The Village Idiot by Jim Mullen

The Tissue Issue

Back in the days when American dads were building fallout shelters in their basements and backyards, I always wondered where we would put our garbage during a thermonuclear war.

I wondered this because one of my chores was to put out the garbage on collection days. Between Mom, Dad and my seven brothers and sisters, our family produced lots of trash. Where would we put it in the tiny room my dad was building in the basement? Wouldn’t the garbagemen be in their own shelters? Chances seemed pretty good that they wouldn’t be picking up our trash on Tuesdays and Fridays for at least a couple of weeks. And nine of us using that tiny little toilet he was installing? How would that work? Sure, millions of people would die hideous and untimely deaths, but what about my privacy? A shower curtain is not going to do it, Dad. I had many deep, profound questions about the shelter for which no one seemed to have any good answers. Why weren’t we stocking any cat food for Buster? Why isn’t Timmy’s dad building one of these? Are they planning to stay in our shelter?

I remembered all this while shopping in the big box store this week, because everything comes in bomb shelter/prepper-sized packages. Bundles of paper towels in the convenient 60-pack, a package of toilet paper that filled the entire shopping cart. Frozen entrees for 24. It seemed as if every shopper was preparing for a nuclear war or the imminent zombie invasion.

The great thing about big-box stores is that they buy and sell in bulk and pass the savings along to you. The not-so-great thing is there is no helpful, friendly staff, and they pass the misery on to you. Why pay someone to check out our groceries when we’ll do it ourselves for free? Which lets them pass on the savings to the CEO, who is on the second month of his fourth annual vacation in the Cayman Islands.

The end result is that you’ll find yourself standing behind some fool who has decided to buy fresh fruit at the big-box store. Lights flash and the computer calls for human help, because the bunch of 27 green bananas that weighed 15.73 pounds two and a half days ago when the label was put on are now mostly yellow and have lost around 0.0563 pounds. through evaporation. The single haggard human who is authorized to help is at register number seven, trying to get the computer to accept a flat of strawberries that also cannot seem to stay the same weight it was yesterday. All of this gives the customers a long time to contemplate their purchases. I have the 200-pack of toilet paper in my cart. Staring at it, I realized that there is a toll-free 800 number on the outer paper wrapper of each roll. The hotline is open from “8 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT, M-F.” What? No webpage? No email address? No Facebook link? No Instagram? The label also says: “Please have the roll from the package when you call.”

It is hard to imagine a reason why someone would need to call an 800 number for this particular product. If it’s not working correctly, I’m pretty sure it must be an operator error. What could possibly go wrong with it? It’s not as if it’s a box of Cracker Jack and you’re calling because your prize is missing. And how many people could there be at the toilet paper hotline waiting for your call? Is one enough? Are three too many? Would you get a call center in India? Maybe there are no humans there at all, just a voice menu. “Are you calling for a refund? Press 2. Please put the product back in its original container and send it to us.”

I used to wonder where people found room to store all their giant-sized packages. I don’t know about you, but we throw all our stuff in the bomb shelter.

(Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.)