, I also decided to empty my secret pantry in the boiler room, the place where I had stored the rarest essentials, lest unscrupulous neighbors with guns come for my cache of zinc lozenges, the mega-pack of Tylenol, hundreds of baby wipes and gallons of caustic cleansers, left to mold when it became clear that COVID was in the air, not on your hands (elbow bump!).
And that four-pack of bathroom tissue is one ply.
Using skills learned over decades in journalism, I had been able – much to my family’s praise – to procure abundant toilet paper throughout the pandemic. Two, three, even four folds. We could “go like racehorses,” to paraphrase an old joke from Anthony Bourdain, without a moment’s anxiety.
So this little TP sat down, more and more alone. Towards the end of the summer, after giving the last of the mackerel to our new cat, Leon (âDaddy, no!â), I decided to bite the bullet and operationalize the four-pack. My family refused to share the adventure, so the four scrolls went to the basement bathroom, my sanctuary.
One day at work, a text message came from my adult son, “What is toilet paper?” He came home to use our office in the basement for several days of work.
âSacrifice in the event of a pandemic,â I replied.
“How long will it last?”
A long moment. A very long time. Single-ply paper in a 1000 roll comes and goes. More than you.
I was surprised at the size of the roll after days of use. I thought about scheduling a colonoscopy. Or just the preparation. I bought some habaÃ±ero hot sauce. I used it to blow my nose. I tried to interest the cat in it.
The four-pack survived for several months (I was a bit out of town), until our whole family was vaccinated. On the last day, I sent my son a picture of the last expired roll with the words âit’s doneâ. He replied by text that he had taken a coworking space in the North Loop and that he would see us during the holidays.
The last roll expired earlier this month on the last day of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday commemorating the miraculous durability of a tiny amount of oil. I felt a more contemporary miracle among me. I realized that my March 2020 prayer had been answered.
My mind returned to that raw pandemic dawn, to a four-pack standing alone on a vast empty row of shelves, in a store I could never locate again. And I smiled.
We are alive, in good physical health, and I do not wear medical underwear.
So let’s give a toast to these unprecedented times: as bad as things may seem, all things pass.
By the way, I am determined to use these lasagna. If you don’t mind freezer burn, I can make you a square or two for New Year’s Eve.
Adam Platt is editor-in-chief of Cities Media Group, publisher of Twin Cities Business and of Mpls.St. Paul Magazine.