(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.
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…