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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 07.28.13
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Le TP, c'est nous, or
Wipe that smile off your face

"Hi? I'm raising money for my school? Would you like to buy someā€¦?"

Some what? Chocolate? Nobody needs chocolate, not really. Scented candles? Nobody needs scented candles either. Nobody wants scented candles for that matter.

"...toilet paper?"

Ahh, now there's an ingenious fundraiser. Absolutely everybody needs toilet paper. No matter what your religion, diet, class, politics or personal style, you're going to use TP. Toilet paper? Why, of course we'll buy some!

And yet, this particular fundraiser passed my door about seven years ago and has never come round again. Just the one time. No number two. Why? Because I imagine this poor girl and her peers were so mortified selling toilet paper to strangers that they issued an ultimatum: "We take issue with the tissue. Never again. We hereby wipe this fundraiser from future consideration. It was, ultimately, a bummer."

We're strangely conflicted about toilet paper. It's the great open secret of society, stacked right there in the grocery store aisles, kidding no one about what it's for and yet marketed with images of puffy clouds and adorable kittens. The last time I had shrimp vindaloo, there were no kittens willing to come within a 20-foot radius, trust me. There was a cloud, yes, but I wouldn't describe it as "puffy."

It's as though we're ashamed of toilet paper. We're even more open about lady stuff than toilet paper, although we do euphemistically refer to them as "feminine hygiene products," like they're some kind of replacement part you'd pick up at the hardware.

Television ads for these products are quite explicit in referring to absorbency and one's ability to continue doing yoga at all times, though I'm not quite clear on the concept of "wings." I'm on a need-to-know basis in this regard and I don't really need to know.

When I was a kid, though, I wanted to know. I remember pulling a big box of pads out of a grocery bag and asking my mother, "What's this?" I can't remember her exact answer but it was along the lines of "For me to know and you to find out," which pretty much summarizes my sex education as well, by the way.

Researchers have made tremendous improvements in these products since then, or so I gather; I understand there were once belts involved, a fact I know only because I read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Toilet paper, on the other hand, is pretty much what it was forty years ago. In terms of product development, it seems to be stuck, blocked even, no movement whatsoever -- with one exception: toilet paper keeps getting softer and softer.

Perhaps this is where our shame lies. Toilet paper has transformed from the practical to an indulgence. As our TP becomes softer, so do we. As a society, we are our toilet paper.

When you think back to our pioneer ancestors, they made do with handfuls of straw and the occasional small rodent. They were rugged and strong and walked funny but they could sure endure hardship. If you could handle corncobs, you could withstand anything. Smallpox might even be a blessing by comparison.

Compare this to the Charmin bathroom tissue I purchased last week. The packaging promised both toughness and softness. It was essentially the Barrack Obama of toilet papers. The packaging furthermore encouraged me to accompany my daily usage with new Charmin Freshmates flushable wipes -- "a routine for a cleaner clean" -- because we live in a society where just plain clean apparently isn't clean enough. And when you get to the point where you're marketing baby wipes for adults, you've essentially become the end of the Roman Empire.

Buying the puffy stuff was a momentary lapse in judgement. Normally, we go for whatever's cheap, making sure the kids truly appreciate that whole second ply. If we can buy the recycled brand, all the better, especially if it still has bits of corrugated cardboard in it. I believe that a life of austerity will teach my children toughness and self-reliance. I feel that deprivation in their digestive end-processes will help them maintain a healthy, shame-free attitude. But mostly I know that they are incapable of using the thick stuff without clogging the damn toilet.

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through www.townships.ca. He can be reached at ross_murray@sympatico.ca.

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