The Toilet Roll War

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star and Fairfield Sun newspapers on February 23, 2012, in my  “Walsh’s Wonderings” column.)

I noticed it as soon as I walked in the room, balanced precariously on the edge of the valance.

Amateur, I thought, taking it down and tossing it into the garbage. Why not just string Christmas lights around it next time?

Married couples develop odd little games after a while, and Kristen and I are no different. These games are never stated as such, and very rarely acknowledged. It might be a game of, “Who’s Letting the Dogs Out Before Bedtime?” or “Who Will Empty the Dishwasher?” My favorites are, “Who Will Break Down and Find That Smell?” and “Who is Gonna Answer The Damn Phone!

Nothing, however, trumps the Toilet Roll War. Ours started innocently enough, as these games usually do. My wife crawled into bed and bonked me on the head with an empty toilet paper roll.

“You didn’t replace the roll again,” she said, settling into her pillow.

“Yes, I did.” I replied, putting my book down. “I just put a new one in there this afternoon.”

“No, you just threw a new roll on top of the toilet.”

“Like I said,” I replied. “New roll.”

Some consider the source of marital friction to be an indication of that marriage’s overall health. My wife and I are lucky in that we never argue over the important things like love, respect, or the general direction of our lives. Instead, we can major in minor things like how to properly replace bathroom tissue. Every couple has its own bathroom battles, of course—some argue about whether or not to roll up the toothpaste from the bottom, others over the failure to wipe the mirror after brushing one’s teeth. For my wife, an empty toilet paper roll is like a raised middle finger.

As a man, if toilet paper is within my reach, it’s where it’s supposed to be. Even the inventor of modern toilet paper, Joseph Gayetty, thought so little of it that he had no problem watermarking his name onto each sheet. It makes no difference to me whether the paper is on the roller or resting comfortably on the shelf of the toilet. In fact, the very idea that toilet paper would require a holder at all seems ludicrous. I would not have included the unfurling of tissue paper on my list of required assistive technology, yet no bathroom in America is complete without a toilet paper roller. Instead, I would argue that it’s done more harm than good. As anyone who’s ever been in a rush can attest, a hastily pulled handful of toilet paper can spin the rest of the roll into a heap on the floor. Our efforts to re-roll the paper onto the holder look like a child’s attempt at mummification, and the paper rips at every subsequent turn of the roll. This is progress

Any visit to a public restroom reveals the ludicrous extremes to which this can be taken. Large metal contraptions encase the toilet paper and turn this delicate moment into an exercise in fly-fishing as we carefully pull just hard enough to hook the paper without ripping it in the process. I’ve seen Rube Goldberg machines that were less complicated. There’s even a protocol for how the paper should be unrolled, as a recent Cottonelle poll showed that 72% of respondents prefer the paper to pulled over the roll as opposed to under. My mom takes it a step further, pointing out that the paper must be folded to a point on top of the roll for guests. However, if my guests need an arrowpoint to show them the direction to pull the toilet paper, I doubt I can trust them to flush the toilet afterward.

To highlight my cavalier attitude toward the proper disposal of empty toilet paper rolls, my wife took to placing them on top of my toothbrush. I would then place the roll on her bedside table until it magically appeared under my pillow later that night. So began an escalating series of attempts to hide the rolls in odd places: in briefcases, jewelry boxes, cereal boxes or freezers. The game-within-a-game became a contest to see which of us could use up just enough toilet paper without taking that very last sheet, as the person using that last sheet has to replace and dispose of it properly

Lest you think my refusal to dispose of used rolls is inconsiderate, know that I’ve maintained the moral high ground here because my wife has trumped my lack of bathroom etiquette: she leaves the toilet seat up. Oh, she won’t admit it—in fact, she claims I am the one who always forgets to put the seat down. She clings to the idea that the toilet seat should always be put down, but not the lid. I try to explain that the toilet seat and lid are actually two parts of the same mechanism: both parts should be down when leaving the bathroom, and both of us should have to lift something before every use. What she’s really asking me to do is to optimize her toilet experience, to keep it in the “ready” position for women at all times. How dare she, how dare all women, demand such special treatment!

And so I poured my energy into more and more extravagant ways to hide the empty rolls. I strung several from our bedroom ceiling, even taped some together into a makeshift sailboat. Still, it’s getting harder to keep topping ourselves, to search for clever and increasingly flamboyant ways to get out points across. If I was single, I’d probably just leave it at, “Let’s make sure we replace these rolls when they’re done.”

But I’m not; I’m married, and I’m currently attempting to construct a mini Eiffel Tower out of the empty rolls I’ve been collecting for months…

Short, Gray Locks of Love

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star and Fairfield Sun newspapers on February 9, 2012, in my  “Walsh’s Wonderings” column.)

“No, you’re not.” My wife said it so quickly, and with such authority, that I was stunned into silence. I had tossed my comment out casually, delicately, as one would a Nerf ball to a small child.

“It shouldn’t take that long,” I replied. “You said so yourself—it grows so quickly.

“You know you’re going to look ridiculous,” she sighed, using her time-tested strategy of allowing me just enough rope to hang myself. Or, more appropriately, enough hair to embarrass myself—which in this case would be a minimum of ten inches. That’s the shortest length for a donation to Locks of Love, a non-profit charity that accepts donations of human hair and money to make wigs for needy children who’ve lost their hair due to medical conditions.

The idea had come to me while thinking of new ways to get my eighth grade language arts classes excited about community service. Middle school students are terrific at raising money for various causes, but I wanted to challenge them to stretch their wings and find additional, novel ways to give. What better way to advertise this than having their middle-aged, follicle-challenged teacher attempt to grow out his hair for the first time since college? After all, almost 80% of all hair donations are made by kids to help other kids.

To appreciate the sheer absurdity of it, one must realize that I’ve maintained a Beetle Bailey buzz cut for the last twenty years. My wife had never seen my hair touch my eyebrows, much less go past my shoulders. Telling her that I planned on growing a ponytail was like telling her I planned to fly to the moon… only more embarrassing. This way, she’d have this wild gray mane accompanying her to every wedding or funeral until I was allowed to cut it.

At the time of my announcement, I hadn’t cut my hair in almost four months. It was with great excitement that I pulled out the measuring tape, thinking the length would probably fall somewhere between Moses and a teenage Andre Agassi.  For someone who’d learned how to shear my own hair because I didn’t think my wife cut it short enough, it felt like my Jim Morrison period. Alas, it turned out to be closer to the retired Agassi—two inches at its longest.

It was time to acknowledge that my hair had long passed its expiration date—my hairline has receded to the point where my forehead has become a five-head. Even I realize that the best I could hope to accomplish was the dreaded Garfunkel, a hairstyle that can best be described as patches of thinning hair clinging desperately to the top and rear of one’s head. Much like Garfunkel’s similarly challenged partner, Paul Simon, my head was never meant to permanently host hair.

Still, I harbored hope that I had one last run in me. I don’t have the money to buy a fire-engine red Porsche, so this seemed like the best option for my mid-life crisis. I looked up the requirements and found that donor hair must be ten inches or longer, clean, devoid of curls, and bundled into a ponytail. The hair cannot be bleached or colored. So far, so good. I figured I’d gut it out for the rest of the school year and cut it in June, maybe at school, and maybe at the hands of my students.

The dream died when I looked into how fast hair can grow—turns out it grows at a rate of around six inches per year. Outside of amazing advances in hair growth technology, the process would take me until late April, 2013. There’s no guarantee my wife wouldn’t strangle me with it long before then

Ironically, the good folks at Locks of Love took the decision off my hands. While they do accept donations of gray hair, they don’t use it in their hairpieces—they sell it to offset their manufacturing costs. Because they only provide hairpieces to children, and mostly young girls at that, they don’t want to send them out looking like Phil Donahue.  It’s a charity, not a wig manufacturer, and the organization shells out $1,000 for each custom-made hairpiece.

So gone are the hoped-for comparisons between me and Russell Crowe, who donated his hair after filming Robin Hood a few years ago. Instead, my goal has become as short as my hair: I’m gunning for hair just long enough to cut and bundle into a short tail. It looks like I might be able to pull off about five inches by the end of the school year. Not exactly rock star length, but long enough to serve a great charity in their efforts to help kids.

On the other hand, if I can find the time to painstakingly glue each strand together, I just might have enough to create my very own Donahue for my old age.