Back in the days when American dads were building fallout shelters in their basements and backyards, I always wondered where the garbage would go during thermonuclear war.
I wondered this because one of my preteen chores was to put out the garbage on collection days. Between my seven brothers and sisters and me, we could produce huge amounts of trash. Where would you put it all in the little room my dad was building? Certainly the garbagemen would be in their own shelters. They might not start picking up trash on Tuesdays and Fridays for a couple of weeks.
It never occurred to me that we would run out of food long before the garbage got out of hand. And all of us using that tiny toilet, with one baby brother still in diapers — how would that work? Sure, millions of people would be burned to toast, but what about my privacy? A shower curtain is not going to do it, Dad.
I had many deep, profound questions to which no one seemed to have answers: Why aren’t we stocking any cat food? Why isn’t Timmy’s dad building one of these?
I was flashing on all these things while I was in the big box store buying household products packaged in quantities large enough to get us through a nuclear war, a zombie invasion, the yearly storm of the century or the millennium bug: paper towels bundled in the convenient 60-pack, enough cat litter for several domestic mountain lions, a gallon of cilantro-flavored yogurt, a package of toilet paper that filled the entire shopping cart.
The great thing about big box stores is that they have no staff and pass the savings along to you. And the CEO. To save even more money, customers check out on their own. Why pay someone minimum wage when shoppers will do it for free?
Of course, this works like a dream — for the CEO, who is on his fifth week of his fourth yearly vacation in France. For the rest of us, not so much. Specifically, it means standing behind some fool who has decided to buy bananas at the big box store. Lights flash and the computer calls for human help because the bunch of green bananas that weighed 1.73 pounds 2 1/2 days ago when the label was put on are now mostly yellow and have lost about 0.019 pound through evaporation. The harried human helper is at DIY register No. 7 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 me a long time to contemplate my purchases, specifically, the toilet paper. I notice for the first time that there is a toll-free number on the outer paper wrapper of each roll. The hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday. What, no Web page? No email address? No Facebook link? The label also says, “Please have the roll from the package when you call.”
It is hard to imagine why someone would need to call an 800 number for this particular product. It’s not as if it were a box of Cracker Jack with a missing prize. And do that many people have phones in the room where this paper product is most likely to be found? If it’s in your dining room, you’re using it wrong.
How many people are at the toilet paper hotline waiting for calls? Is one enough? Is three too many? Are calls routed to 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.”
If Alexander Graham Bell knew what we use the phone for nowadays, he would surely uninvent it.
Jim Mullen’s newest book, “How to Lose Money in Your Spare Time — At Home,” is available at amazon.com. You can follow him on Pinterest at pinterest.com/jimmullen.