My wife does the shopping, God bless her. Not out of a love of stores, but simply because she knows if she sends me, I'll both buy the wrong stuff and spend too much doing it.
But sometimes I tag along, to keep her company, though my interest isn't really held by the snagging of items on the list, and I tend to wander, like a child, and set off on impromptu anthropological expeditions, either intrigued by the DaVinci sketchbook diversity of my fellow shoppers, or studying trends in marketing.
For instance, I recently found myself detained in the toilet paper aisle, first by this package of Cottonelle, with its "clean ripple texture" which is the sort of unexceptional euphemistic pap you'd expect, perhaps distinguished by "ripple"—good word—but leading to that surprising "removes more."
Oooh, I thought closing in like a lepidopterist spotting a rare butterfly, tip-toeing right up to it, aren't we? That dangling transitive verb, "removes," qualified by "more" and then just ... left there, dangling. Removes ... more ... what?"
Well, they can't say, of course, this being America, and we being among the most prudish, inhibited people who ever walked the earth. We can't say, we can barely bring ourselves to think about it. Which also explains all these cute animals, blubbery bears and playful puppies, trying to dance around what people do with their TP. I haven't done a study of all toilet paper packaging ever, but I would bet cash money there are very few adults on those ever-increasing packages of toilet paper, enormous blocks that you could build homes with. Paper towels can be Brawny, can feature a lumberjack. But toilet paper isn't going to feature, oh, a smiling chef holding a big cake that will only end up ... well, you know..
The only human I noticed in the toilet paper aisle was this infant, the AngelSoft baby, and I suppose if we take them at their word, that's not a human either, but an wraith, an incorporeal spirit.
Admire the irony in that. They can't mention what toilet paper cleans up, or show an actual person who might dab at their nether regions with it, but they are comfortable flogging their product with dead babies, with enlisting as mascots babies who have died and are now angels.
I don't really blame them. I don't want to write a post about the details of wiping shit either. We all know.
Or do we? For instance, what did people use to remove more before toilet paper? The Greeks used stones. There are books on the subject, "Wiped: The Curious History of Toilet Paper," by Ronald H. Blumer, a well-researched study. He begins slowly, as one must, surveying the various euphemisms for "go to the toilet." My favorite being, during the Constitutional Convention of 1789, the Founding Fathers were familiar with an East Coast showman exhibiting a camel, an exotic wonder, and Thomas Jefferson et al would excuse themselves from their deliberations by saying, "I think I'll go out and take a peep at the camel."
Or the aptly-named "What Did We Use Before Toilet Paper? 200 Curious Questions & Intriguing Answers" by Andrew Thompson. The short answer: lots of stuff, from the Romans' sponge on a stick to coconut husks in Hawaii.
"Wealthy people around the world used hemp and wool, with lace being used by the French royalty. British lords used pages from books," Thompson writes. "Poorer people used their hands, [their left hands, usually, which is why we shake with our right] grass, stones, moss, seashells or wood shavings, while the use of water was also common around the world. ... In the U.S., newspapers and telephone directories were common used, as were other books. The Old Farmer's Almanac was actually printed with a hole punched through the corner of each page so that it could be hung in outhouses, and the Sears catalogue was widely used..."
Coyness in selling the stuff is as old as bathroom tissue itself. When the first toilet paper was mass produced in the United States in 1857 by Joseph Cayetty, it was also marketed with extreme delicacy, labeled as "Therapeutic Paper" (bold, considering that when Kimberly-Clark first started marketing Kotex, in 1920, it was sold in plain white boxes with its first name, "Cellunap" and nothing else, no description of its intended use whatsoever. But even that proved too much for both customers and drug store owners, who insisted the boxes be wrapped in plain brown paper. Kimberly-Clark changed the product's name to "Kotex" trying to lose the customer-alienating "nap," short for "napkin," and spent years coaxing the boxes out from behind counters).
But enough of this. I'm trying to attract readers, not repel them. Certain topics evoke memory of the voice of Nigel Wade, my long ago New Zealand press lord editor. "Steinberg!" he would bellow. "I was eating my poached egg when I read that!" So apologies all around. Something more appetizing tomorrow.