The Signmaker Sends A Message

After taking a hiatus of sorts, the Third Street Secret Signmaker is back with another positive message — a positive message that I am sure everyone particularly appreciates during this weird period. I don’t know whether the message is specific to dealing with coronavirus issues, or is intended to have a more general thrust, but I’m going to read it as directed at COVID-19. And I agree with it, too.

We are enough to deal with this issue — and I think we’re starting to see that. Kish went to the grocery store today and there was no chaos or panic buying. Indeed, there was even toilet paper and milk in stock. People were polite, friendly, and helpful to each other.

I think people are starting to calm down and pull together, and when that happens there is nothing we can’t do.

It’s news when people engage in panic-buying, and not news when the panic stops and sanity returns. The Secret Signmaker might suggest that we take a deep breath, trust our instincts, and realize we can handle this. We really are enough, if we just act like it.

Fear Of “Running Out”

Lately we’ve been exposed to lots of curious storm-related behavior.  Among the more interesting phenomena are the phobias that seem to be triggered by the approach of a significant storm.  You’ve got people who worry compulsively about how snow is going to affect their lives, and many of them decide the appropriate, rational response is . . . to head to the store and buy toilet paper.

Lots and lots of toilet paper, in fact.  When I walked past the Giant Eagle in our neighborhood in advance of one of this winter’s storms, I saw multiple worried people trotting out of the store to their cars, clutching huge, 24-roll packs of bathroom tissue.  At that post-purchase moment, with the toilet paper safely in hand, they undoubtedly felt an enormous surge of relief knowing that, even if the storm was a historic disaster that left them snowbound for days or even weeks and every member of their extended families decided to visit at just that moment, they would have enough toilet paper in the home to take care of business.  In short, they wouldn’t “run out.”  And they weren’t alone, either.  The rush to buy toilet paper in advance of a snowstorm has been the subject of some reporting; traditionally, toilet paper, milk, and bread are the panic buying items of choice.  With the increasing popularity of low-carb diets, I’m guessing that TP has now moved past milk and bread to occupy the number one snow-buying slot.

Oddly, there appears to be no official name for the psychological condition that causes otherwise rational people to rush to the store to lay in enormous supplies of toilet paper when storms are near.  Perhaps we can call it Cottonellophobia, which sounds like something you could find in the DSM-VI.  Nevertheless, the toilet paper effect is so pronounced I’ve got to believe it influences grocery stores supply decisions and sales figures for companies that produce Scotts and Charmin.  If Mr. Whipple were still alive, he would be squeezing his brains out during the winter months.


A Mean-Spirited Busybody Who Desperately Needs To Learn The True Meaning Of The “Trick” In “Trick Or Treat”

Today NBC’s Today show reported on the Beggars’ Night plans of a Fargo, North Dakota woman who sounds like a hopeless jerk.  Rather than handing out candy to every trick-or-treater, this officious busybody will judge whether the kids showing up at her door are “moderately obese.”  If she concludes that they are, she’ll decline to give them candy and instead will give them a note that reads:

“Happy Halloween and Happy Holidays Neighbor!

“You’re probably wondering why your child has this note; have you ever heard the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’?  I am disappointed in ‘the village’ of Fargo Moorhead, West Fargo.

“You [sic] child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and sweets to the extent of some children this Halloween season.

“My hope is that you will step up as a parent and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits

Thank you”

This sounds like a fake story, but there are so many judgmental tools in the world it is completely plausible that it is, in fact, the unfortunate truth.  It’s hard to imagine what kind of supercilious dolt would tell a costumed child that they are too fat to get candy, but maybe that’s just the logical end of our increasingly patronizing, nanny-state approach to parenting and nutrition.  Setting aside the misspelling, poor grammar, and bad punctuation, which reveal the author of the note to be a poorly educated pretender, what kind of paragon of physical and ethical perfection does this woman think she is?  Can you imagine living next to such a person?

There’s only one response to this kind of behavior — and it’s why the “trick” is in “trick or treat.”  If I were a kid who got this kind of a note, it would be time to break out the soap, the toilet paper, and maybe the eggs, too.  And if I were the parent of a kid who got such a note, I might “step up” to toss a roll of toilet paper myself.

Trying New Toilet Techniques

The other day Kish and I got some of those mailings that send you new product samples, except this one was a little bit . .. different.

IMG_4913It was a little package from Cottonelle that provided a free sample of “Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths.”  Apparently the “cleansing cloths” are part of the “Cottonelle Care Routine” that you are supposed to use in conjunction with regular toilet paper, although the order in which these products are to be applied isn’t specified.  The delivery box trumpets “Try the routine that gets your bum clean,” and the inside coupon promises that “nothing leaves you feeling cleaner & fresher than the Cottonelle Care Routine.”  The end panel of the box says “let’s talk about your bum at”

I think I’ll pass on Facebook postings about my “bum,” thank you very much — although there is such a page if people are so inclined.  At first, I found it a bit insulting that Cottonelle is even raising questions about the cleanliness and freshness of my “bum.”  I’ve been perfectly happy with my current “routine.”  But then I wondered if I’m being a bit old-fashioned.  After all, there haven’t been significant developments in toilet techniques since rolled toilet paper was invented and marketed back in the 1800s.  Rolls of toilet paper always will have certain advantages over “flushable cleansing cloths” — for example, the latter can’t be used to decorate trees in the yard of your high-school friends — but maybe we should be more receptive to change in this sensitive area.

Now that I think about it, I’m proud to live in a land where a faceless corporation cares enough about my “bum” to spend millions on new product development.  It’s certainly preferable to the situation in Venezuela, where the government just seized a toilet paper factory in an effort to end chronic shortages of the product that have left the country teetering on the edge of riot and panic.  America, land of the free, home of the Cottonelle Care Routine!


The other day Kish told me a little story about one of her prior jobs that, I think, says something profound about the human condition.

It happened one summer during college.  She was working in a small Ohio town in one of those older buildings where you would find several different business offices on a floor.  In this building, the offices shared a single, unisex bathroom.

IMG_4041When Kish went to use the facilities for the first time, she noticed there was no toilet paper.  No squeezable Charmin.  No quilted Northern.  Not even a roll of some cheap, so-thin-you-could-see-through-it institutional brand.

So she stopped by one of the other offices to ask where the communal toilet paper could be found.  The women working there explained that the toilet paper was not supplied by the building manager; instead, all of the offices were supposed to contribute to a common toilet paper fund.  However, a guy working in one of the offices always failed to pay his fair share.  After a while, the workers in the other offices got so angry at his refusal to chip in that they decided not to stock the bathroom.  Instead, everyone would simply bring, and use, their own toilet paper.  And that’s what they did.

Never mind that such an approach would inconvenience and embarrass a client or customer of one of their businesses!  Never mind that it looked silly to see people marching toward the bathroom with their own personal roll!  Never mind that a time would inevitably come when one of the workers on the floor would forget their bathroom companion until it was too late!  No matter the consequences, the stubborn workers on the floor just weren’t going to support the freeloader.

What better example of why communism, as an economic system, has failed?

Striking That Delicate Balance In Naming Toilet Paper

During a recent stay at a hotel I noticed that the spare roll of toilet paper in the bathroom was an institutional brand called Subtle Touch.  It made me think of the challenges involved in naming toilet paper.

Toilet paper, of course, has a crucial hygienic purpose that involves a tender area.  The name should indicate that it can get that important job done, but with an appropriate nod toward comfort.  Equally important, the name should suggest that duality without straying too far in one direction or the other.

Consider Lava hand cleaner, for example. The ’60s commercial for Lava featured a square-fingered man’s hand stained with God knows what — grease?  oil?  the entrails of animals? — being washed with the product, which was made with pumice.  The man’s hands came out clean and as pink as a monkey’s butt, but the ad probably scared off most people in the hand soap market.  Lava might appeal to car mechanics and slaughterhouse workers who wanted to be spic and span for the dinner table, but having our skin abraded by stone dust whenever we lathered up was too much for the rest of us.

I’m not sure Subtle Touch really hits the proper mark on the toilet paper-naming spectrum.  Who wants subtlety, given the essential function of toilet paper?  Other potential toilet paper names that would stray too far toward the comfort end of the spectrum:  Angel’s Breath, Seaside Breeze, and Wispy Wonder.  On the other hand, I doubt that many people would be tempted to buy toilet paper called Scour Power!, Scrubbington’s, or Rump Blaster.

There’s a delicate balance to be struck.  Come to think of it, Delicate Balance would be a pretty good name for this very special product.

Tee-Pee Time

When the dogs and I left for our walk this morning, the tell-tale signs were visible to anyone who cared to look and let their inner teenager roam free.

A few stray gray cardboard tubes, of the kind we associate with only one product, were on the side of the street, where they clearly had been tossed by excited kids fleeing from the scene.  A few scraps of white had been blown onto green lawns.  And then we came upon it, in all its glory — the season’s first teepee job, on a house in the neighborhood.

Budding teepee activity is as much a sign of spring as crocuses.  Even the most mischief-making teen doesn’t teepee anyone during the cold winter months.  But when the weather is newly warm and bored kids are hanging out on a weekend night with nothing else to do, you can be sure that somebody will find some toilet paper, and then teepeeing becomes inevitable.

You can also be sure that, later today, grumbling parents at the target house will be trying to figure out how to get the white strands off the highest tree branches.

The Toilet Paper Towel-Off At The Hotel Kabul

It was the summer of 1980.  My college graduation present from Mom and Dad was round-trip airfare to Europe on Laker Airlines, which was the low-cost carrier of that day.  I saved up enough money for a Eurail pass, borrowed a shoulder bag from Mom, and set off for the broadening experience of foreign travel.

My first stop on the continent was Amsterdam.  After a day of visiting the museums and the Dam I decided I needed to secure lodging for the night.  A travel guide had said the Hotel Kabul was the cheapest night’s stay in Amsterdam, and I was more interested in saving money than anything else.  When I arrived at the Hotel Kabul, however, I began to question the wisdom of that approach.  The hostel was in a run-down part of town a few blocks from the red-light district.  It was dark and dingy inside.  But it was inexpensive.  I paid for the cheapest sleeping accommodations, which turned out to be the bottom half of a bunk bed in a barracks room filled with perhaps 20 bunk beds and a number of scruffy looking miscreants.  The bedding was marginally clean.  That night I slept — fitfully — in my clothing, trucker’s wallet pushed deep into my pants pocket, using the shoulder bag as a kind of pillow.

As the first gray light of morning filtered into the dim sleeping area I groggily decided I really needed a shower.  I took my stuff to the bathroom, secured a shower stall, and rinsed off in a tepid stream.  I emerged from the shower . . .  and looked in vain for a towel.  Being a complete rube, I hadn’t realized that hostel users either brought a towel or rented one at the front desk.  I had done neither.  So there I was, dripping wet and feeling like a complete imbecile, in a grim bathroom in the cheapest hostel in Amsterdam.  What to do?

The options were few.  I could try to wipe myself off with some of my other clothing and then cart the wet clothes around as I did my day’s touring.  I could sit around until evaporation worked its magic.  Or, I could resort to the toilet paper towel-off — and that is the option I chose.  After first congratulating myself on the solution, I quickly came to realize that this was not the greatest idea, either.  The Hotel Kabul’s toilet paper was — not surprisingly — ridiculously cheap.  It somehow combined a pulpy scratchiness with gossamer thinness.  As I tried to swab myself dry I realized that I was instead being coated with a flaky crust of toilet paper dust and tiny nubbings that stuck to my skin like glue. I tried to remove all traces of my resort to the bathroom tissue option, but you don’t really want to spend a lot of time in a strange communal bathroom picking objects that look like lice off your skin.  I know I was unsuccessful in ridding myself of all of the toilet paper trappings.  So, I skulked out of the lobby, keeping as far away from the front desk as possible, and relied upon the good manners of the friendly Dutch to refrain from telling me that my skin was streaked with a weird white residue and I was leaving a trail of toilet paper pellets as I walked on.

My European tour was underway.  From that point on, I gladly paid to rent a towel at the other hostels I visited.

No Longer Flush

Here’s a sign of how far the once booming Irish economy has fallen:  the principal of an Irish school has written to parents of students, asking that every student bring rolls of toilet paper for the class to use, as an economy measure.  You know your economy is no longer flush with cash, and instead has hit bottom, when you can’t even afford toilet paper in the public schools.

Pain In The Butt

This story about efforts by environmentalists to convince Americans to buy toilet paper made from recycled fibers is pretty hilarious. Americans want the toilet paper that they buy for use at their homes to be super-soft. Toilet paper makers oblige by producing products made largely from the pulp of old trees, which have the longer fibers that produce softer tissue. Environmentalists object to felling “old-growth” trees for this unseemly purpose, because such trees help to convert carbon dioxide and old-growth forests provide the habitat for bears and migratory birds.

The subject matter of the story, of course, lends itself to humor. But note that the chief executive of a leading manufacturer of recycled toilet paper seems to contend that Americans like softness only because they have been mesmerized by marketing campaigns! I can assure him that, to the contrary, for most Americans the keen desire for bathroom tissue softness is the product of harsh experience.

And consider this the next time you are in a position to personally assess the softness of toilet paper — those in the industry apply three softness criteria: surface smoothness, bulky feel, and “drapability.”