The Strategic Reserve

Last Thursday Krissy, who has been appointed the Person Who Leaves The House to Shop, reported that once again she had been unable to find toilet paper, or paper towels, while she was out shopping. We had been back from vacation for nearly two weeks at that point, and the Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020 had begun the week we were on our cruise. So that meant it had been three weeks since toilet paper had been readily available locally — every roll snatched in a panic. Here at the Scalzi Compound we were doing okay on the toilet paper front, with enough to last us a couple more weeks if we were not, shall we say, profligate in our usage. I had assumed that at some reasonable point in the future the stuff would be back on the shelves. But here we were, three weeks in, and the shelves were still bare.

Which was how, last Thursday afternoon, I found myself on Amazon, finger hovering over the “buy” button for a box of Tork brand toilet paper — the stuff you find in airport bathrooms on massively-sized rolls, and which is unperforated because it’s assumed you’ll rip it across the serrated edge of a Tork brand toilet paper dispenser. This industrial-grade toilet paper was, literally, the only toilet paper available online — not just on Amazon, mind you, but on the sites of Kroger, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walgreens, CVS, Staples, Office Max and even Jet.Com. Uline claimed to have some, but it was rationing orders and was additionally limiting them to customers who had accounts before January 2020. Everywhere I looked, toilet paper wasn’t, except for these 12 boxes of Tork Mini Jumbo Bath Tissue Rolls (12 rolls each), which had somehow managed to escape the view of the ravening hordes, on Amazon, of all places.

As I was considering the purchase, part of my brain was going, come on, this is ridiculous. But between the moment I added a box of the stuff into my shopping cart and the moment the Amazon shopping cart page popped up, five of the boxes of Tork Mini Jumbo Bath Tissue Rolls (12 rolls each) sold and only seven boxes remained. Suddenly it became a lot less ridiculous. I put my order through.

When I got the little confirmation notification from Amazon that indeed my order had gone through, I felt three emotions, in rapid sequence. First, smugness: Fuck you all, I and my family will still get to poop. Second, enraged exasperation that a virus had reduced a once-great nation into a fearful panic-buying rabble, grabbing onto rolls of toilet paper like 2-ply security blankets, perhaps thinking if I can poop like a civilized person maybe this pestilence will pass over my home. Third, a mild but nevertheless disquieting sense of shame, because, after all, if I didn’t myself just panic buy some toilet paper — any toilet paper at all, as evidenced by my willingness to claim unperforated industrial tissue — I at the very least bought it at an elevated level of alarm. It was not, I admit, my most dignified online purchase ever.

And as it turns out, not an entirely necessary one, either. Yesterday Krissy went to Sam’s Club, which had more or less at that moment brought out onto the sales floor a pallet of 45-roll packs of the quilted good stuff. Krissy scored one package — just one, one is more than enough for a three-person home for a very long while, thank you very much — and a similarly-sized package of paper towels. When my box of Tork Mini Jumbo Bath Tissue Rolls arrived this afternoon, it was thankfully superfluous. It has therefore been dispatched to the basement, where it stands as our Strategic Reserve, at the ready should the stores once again be depleted through the panic buying of others, or in case of natural or other disasters depriving us of easy access to the sort of toilet paper that features cartoon bears on the packaging. It is the toilet paper for When It Comes To That, in other words, and let’s hope that it never does.

I’m writing this all in a light, jokey manner, but I’ll note that underneath this jocular tone is a mild bit of shock that, in fact, it took two fucking weeks for Krissy to locate toilet paper anywhere within a 50-mile radius of where we live, and that my grand backup plan to deal with this was to haunt the commercial sites of the Internet and grab the first box of the stuff I could find, regardless of quality or, indeed, perforation. I’ll note that at this moment on Amazon, the same box of Tork Mini Jumbo Bath Tissue Rolls I bought will set you back $100 (which is rather more than what I paid for it), and it will be at least two weeks before arrives. Try Sam’s Club first.

My point here is we’re none of us doing a very good job of not freaking out, and I worry about how much worse it will get before it gets better. I don’t have an answer to this. But at the very least, we’re not going to panic buy (or hopefully even mildly alarmed buy) any more sundries. For the duration we’re going to buy as we normally did in the Before Times, and if that means sometimes we do without — as it has already for a couple of other things besides toilet paper — then we’re going to work with that, and around it, and through it. We’ll get through all of this, all of us. We just have to think about all of us, and make room for the rest of us, too.

Also, when all of this is said and done, I’m finally getting myself a bidet. All of those are on back order too, at the moment. Who would have thought.

82 Comments on “The Strategic Reserve”

  1. Yes, we were looking at bidets a few weeks ago when we were on vacation but hunkering down. Then my husband lost his job and my hours got cut by 25% – we’re not in horrible straights, but it definitely has put off the idea of getting a bidet.

    We’re still fine on toilet paper here, we buy ours at Costco when the need arises, so we weren’t having to go out and buy it when the ravening hordes were falling over themselves to get it.

  2. When you can’t do a thing about this horrible/crazy situation, just getting a scarce commodity feels like victory.

    Even though we basically never bake bread at our house, the single envelope of yeast my wife was able to acquire seems like a pretty big damn deal.

  3. I know how you are feeling, while my husband is always paranoid about toilet paper and we always have 2 costco sized packs in our home, I am feeling like i need to get more flour. I just bought a 10 lb bag before the panic set in, and i don’t usually use a lot of flour, but i feel like i need to have a back up bag, which of course i can’t find anywhere.

    I am hoping this irrational fear will gradually melt away, but so far it hasn’t. We shall see what happens when I actually see a bag of flour.

  4. Of all the relevant comments I could make here, I will instead note that “mini jumbo” is an oxymoron.

  5. Um, isn’t storing your Strategic Reserve in the basement tempting fate? What if there’s a flood?

  6. Thankfully, I bought a 12 pack basically one or two days before the extreme surge began because I had a feeling one was coming. Only two people here so I expect it to last awhile.

  7. Even Who Gives a Crap (you buy your paper online, it’s mailed to you, it’s not wrapped in plastic) is sold out. Or, as they say, wiped out. My wife has pointed out we managed when we did cloth diapers with our oldest, and she figures if it gets to that point we can manage again. Not wearing diapers, but wiping our butts with cloth rags.

    Or at least I think that’s what she means.

  8. The stores do seem to be getting back towards normal. The local walmart has been handing out these in wiped out items 1 per household to customers lined up at the stockroom doors each day. They get shipments of most stuff every day. They still don’t have the paper products on the shelf, but the pasta sauce and pasta, bread, milk, etc that were completely cleared out at one point are now like half to 75% stocked, except for flour. Today they had at least 6 pallets of cases of water out on the floor.
    I do expect that tomorrow a lot will get wiped out, as a lot of people get paid the first of the month. Maybe about next week things will be around 90%
    Still too many people casually shopping in the stores for health, but it’s nothing like what looked almost black friday crowds in the grocery dept the first week.

  9. Hey, have you tried reloading your hand cleaner bottles? Scarcely available — Everclear 151, highest proof sold in California, or Polish potato vodka 192 proof — plus some aloe vera, if you want to be deterred from licking your fingers after cleaning them.

  10. On Dec. 8, 1941, my friend Tom’s grandmother (figuring war was imminent and so was a shortage of toilet paper) got in her 1939 Cadilac and headed into one of the Chicago suburbs, where she boarded the interurban and rode to Marshall Field’s stop in Chicago’s loop where she ordered a dozen huge cartons of toilet paper. The supply lasted them through Tom’s childhood and, in fact, until his grandparents both died. There was still one giant half-filled carton with Marshall Field’s distinctive green logo on it in Tom’s farmhouse attic that he proudly showed us in 1976.

  11. Thanks for the chuckles – you made a mildly disparaging comment about the light, jokey tone of this piece, but to be totally honest, that’s exactly what I needed this evening. It may not work for anyone else who reads it, but I really appreciate the smiles.

    There’s just the two of us here, and we’re set for TP for at least 4 to 6 weeks, I’d say. Not because we buy it by the case, just because we don’t need or use a lot. There are other things that I’m having difficulty sourcing, but I’ve got either got backup plans or can live without them for the time being.

    Oddly enough, the thing I was most concerned about was the high-quality catfood I feed our herd o’ felines, but the store where I prefer to shop has done a terrific job of keeping that in stock, plus they do curbside carryout. So does our grocery store, so we are foregoing our usual weekly date of toddling through the bread aisle together in favor of waiting like royalty for our purchases to be brought out to our vehicle. Not how I prefer to shop, and I am looking forward to being able to select my own groceries again soon, but in the near term it’s probably a good thing to do.

    Strange times, strange indeed.

  12. Bidets are great! You don’t need a heated seat, blow dry one. The simple, $35 ones do a great job. (Caveat – if you’re in really cold weather then you probably do want to go with one that hooks to the hot water or has a water heater. “Normal” cold water on that area is fine; -20 degrees outside… mmm… not so much)

    Also, don’t buy for ULine unless you want to support a company that is gung-ho for Trump. I mean, MyPillow CEO level. Just sayin’.

  13. Do you remember AOL, back in the days of the modem? There were only so many lines, and in the fall of 1993 one started to get busy signals in the evening on occasion. Then the fit hit the shan as they say. I would get home from school at 2:45 and dial in and my mom would say, “Don’t hang up I want to get on after dinner.” What started as a few busy signals grew over the month into a complete inability to get on, and AOL begging people to please log off when they were done. They had increased the phone banks 10 fold and still could not keep up because we all knew that once you lost your connect you’d never get it back. Even with 10X the lines per subscriber when everyone believed that they could not hang up if they wanted login there continued to be a shortage.

    It will be the same with toilet paper. The known existence of the shortage will itself prolong the shortage as people who know TP is hard to get will continue to buy extra when it is available until the get used to seeing it on the shelf every time they go to the store which will take longer to happen because of people buying more than the supply chain can handle.

  14. I think I may owe you an apology on behalf of my city – Sydney, Australia – because I kind of have the impression we were ground zero for the whole worldwide toilet paper panic. At first a few bare shelves at some local supermarkets was just the “and on the lighter side…” item at the end of the local news; then it started spreading to the rest of Australia; then we started hearing similar stories from elsewhere in the world…

    On the other hand, if my impression is correct, the good news is that it puts us ahead of the curve, and the supply is almost back to normal here now. Although my local supermarket does seem to be running very short of meat lately, so that may be the next shortage the rest of you have to look forward to.

  15. We have Tork at work. I work in a grocery store, so I’ve become used to the panic buying and the utter disregard people have for social distancing. My new favorite: “Do you have this?” and instead of saying what it is, they
    hold their phone up near their hip. Yeah, let me read that 6 inches from your crotch.

    Be warned: in our public bathrooms, NO ONE is stealing our paper. Tork somehow managed to create a half-ply paper. it’s about a molecule thick.

  16. I scored one of the last two packs of Bounty select-a-size paper towels while at Walmart this Saturday. The pack was battered and torn, but I still felt defensive when stepping away from my shopping cart as I searched for the other items on my list. I was worried that I would be fighting someone trying to grab it, Mad Max-style, Thankfully, we have ramen, because our Walmart was completely out of it. I also scored two tins of the last four of canned salmon. No tuna, canned chicken, corned beef there at all. No beans or rice. And, of course, no toilet paper or other paper towels.

    It is a strange, strange world in March 2020…

  17. I was very lucky to have just started a six pack of mega rolls (according to the package, equivalent of 24 normal rolls) when the great tp crisis hit. I have since acquired a twelve pack of premium store brand, by being lucky enough to be there the one day they had oodles of the stuff.

    The paper products aisle is going to seem surreal for awhile, once regular supplies are reestablished.

  18. I brought up a moral question on my Facebook page a few days ago.

    I asked people how many rolls of TP they would be willing to give to a neighbor if they knocked on your door. The conditions were that you had at least 36 rolls, and the neighbors were only casual acquaintances.

    I said that I’d be willing to give up two. If they had kids, perhaps another two.

    Not quite the trolley question, but it’s interesting. Most of my friends were willing to give at least two rollls.

  19. Last night I said to my wife “Thanks for leaving the Monday toilet paper sheet for me.”
    She responded “You were able to tell which side to use?”

  20. I’m going to be a smug asshole who lives alone here, but I bought triple-roll single ply, two stashes (I don’t have the room to stash Costco packs in my apartment), the week when things were starting to get bad. I only just used up a roll today. The packaging claims that a 12 pack will last 12 weeks. So running out of TP is going to take me a while. Though I was having…shall we say, moments where I was using more than usual the first week and thinking, “I can’t keep doing this.”

    I also bought enough nonperishable food at various grocery stores the first full week of March so I shouldn’t have to leave to get food for hopefully a month at least. The counter is full of snacks and I figure anyone seeing me on a webcam can have a fun time watching the stash gradually get smaller.

    Really, I’ve just become agoraphobic and don’t want to leave the house and I am horrified at all of you who are constantly going to the grocery store, because it sounds like everyone is going multiple times a week and not finding anything, and my friend kept sending me pictures of empty shelves for a week. I’m a good planner, but it’s crazy that we’ve had to get to this level.

    Am I a hoarder? I didn’t buy tons of any one thing, but as people at my giant org keep pointing out on the news, it is entirely reasonable to assume that people should hoard when they’re told to have enough food to not have to leave the house for two weeks…or more.

  21. Where I am the paper crisis seems to be subsiding (of course I’m also seeing about double what’s normal stocked on the shelves as a result of it), but the new TP seems to be yeast – bread machine or otherwise, and even the flour section is cleaned out of most varieties. At least it was last week. Haven’t been in to the stores for about three days now. Also eggs have been a bit tricky to find, though that should be improving now they’ve instituted limits. The problem is, those limits mean we need to keep going back to the store more often as we use the goods up – so much for trying to keep your distance and stay home as much as possible!

  22. We went foraging on Instacart. We camped two grocery stores for the better part of a week and both spawned on Sunday. No rare drops but we got Yukon gold (+2 endurance), Tylenol (+24 health) and Everything Bagels (+5 mana).

    Don’t you still get those ARCs? Just sayin’.

  23. The weird but for me is panicked buying of bottled water. There is no water shortage — You can get enough to fill a tub for pennies, anytime. And, is there a less efficient way to buy it than in 16 oz bottles?

  24. I think there will be long lasting effects on consumer habits. I don’t have a “prepers” supply of things but generally am well stocked. However, I find that I am constantly stymied on replenishing things. Once things get back to a normal level, I intend to keep a larger supply of basics on hand, eg I had 12 rolls of TP when this kicked off locally but intend to have more after seeing how long the supply chain got stretched w/o major physical interruption. Paper products, flour, coffee, beans, tomatoes, pasta, meat, frozen potatoes and veg all seem like prime candidates.

  25. Thanks for the somewhat-light-hearted take on this, John. I’m so annoyed at the self-fulfilling prophecy/artificially-created shortage. UGH, like every winter if there are a few snowflakes falling but the prediction is like 1 inch. But I’m no longer sure what’s reasonable, TBH. I’m falling into that trap, that mindset, maybe. EEK!

    Hmm, but I found this link (below) and have nuked most of what I was writing in this comment about finding local toilet paper, should I buy, how much is enough, etc. This site has a little calculator. Pick the # of rolls you have, the # of people, and whether you use it for more than just poop. Wow, of course someone made a calculator; yay, internet. (Whether it’s accurate, I have no earthly clue, BTW.)

    https://thepooptool.com

  26. We had about nine rolls of a Costco mega-pack left when people lost their shit and began panic-buying tp. Figured that could stretch to at least mid-April. Worst case scenario, we have lots of rags and a washing machine with a “Sanitize” cycle.

    Went to Costco’s new senior-hour this morning. Was very impressed with Costco’s planning and organization. The most-sought items –toilet paper, paper towels, wipes, and bleach– were arranged in huge piles stretching down the entrance aisle from front to back of the warehouse, with one or two employees assigned to each pile and placing the items into carts for customers. Checkout lanes had blue tape on the floor at six foot intervals, plus employees tasked with directing customers to the shortest checkout lines.

    Line management outside the warehouse was similarly well-run. One side of the building had the waiting lane taped off and doubling back on itself four times.

    Even though I got there twenty minutes early, those lanes were full and the line stretched around another side-and-a-half of the building. (With few exceptions, the six foot distancing was being followed by customers. Much less talk and chatter than would be expected in normal times for lines at, say, movie theaters. About one in ten people were wearing masks; I saw a number of home-sewn masks, many very colorful. Everyone very polite.)

    Costco’s workers were all very coordinated, professional, and all seemed to have a specific assignment and perform that assignment well. They also seemed upbeat about being able to provide adequate supplies and good service. I’m starting to think of them not as “Costco employees”, but as the Costco Army.

  27. We have a very basic bidet seat in the toilet in the master bath. Which I think of a MY toilet. The husband almost universally uses the downstairs bathroom…which I’m sure he considers HIS toilet. It’s funny that after being together for 30 years we still have separated toilets for #2. In any case he decided that the bidet wasn’t so stupid an idea & asked me to order one for his toilet.

    Apparently that idea had occurred to others as well. Bidet seats cannot be found to save your life. The only thing left are the $1,500 ones that have a heated seat, a heater for warm water & a blower to gently dry your bum afterward…along with 20 other features and a remote control that make a VCR seem simple.

  28. We’re all wimps. An 8-man squad of the Roman legions shared a sponge on a stick.

  29. A friend of mine has a theory that the toilet paper panic is a symptom of, essentially, fear of civilisation collapsing.

    Cleaning ourselves post-poop is one of the separators between us and other animals, and so as long as they can keep doing that then it will all be OK and civilisation will survive.

    So they build a literal wall of toilet paper to keep the darkness out.

  30. Spaniard here. The same thing happened in our country with the toilet paper. Fortunately, at my home, we were running out of toilet paper and had bought a 32-rolls pack a few days before the hysteria* started.

    Shops replenished it every day, but you had to be among the first people in the queue when the shops opened in order to buy some. Two weeks after the hysteria started, we started to, gradually, find toilet paper packs at different times of the day. (It’s been a little bit more than three weeks now and buying toilet paper is no longer a problem–though you never find the shelves as full as you normally would.)

    Thing is nobody knows why most people were buying so much toilet paper, but there were rumors that some people thought that you could make protection mask out of it (which you can but it’s not protective at all).

    *I don’t know if the same happened in the States but, in Spain, a few days before the government decreed for every citizen to remain at home unless strictly necessary, hysteria spread across the country and everyone started buying food and emptying shops as if they would stop being replenish–to the point that some people were buying new coolers to be able to store more food.

  31. Here in the downunder (aka Australia) in the early days of the great toilet paper debacle one of our newspapers jokingly made use of a blank page / lack of advertising material to print a grid of dotted lines along which you could cut to provide yourself with something to cleanup downunder.
    I understand they have been asked to reduce actual news content and reprint.

  32. Someone I know in Houston, who’s dependent on online shopping and home deliveries, is down to his last two rolls of TP and still can’t find any to order…
    That’s one bad thing about doing a big shop once a month, if the panic-buying empties the shelves right before you need to restock, you’re in trouble. His cashflow and storage space aren’t large enough to keep two months worth of stuff on hand permanently for this sort of unusual circumstances.

    Over here in the Netherlands, people are more used to a weekly or bi-weekly shop, and some just got fresh stuff for dinner every day on the way home from work. So when we suddenly all had to stock up for a few weeks at once, there were some empty shelves, and some panic buying of toiletpaper and such. By now almost everything is more or less back to normal (except last Friday afternoon in my local supermarket the only eggs left were in cartons of 30, no 6 or 10 cartons in stock, so I borrowed a few from a neighbor; but they’d be restocked next morning).
    I think it helped that our prime minister joked there was no need for panic buying of TP, there’s enough that we can all poop for the next 10 years without problems. People laughed at a prime minister saying poop on prime-time tv, but it did calm down the panic-buying.
    Data from the supermarket sales show the temporarily empty shelves were mostly not caused by people panic-buying large amounts (though there were a few panic-shoppers), but by a lot of shoppers buying a little more or earlier than they usually would have. Things like if you normally wait until the bag of macaroni is empty before buying a new one, now you bought the new bag while the old one is still half full, in preparation for a possible lockdown. Multiplied by all the shoppers, that emptied the shelves; but then they were quickly restocked and stayed filled, because everybody has by now filled their larders and don’t need yet another bag of macaroni right now. Where would you store it? Most houses here don’t have huge pantries or cellars.

  33. Greetings from almost shut down Germany (Stuttgart). After Two weeks of not finding any toiletpapaer and flour anywhere around here, the situation has become normal again. You can regularly purchase all neccessities in any supermarket now again. I am working 3 days per week wearing a mask and gloves and looking into other faces hidden behind masks. It is strange but hey, I use my offtime to read your triology. And that makes me forget about corona and that I belong due to my age to the critical persons. Thanks for your literature.

  34. All those grim-ass post-apocalyptic movies and books and were still worried about TP and bidets.

    I admit to having laughed at the people who bought all the meat. In a real crisis, you lose power, and your freezer full of meat spoils. Oh, you have a generator? Clever! How much fuel on hand? Can you replenish that?

    And you have to love the ‘ready to bug out’ types who didn’t stop to think that they will NOT be welcome on that island. Unless they bring food. Oh, and those curmudgeonly locals who were so quaint – now they’re standing at the border with deer rifles. Go home, but leave that food.

    Hoarding toilet paper and cookies and staying home makes more sense to me…

  35. Almost found myself in a similiar situation some three weeks ago. I usually buy a 12 pack which lasts about two weeks in our house. Because we had a pack and a half, i wasn’t really worried about running out (silly me), so when I had the opportunity to stock up, I didn’t.

    Three weeks ago, with supplies running low, my co-worker happened to mention that her son-in-law, who worked at one of the two club stores in the US, could get his hands on a large 20+ pack. So I asked, and he was willing to put one aside. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to do so when promised, as none were on the last delivery truck. Fortunately, her daughter was able to snag a 20 pack for me at our local grocers. Good yes?

    Well, similar to what you did, which was to unexpectedly have a pleasant excess, we did too. When I was getting ready to go to work, I saw, among other thngs, two huge 12 packs of TP (unperforated ) kind sitting on my dining room table, courtesy of my BiL, who got up at 6a and was able to buy some. So now we should be good, according to our usage, until probably May.

  36. Interesting that everybody else commenting from Europe (and all from different countries) seems to have the same experience as me in the UK (still, technically, part of Europe). There _were_ shortages initially, but I’m not having trouble finding anything now.

    And, yeah, what’s up with buying bottled water. Though, at least if we’re in the end-times, you don’t need to worry about getting cancer from the plastic bottles…

  37. Twice as much as you need to know about the brand name Tork: it’s derived from the Swedish verb torka.

  38. Here in Reston Va the supply chain failure was, of all things, dishwasher detergent. Couldn’t find any.

  39. I found it amusing that early in the crisis, my local supermarket was stripped of toilet paper, but one row over was well-stocked with baby wipes. My ancient butt highly recommends a post-paper polish with a baby wipe – just don’t flush them.

  40. This stuff drives me nuts. There was no reason for people to buy anything other than their normal grocery shopping.

    That said, I’m glad I had happened to buy a big package of Charmin at Costco, before things got weird.

    I guess people were scared the supermarkets would all close, or the freight lines would stop moving. No; those underpaid people are still on the job.

    (My girlfriend and I are on our jobs, too; “essential” industries. Mine has no paid leave; I can’t afford to quarantine. There’s virtually no chance we won’t both be infected before this is over.)

    I’d actually love to see a coordinated strike of supermarket workers all across the country; see how quick Congress votes for a $15 minimum wage and universal health care.

    And maybe publicly execute a few billionaires. And Republican Senators.

  41. When it happens, get the Toto Washlet S550E, you won’t be sorry. You’ll *need* an electric socket within a couple of feet of the toilet. The circuit should have a reasonable amount of wattage available.

    5 are available now on Amazon for $998.

    I bought one a year ago, with doubting looks from wife and 2 daughters. No doubts anymore. I bought another for the other bathroom last week. Two weeks ago N. K. Jemisin asked on twitter for a recommendation. I recommended this one also. Will I help create a movement among great writers?

  42. Note to authors: If you write your post-apocalyptic novel and people aren’t slaughtering each other for the dwindling supply of TP, you lose all credibility. When the next Mad Max film comes out, they won’t be fighting over water…

    John, a thought: consider donating the Tork paper to a shelter or food bank. If you had trouble finding some, their situation is probably worse. You now have enough TP to use the good stuff for your strategic reserve, and you can buy more when you’re down to a 2- or 3-week inventory.

  43. Grateful that I live in the region of the country served by HEB, which has been preparing for Covid-19 since early January. You have to be strategic about when you shop, but we reliably have access to pretty much everything.

  44. My grandparents homes were only about two miles from your compound. Neither home had a flush-able toilet but an ‘outhouse’ instead. I never knew what they used for paper or otherwise to clean them selves. There is always the joke about Sears and Penny’s catalogs being used .. and likely were. Also, being in farm country, corn cobs and corn shucks (I actually used once as a kid while in a barn and had to relieve myself) were always present. I wonder if the situation really gets desperate that pages of your many books may meet an inglorious ‘end’! People may regret buying Kindle versions of books!

  45. We had to have an intervention with one of our cell-members because a roll was lasting two people one day. It seems to have worked… day three of the same roll. I feel super skeevy being the toilet paper police, but although I can imagine going to cloth for pee, one of my nightmares is having to use it for poo, and at previous rates of consumption, that would be our reality in two weeks unless we win the grocery store lottery.

  46. @Manuel Royal saith:

    >There was no reason for people to buy anything other than their normal grocery shopping.

    Not exactly; people should have enough food (and other essentials like TP) in their house to last two weeks if they need to self-quarantine, and should have whatever medicines they need if a family member gets sick. If you usually buy groceries a week at a time (or more frequently, like if you live in an urban apartment and walk to get your groceries), that’s going to be more than a normal grocery run.

    But it’s… interesting that the shortages were things like TP, not things like rice and dry beans… (Though there was a run on pasta in NJ, and I don’t think shelf-stable milk is available anywhere.)

  47. John responded: “We already checked in with the local and they’re doing fine. We sent money instead.”

    Of course you did. In my personal illustrated dictionary, you’re the portrait beside the word “mensch”.

  48. You’re not the only species in the house that poops. Do you have enough kitty litter?

  49. sorry, nothing to add about tp wars. rather just wanted to thank folks for brightening april fools morning, and to john for bringing us together on far ranging topics. btw, several times wanted to click the Like button. except, you know, 404 / never been.

  50. My local pub buys TP in restaurant-supply quantities and doesn’t have walk-in customers now.
    So in addition to delivering cooked food and beer and mixed drinks, they can deliver you two rolls of TP. We normally buy the large packages of it at Target, which tended to be discount if you buy two, so we had a reasonable supply stashed in the guest bathroom before the panic. (And cat food’s something I keep a large supply of, because the store tends to run out of the kind they’re used to eating, so the cats have plenty.) I’ve currently been at my mom’s place in Delaware, taking care of her after she’d had a mild fall, and Target here got some in the day I was there to get food and the weird stove lightbulbs, so we’re set here as well. Milk has reappeared in the stores here (cows keep making it), other dairy products are starting to, and the second round of hamstering by everybody who panic-bought earlier is calmer and more spread out.

    That Toto bidet? We got one when we did some remodeling a few years ago. Putting in the electric socket required cutting a few holes in the downstairs bathroom ceiling, which revealed the (fortunately very limited area) mold in the wall, which came from the plumbing leak above it, which had also damaged the upstairs bathroom’s subfloor, which… It went as remodeling jobs always seem to :-) So one extra bathroom got remodeled, and the one bathroom where we didn’t hate the wallpaper now has paint. And every once in a while the bidet gets confused about its cycle and goes into spray mode when you at when you open the toilet lid, so you have to reboot it.

  51. We always buy toilet paper in mega packs for the cheapest price. We have two bathrooms and buy a new pack when the old one in either bathroom gets low. Which means that when my partner told me the downstairs bathroom was on it’s last roll (having omitted telling me a hundred years ago when he’d opened the last pack), we still had plenty in the upstairs bathroom. The weekly shopping trip before he told me this, I could have easily bought our preferred brand. The next weekly shopping trip, the entire paper products aisle was totally bare.
    We’ve made weekly shopping trips since then (We both qualify for the seniors part of the seniors-and-immunocompromised early hour, and my partner qualifies on both counts but won’t stay home) and there has usually been SOME toilet paper. Today there was a huge amount of store brand toilet paper, and not a single bit of any name brand. I’m pretty sure that since I’m not willing to settle for the store brand, I don’t really need it yet.
    Also, I’m thinking that if we use what we have frugally, there might be a sale by the time we actually need it.
    Also, I’m thinking that we’re pretty well off, at about half the median income here, because we can afford to buy megapacks, and have supplies on hand.

    Our grocery store has empty spots on lots of shelves, but not always the same empty spots each week. And I think they-all deserve a medal for showing up and running checkout so we can buy groceries every week.

  52. How feasible this suggestion is — it may not be feasible at all, considering again, DISTANCE and ISOLATION, for the delivery/pickup — but if your family doesn’t actually now need this purchase, perhaps it could be donated to the closest local hospital?

    Typing as a resident in the epicenter of the epicenter, and returned an hour and a half ago from our now weekly trip to the supermarket, doing all the steps for disinfecting — dropped $200 — which we are among the Great Fortunate so able to do — and tipped the check out person $40. Which we all should do too. They are on the front lines almost as much as the medical people, who are so short of everything.

  53. Foxessa:

    It’s not actually feasible, the nearest hospitals are two cities away either going west or east. Also, at this point our local hospitals are not asking for donations of that sort.

    At this point the Strategic Reserve is going to stay where it is. I can say if some of our neighbors suddenly find themselves running short, we may dip into it for them, although honestly it’s more likely we’d give them a couple rolls of the good stuff first.

  54. Ordered 2 bidet attachments. I will belive the order when it arrives. I have lost count of how many times I find something online, says it is in stock, place an order, and then sometime later (one was 5 minutes, another was 10 days) I get the notification that, oh sorry, we are actually out of stock, but thanks for wasting your time while giving us your credit card and email address. When this is over, I feel like starting a campaign to pass some sort of law that regulates this kind of bullshit. Several times, i filled out a webform, gave them all my info, hit “buy”, and that was when they told me “out of stock”. Clearly the knew, but couldnt bother to post it up front.

    The bidet attachments were about $50 apiece. You remove the seat from your existing toilet, install this underneath, and put seat back on over top of it. Seemed like a good way to upgrade without a complete replacement. Dont have to put in a new wax seal. Just intercept the waterline with a T adapter.

    I found a bunch of them on ebay that all listed as in stock. And i use paypal cause they seem to be pretty good about refunding my money if the seller tries to screw me over.

    Will see if they show up.

    The bread shortage thing is a weird one too. If for no other reason than bread shelf life is pretty short. And i would rather use my finite freezer space for more calorie/nutrient dense food.

  55. @Manuel Royal says This stuff drives me nuts. There was no reason for people to buy anything other than their normal grocery shopping.

    It depends on how often you usually go shopping. Once a monthers? Probably fine. Twice a weekers? Not so much. They’d need to buy 4x their usual to have the recommended 2 week supply.

    We’re doing fine here. I usually stock up when there’s a sale, so my deep freezer is in good shape (there were great coupons on lunchmeat at my store last month), somehow there’s always an excess of toilet paper in the garage, and I’ve been able to find the produce that I like. I’m a little concerned about dishwasher detergent and yeast, although I have workarounds for both.

    I remain logically and serenely confident that the water supply will not fail.

  56. I think the flour/yeast shortage is due to stress baking. Thanks very much for the laughs!

  57. Knock on wood, when I shopped on Sunday (nearly two weeks since my previous outing), TP was actually available (if not abundant). My preferred (house) brand (12-pack), even. But then I’m relatively centrally urban-located. But I grabbed a pack. I’m now keeping two in reserve, rather than my habitual one, so I’m set for a while. Even so, I’m being very conservative in my usage, because who knows how long this’ll go on, and what other cluster is going to come up in the meantime? (Earthquakes in Idaho, anyone?)

    My local supermarket seems to be taking an intelligent aproach: they’re keeping really really basic stuff stocked, and letting the rest go hang.* Which makes a lot of sense, since they’re staffing is limited, and all too mortal. (One checker had a worrisome cough and scratchy voice O.O) They’ve got signs out saying they’re hiring, but even at nearly-recommended-minimum wage ($14/hr to start, last I looked), I guess that’s not a wage that will support someone living close enough to actually work there. So that’s a thing.

    * I was able to pick up lettuce, kale, tomatoes, & carrots for the guinea pigs. They’ll have to do without parsley & fresh spinach for a while, I guess. Good thing dandilion season is coming on. I’m also jonesing for my favorite ice cream, but if that’s the worst of my problems….

  58. In all seriousness, if you have a store that restocks at night and you get there 20 -30 minutes before they open in the morning, you can usually get TP. And if not, let us know; I’m over 60, so I get to go during “Senior hour.” I’ll send you some.

  59. A friend of mine suggested that I pick up a copy or two of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book before I started the Navy’s SERE school in the early 70’s.

    He told me to put in in my sock inside my boonies, that it was an interesting read and that I would probably find other uses for it along the way.

    It was.

    I did.

    Come to think of it, I still have a copy tucked away in the attic.

  60. Got an April Fool’s email ad this am for a solar-powered bidet. With pictures!

  61. Managed to score a pack yesterday at my weekly shopping trip. There was some inventory, but not a lot.

    We had just purchased our usual amount a week or two before things went to… well, you know. We weren’t out, but getting a bit toward the low side. Wouldn’t overbuy even if the store allowed it (they don’t) – I think we’re all better off if we try to keep close to our usual buying patterns.

  62. My big take away from your post is that you are also referring to the time before the coronavirus as the “Before Times.” I referred to it that way in a motion that I filed with a court last week. I have no idea whether they properly understood it but I’m glad someone else does. I hope it catches on.

  63. That’s because manufacturers are only able to supply about 75% of store orders due to all the dimwits who suddenly think they need to preppers.

    But I’m going to bet you can still get newspapers wherever you are. I’m pretty sure Tork is made out of the same paper. So you could always revert to what we did in the outhouse days.

    Your butt will be covered in ink, especially if you use the Times which uses an oil based ink that never fully dries, but at least it won’t be covered in … well… you know.

  64. I have always kept an “in-use” 12-pack and a “reserve” 12-pack of TP, and received teasing and chuckles from the family. They are no longer laughing. (Possible TMI alert) That said, in order to conserve, I was going to use the peri-bottle that I was sure I still had, but alas, could not find. I did have a nicely squeezey shampoo bottle which I cleaned well and have been filling with warmish water on the way into the bathroom. Took a little practice, but I don’t think I will return to using only paper.

  65. The panic you mentioned was caused by our local, state and federal government overreaction. Few people except the paranoid are that worried about catching the virus or getting sick (or dying). Maybe we will laugh about this someday, but the complete willingness to bend over for government officials is extremely disturbing.

  66. In other news, here in NYC (Brooklyn), epicenter in the US, I’m actually not seeing shortages of anything. Just ran to the local bodega [NY for corner store] and they had plenty of toilet paper. That said, I’m convinced that NYC Bodegas and Pizza Parlors are forces stronger than nature; I’ve live in NYC through a number of events including 9/11 and never NOT been able to get a pizza delivered (including one after the theoretical curfew for Sandy). I’m convinced that come the nuclear holocaust, I’ll still be able to get a pizza delivered to my bomb shelter somehow, and if I can get out the bodega will still have survived somehow (complete with a little fallout suit for the obligatory bodega cat).

  67. Steve: Considering that one of my good friend’s mother is currently in the ICU with it, and I know several other people who have tested positive (including one who was pretty sick), no, sorry, it’s not an overreaction. That sort of attitude is very dangerous.

  68. It’s good to be lucky sometimes. I live in staff housing at a church camp. Rather than bother maintenance, I normally buy from Amazon. Back before we were worried, they came up with a deal for twenty seven rolls, I bought. It’s not going to go bad!
    We’re closed now, but my frig is full of staples from us closing down the kitchen. We still have internet. I’m set. I’m catching up on all the books I bought last summer and never read because of six day weeks working in the kitchen. We donated a lot of perishables to a local food bank.

  69. Maybe I’ve missed it, but I have yet to see, in the several weeks since this TP anxiety struck, any mention of chapter 13 of Gargantua, in which is discussed at considerable length and detail, matters of the “torchecul or wipebreech.” I confess that even though I once trained as a medieval/renaissance specialist, that chapter is all I remember of Rabelais.

  70. Fortunately, I bought a bigass thing of toilet paper right before things got stupid. When my local Kroger chain (Smith’s, in Vegas) got toilet paper and water back in stock, I picked up one a smaller pack. The shipping times on Amazon are one of two extremes: You can wait a month to a month-and-a-half, or have it in three days for more than the cost of the product in shipping. JFC.

  71. Best Comments Series Ever.

    I’ll return to read all these fantastic comments in years to come.

    Epic.

    Who know toilet paper and bidet discussions would so enjoyable.

  72. There are handheld squeeze bottle bidets on the market that are actually in stock.

    Don’t buy them on Amazon, though, you might not get it until May.

  73. When people complain about a shortage of TP I think, well then use newspaper. But then I stopped to think about how little newspaper there is around the house these days compared to my childhood – or telephone directories or almanacs with the generally right sort of paper pages…..

  74. The other disconcerting aspect of the widespread panic is that a significant portion of the people who aren’t panicking are in complete denial about what’s going on. Those folks are probably more of a danger than the people who are panicking.

  75. I am proud to be a prim and proper North American, but I must say I take comfort in my brother e-mailing me from a certain third world country that shall be nameless.
    He and his community haven’t used TP, nor Sears catalogues, in literally years. He does just fine. I will spare you the brotherly details.

  76. May 27th, 2039 – Galatea Scalzi, daughter of Athena uses the last role of toilet paper purchased by her grandfather in 2020.

  77. Yes, we were going through the same thing. Fortunately I had picked up a huge pack last month. We had enough but were reaching the point where needed to buy some. I hadn’t seen any in the stores the past three weeks and was ready to do what you did, buy the commercial rolls. Hubby decided to hunt and gather. He came home with what he said was the world’s most expensive Jim Beam. Go look in the car, he says. In the process of picking up JB at his favorite liquor store, he vented my frustrations to the proprietor who knows his well. What appears from underneath the counter. A nine roll pack, napkins, and paper towels, plus two gallons of milk. My savior! So check your local liquor store, they just may have stock in the back room. Shh! Don’t let anyone else know. :)