Qohelet’s Washcloset

Cast your bread upon the water, as Ecclesiastes says, and it will come back to you when you need it.  Since bread is a common slang word for money, and since the toilet paper has arrived that I ordered two months ago, I see the truth in this.  Paper spent for paper to use.  While I’m pretty sure that’s not what old Qohelet exactly had in mind, it is the reality in which we live.  There are experts that tell us the toilet paper shortage isn’t due to panic buying, but over eight weeks into this crisis and the shelves in Target and grocery stores still look like Mrs. Hubbard’s cupboards.  All those people working from home must need more fibre in their diets.  Or is it less?  I can never remember.  What other than bread satisfies?  Clearly toilet paper does.  And the fact that the nearest yeast, according to Siri, is in Tennessee, clearly has nothing to do with panic buying.  Nothing at all.

People will go to any lengths to prove that we’re rational beings.  We don’t like the image of being the panicky herd beasts we are.  When I first realized the crisis was hard on us, it was March 16.  That was my first grocery store trip where beans were as rare as moral Republicans and we still can’t find pasta or flour around here, even with stores stocking daily.  The announcements on the loudspeaker beg buyers to get only what they really need, and leave some for others.  The thing about panic, though, is that it’s anything but rational.  It’s based on emotion washed in the myth of scarcity.  It also shows what an unregulated economy soon devolves into.  I’m sure many people rationalize panic buying as “just until things get back to normal.”  Vanity, vanity, says Ecclesiastes.

Instead of the myth of scarcity we should believe in the myth of normalcy.  That should’ve ended, for any reasoning being, in November of 2016.  It isn’t normal for a prosperous nation to offer up someone who clearly has no governing ability for the most powerful office in the land.  Two months into the largest crisis we’ve seen since the days of FDR and the White House response has been the null set.  Meanwhile, I ordered toilet paper from abroad on March 16.  The ship slowly made its way across the Pacific from China where, I understand, toilet paper is abundant.  I’m just glad that there’s a rational explanation for all of this.

I Saw Three Letters

For some reason I seem to have less time during lockdown than I had during whatever the opposite of lockdown may be.  Still, papers pile up and I have to sort and file them.  That’s when I saw three letters.  (You know, I like the Post Office.  I always enjoyed going to our local as a kid.  There was an air of expectancy, even before Amazon.  And stamps were a kind of passport to another reality.)  Once in a very great while I receive something interesting in the mail.  These three letters were examples.  Mostly they were examples of how little companies, and even the United States government, actually knows about me.  I keep going to the mailbox hoping the toilet paper I ordered from China has come.  Instead, strange letters.

One was written entirely in Spanish.  Now I’m no “English first” fan—I’ve spent far too much of my life learning other languages to suspect that one is superior to others—but my Spanish isn’t exactly pristine.  I wasn’t really even sure what the letter was about, and I wondered how my surname in any way suggested I needed a different language in which to do my business.  I don’t know why I saved the letter.  Maybe I figured I’d get around to translating it some day.  When there’s time.  A second letter was from a former employer of some seven years ago, informing me that I had been assigned a new password for the network.  Now this surprised me.  When said company asked me never to return, they intimated that I had to relinquish all proprietary information.  I wasn’t to try to get back into their systems.  In fact, it was their blocking of my account at work that was, in hindsight, the first hint that I was no longer an essential worker.  A couple weeks later another letter told me the previous missive had been a mistake.

The third of the letters came from our own government, if that’s what you can call it these days.  It explained to me that if I looked into my bank account I’d find some money they had magnanimously decided to return to me from the thousands and thousands I have given them unstintingly over the four decades I’ve been working.  This letter, like much from the government, really served no purpose.  Well, it was entertaining because it had a facsimile of 45’s signature on it.  And the toilet paper hasn’t arrived yet, so I think this particular letter may be very useful indeed.

The Essentials

The current crisis, in my mind, dates to Thursday, March 12.  That particular day, at least in my socially distant location, the pandemic became a panic.  Decisions were made to have employees work remotely.  Zoom or Skype meetings were substituted for the face-to-face variety.  Church services were cancelled.  There was a run on toilet paper.  This final aspect has me really vexed.  Why toilet paper?  Experts say if we kept to our usual buying habits there would be plenty for everyone, but the survivalist mentality kicked in and people began hoarding.  If the apocalypse was coming, they wanted to go down fighting with clean underwear on.  We were in Ithaca the next day to see my daughter.  We ordered out from a local restaurant.  When we got home we found a role of new toilet paper in the top of the bag.

According to my amateur dating technique, we’ve been in this state for 13 days now.  Toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels are nowhere to be found.  I looked on Amazon.  They can get you toilet paper, but you’ll need to wait until May.  Why?  Ironically, because it’s being shipped from China.  Yes, the nation where the pandemic erupted has toilet paper aplenty.  Here in the greatest [sic] nation in the world, there’s none to be found.  What does this tell us about a country that self-identifies as “Christian”?  Whatever happened to “if someone demands your coat, give them your shirt also”?  Or perhaps more to the point, “turn the other cheek”?  How has a nation of Bible believers responded to a crisis?  By becoming selfish.  By stockpiling toilet paper.

I’ve spent a lot of time camping.  I’m fairly comfortable with the ways of nature.  Like most other people I prefer a nice, private restroom with all the accoutrements, but if bears can do it in the woods, why can’t we?  I have my Boy Scout guide right here.  But it suggests using toilet paper.  If books could be ordered, I suspect How To Poop [this is the family friendly version] in the Woods would be a current bestseller.  Trump says he wants everyone back to work by Easter, but the toilet paper ordered from Asia won’t even be here by then.  And will offices have access to some secret stash that only those who buy in bulk can find?  Hoarding makes any crisis worse, but this particular one seems especially mean spirited.  It makes me realize just how great America has been made.