The Wipe Felt Around The World

When my packages are misdelivered and end up on my neighbor’s porches, I generally get them back without actually interacting with my neighbors. It is a silent ritual we all observe. We all walk next door or across the street and place each others’ packages upon the correct porches without ringing bells or knocking upon doors. No phone calls. No texting. Just drop and go. That’s not to say we never interact. We do. We stop and chat and sometimes call or text for help or news. However, when it comes to packages and their errant deliveries, we just get them safely deposited where they belong and go about our business.

Yesterday my neighbor Karl broke this silent commandment and stood upon my porch knocking until I answered. He held an enormous box destined for my household but mistakenly delivered to his own. Unfortunately the box was conspicuously emblazoned with its contents — 24 rolls of toilet paper. Yep. Super thrilled I was, to see his cheesy grin beaming above a big ass box of buttwipe. This is the package for which he breaks our neighborly protocol. Awesome. But after his jocular salutation it seemed he did have a good reason for the breach. He wanted to know if I had found a source for good deals on bulk purchases of toilet paper. Had I cleverly found a way to hoard bargain-priced rolls when all of the big box local retailers are instituting limits per customer? No, quite the opposite. This giant box was filled with expensive toilet paper, by comparison.

“I switched from conventional toilet paper to a more sustainable option.” Pointing toward the box, “This paper is made from bamboo.” My neighbor’s face fell. Knowing I had only a handful of precious seconds to make my point I explained that I’ve been trying to wean myself off of paper towels for a while now, working toward zero waste living. I made the switch to bamboo paper towels as a small step in that direction. When I noticed the same company offered toilet paper I decided to go all in. Bulk purchases cut down on repeat deliveries, which lowers the carbon footprint. I waited for him to flee.

Karl furrowed and frowned, “Why would you pay more?”

“In the long run I’m not paying more because I use less. But honestly, knowing it costs more means I’m less likely to waste it. Sounds crazy but it works! I’m down to ONE paper towel per day. Can you believe it? A whole day and only one paper towel! As for the toilet paper, turns out it is stronger so I use less of that too. The box is recyclable so while it is not exactly zero waste, it is lower waste, and that’s a better choice.”

He sputtered, “But … but, it costs more, right?”

“Yes, per roll it costs more but since I’m using less I buy it less often.”

Clearing his throat, eyes cutting away, “Is it, you know, soft?”

“About as soft as cheap toilet paper.”

Karl handed over the box, his jocularity gone. “Well, good luck with all that. I don’t think zero waste living is possible but I guess it’s good that you’re saving money, sort of.” He turned to walk away.

“Would you like to try one?”

He turned back. “Try your toilet paper?”

I set the box down at my feet. “Sure. You made the trip over. Why don’t you take one and see what you think? My treat.” I ripped the box open, plucked a roll and tossed it to him before he could answer.

I swear, dear readers, the man stood there examining it, turning it over in his hands for inspection, as if knowing this roll of toilet paper was more expensive made it somehow special. Trying it would mean, well, you know, but for a moment its practical purpose seemed to be forgotten. He beheld it as one would a bottle of fine wine or a premium cigar. I thought he might try to give it back so I moved to hoist and carry my box inside, thanking him for bringing it over. He nodded and waved in response, tucking the roll like running back and headed for home.

Today my neighbor on the other side saw me in my backyard and came to the fence. This is not unusual. She gets lonely. Her name is Gloria. She likes to talk about our respective dogs and gardens and standard neighbor convo. Not today!

“Karl was telling me about some hippy toilet paper you gave him.”

“You heard about that?”

She narrowed her eyes, “Mmhmm. He called me. He called everyone.” She waved her hand toward our shared street, indicating everyone.

“Karl called you about the toilet paper.”

Impatiently now, “Yes, yes. Last night. I was wondering if I could get one?”

I stood open-mouthed, too stunned at the first part to respond to the second part.

“He said you had a lot.”

I swallowed, trying to buy time to process. “What else did he say?”

She leaned against the fence. “He said he tried it. He said you talked him into it for some environmental reason and he took it to be polite. But then he said he did some experiments on it side by side with his normal paper and I wouldn’t believe it but the liberal treehuggin’ hippy stuff is the superior product.”

Aghast, “My toilet paper is liberal?”

Again Gloria waved her hand, dismissively this time, “It’s fine, really. Don’t worry about that. But Karl raved about it so much I figured I had to see for myself and I don’t know where you people find those things. He said he didn’t know where you got it and he couldn’t remember the name. He said wants to get more but he doesn’t want to ask you and he figured he’d see the box in your recycling bin and then he could tell us all.”

I’m reeling. She’s not joking. She’s dead-ass serious and I am stone-cold speechless. What have I done? The entire neighborhood is talking about this?

“I’d really like to try before I buy but I don’t want to wait on Karl. Since you have so much, could you spare one? And maybe one for Joanne?”

Joanne lives across the street. She lets us pick figs from her tree in the summer. She had a stroke last year and doesn’t leave the house without a caregiver. Still active enough in the neighborhood network though.

“Karl called Joanne too?”

“I told you, he called ev-er-y-one.” Hands on hips, she repeated her request. Could I spare a couple or not?

Still in shock I mumbled, “I’ll be right back.”

Inside my house I pulled two rolls to take back to the fence. I grabbed my cellphone so I could give Gloria the link to buy more of her own and keep Karl out of my liberal recycling bin (lest he be infected). Before I got that far I saw the email. You know the one. Yes you do. Every time we buy anything we get a follow-up email with a discount code for REFERRING A FRIEND. Or family member. Or ultra-conservative neighbor. Or anyone. Or ev-er-y-one. Ten bucks off my next purchase. Quickly I searched for the last neighborhood group text that went around. This past August; suspicious activity in Mrs. White’s carport, police were called. Everyone Karl called would be on the list. By the time I got back to the fence I had the referral link loaded and ready to send to the entire neighborhood.

Handing the rolls over the fence, I smiled. “I hope you like it. I’ll text you the info so you’ll know where to get it.”

Like Karl, she stood there examining the rolls with great scrutiny. “M-kay.” A pause, then, “I thought they’d look different. They don’t. No one would even be able to tell. But Karl did say I wouldn’t believe it until I tried it.”

She thanked me and then hurried toward her own back door, bathroom bound, I assumed. As soon as the door closed behind her I pressed SEND on the group text. I went on about my day, completely positive I would write about this but not prepared for the surprise ending. An unusual amount of foot traffic on the street caught my eye. My neighbors where making pilgrimages to Gloria’s house, and Karl’s, and Joanne’s. I shit you not, pun intended, ev-er-y-one was triangulating between the houses holding the goods. My house got the side-eye as they marched past. I let my afternoon coffee go cold watching from behind the blinds. What must it have been like outside those three bathrooms? Is this the line for the bamboo toilet paper? Have you tried it yet? Have you seen it? What does it look like? So how much does it cost?

Before long I heard my cell, ding! Gloria bought the toilet paper, the paper towels, and the facial tissue with the link. A little later, ding! Karl bought. Ding! There went Joanne. At the time of this paragraph is it now the dinner hour. Four more neighbors have dinged, including Wally, the weather-beaten National Guardsman who would never let anything liberal near his asshole. Until now. Or until it gets here. Do you realize, folks, that because all these people ordered on the same day they will probably all get their deliveries on the same day? Imagine it. An old-fashioned block party. I wish I knew the date; I’d take the day off work just to watch. In fact, if the political part wasn’t too juicy to omit I’d write a dandy children’s book about it. For now I’m calling it social wellness instead of environmental wellness because of the miraculous bipartisan harmony we created, me and ev-er-y-one.

Be well, friends.

— Mercy

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