Tom Clyde: Prepping for a single-ply apocalypse
As the country prepares for the “coming apocalypse,” hoarding behavior is in full swing. A friend sent me a note a couple of weeks ago that he was doing a drywall patch in his house, and wanted a dust mask. Nothing special, just the cheap kind that keeps you from choking on drywall dust. There were none to be had. This was before there were any confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., and already people had stocked up on masks that are ineffective at preventing the spread of the virus.
When the dust masks ran out, panic set in. The run on toilet paper began. I didn’t think that was real until a family member sent a picture of empty shelves at a Sam’s Club in Davis County. The report was that she had been on a quest to buy toilet paper, and visited Costco, Sam’s Club, Smith’s and Walmart and found nothing but empty shelves.
We keep a fair sized email tree among the extended family. It’s useful for keeping in touch generally, and for the rest of them to post lame excuses why they can’t help shovel snow of the roofs of the old buildings on the ranch. That first email started a chain of communications that spooled out like a roll of toilet paper, if anybody had one to spool out. Reports came in from Jackson, Denver and Los Angeles that the shelves were stripped bare there, too. For over a week now, here are daily reports of where there have been T.P. sightings, and amazing speculations on what people are doing with all of it.
Culturally, this is a little bit disturbing. Among the devout, they are supposed to have a year’s supply of everything in the basement. There are houses with 55-gallon drums of moldy wheat and hardened powdered milk stacked up like concrete mix. When it all hits the fan, they are supposed to be good for a year. Except that they apparently forgot to stock up on T.P. Given that they will be eating bulging cans of Spam that have been in the basement for 35 years, you’d think they would have anticipated the consequences better.
I needed a general grocery store run, and went to the Heber Walmart. The paper goods aisle was empty. Just out of curiosity, I stopped at Smith’s to check the paper inventory there. They had about a half-dozen packages of off-brand T.P. of jail-house or Delta Airlines quality (single-ply RV stuff.) A couple of very big men were coming down the aisle from opposite directions, with strict instructions from their wives not to come home empty handed. I didn’t want to get between them and the last roll of T.P. on the Wasatch back. No shots were fired.
And so it became an obsession. Amazon was out of Angel Soft two-ply until April 3rd. Quilted Northern was also gone, without a re-stock date. The nephew whose wife had started the quest found a 4-pack at a 7-Eleven near his office in Draper. When his co-workers found out, they stormed the place. The manager threatened to call the SWAT team.
There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the coronavirus disease. It’s respiratory, not intestinal. Hoarding Kleenex would make perfect sense. People are prepping the wrong end of this. And even if there is an Italian-scale shut down for a couple of weeks, how many rolls do you actually go through? I guess if you have one of those monster houses with 12 bathrooms you might need a spare roll for each of the designer spare-roll holders. But you’re not going to use any more than usual.
It’s not just T.P. Bottled water is scarce. As the head plumber on a tiny water system, I got an official notification from the Utah Division of Drinking Water. It was supposed to provide assurance to water system managers, as well as official advice to the general public, to quit hoarding bottled water. The coronavirus is not going to shut down the power grid. Wells will keep pumping. This is not a hurricane that will tip over thousands of power poles and leave you in the dark. The water will still come out of the tap, and there won’t be any more cooties in it than normal.
Fortunately, as a subscriber to this fine newspaper, you are already way ahead of the curve. First, our advertisers will let you know when they have toilet paper in stock, and second, if all else fails, you’re holding a suitable, if not ideal, substitute right in your hand. My grandparents spent most of their married life in a house without indoor plumbing. Even after they got running water in the house, it was unreliable. The old outhouse was always ready for action, with a pile of the Idaho Statesman newspapers in a tin box, just in case.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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Columnist Tom Clyde writes that other states forcing people who’ve been in Utah to quarantine could complicate ski season: “Come and enjoy a long holiday weekend in Utah, and, as an added bonus, you get to take an additional two weeks off work.”