Dealing in the White Stuff

March 30, 2020

I live in a quiet neighborhood, so I was surprised to see a deal going down yesterday on a cul-de-sac behind my house. My wife and I were on our officially sanctioned daily walk when we came across two luxury SUVs parked on the side of the street. The drivers were out of their vehicles and engaged in a what seemed to be a furtive transaction. As we got closer it became clear that we were witnessing an exchange of some of the much sought after “white stuff.”

I considered taking a photo to capture the event, but caution got the better of me. You cannot be too careful in situations like this. As we walked tentatively passed the vehicles the dealers were surprisingly friendly. They seemed relieved that we were not judgmental about their secretive exchange of…. toilet paper.

The prominence of toilet paper in daily conversations over the last few weeks seems emblematic of how our society has been turned upside down. Tips and tactics for acquisition are discussed openly with family and friends; neighborhood chat sites report breathlessly on any sightings of the stuff in local stores; paper product manufacturers refer to mysterious warehouses apparently full of rolls that somehow seem unable to make their way to those in need; and there are even reports that restaurants have found a new line of business in selling their unneeded stock. The going price in Menlo Park is apparently $2 a roll but what would you expect in California?

The whole toilet paper fiasco seems to encompass much of our response as a nation. Initially shocked at the looming unknown, people started to prepare for the worst only to generate an unintended consequence. As the situation unfolded our entrepreneurial spirit came into play. Established retailers have sought to add toilet paper to their product range while businesses with no prior experience have found creative ways to both help and make some money. Then as the need became more obviously serious, the willingness to help others across the community in times of need broke through.

As we hunker down for what is clearly going to be an extended period, we understandably all feel concern for our loved ones, and ourselves. The draw to anxiety is made worse by the loud and disorienting noise of the media, and the often-confusing messages of our leaders. The situation is, however, forcing us to fall back to those things that really matter: to value the pleasure of social interactions, and be imaginative in how to find them; to connect with loved ones via tools not available in previous times of crisis; and even to have time to undertake the simpler of daily tasks and pleasures from yard-work to reading. Sampling the “daily special” at the new restaurant down the street would have been nice but it does not compare to the importance of making sure we have enough toilet rolls in the house.

Richard Rushton