and they’re off!

Toilet paper tower
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No matter where you work, what you do for work, or how you feel about your work, this one thing is irrefutable: the microcosm of the workplace is truly one of the most entertaining and perplexing entities in human existence. I don’t watch The Office, but I don’t need to. I know that it’s genius, the same way that I know a show similarĀ  about a gym would be awesome. Those two places are cesspools of human bacteria and culture and I cannot get enough of it.

The biggest work drama in my life is currently is the toilet paper in the ladies’ bathroom. I won’t even get into the brand situation, which was an issue for me long before the present shenanigans, but it’s dire. (I will say, however, that this is clearly recycled and there is not a bear ANYWHERE on the packaging. As far as I’m concerned if there isn’t a bear on the package it’s not toilet paper. It’s crepe paper. Useful for random crafts and birthday parties. Not sanding your sexy parts…) The situation breaks down like this:

A few weeks ago there was an toilet paper emergency. It was similar in nature to the copy paper emergency and can no doubt be traced back to our office manager leaving and us finally figuring out what she was up to all that time. Anyway, one afternoon (while I was out of the office) I get an email from the president of our company assuring all the ladies that he had been made aware of the TP drought and would solve the short term problem and implement a system for long term toilet paper availability. Its an odd email, but frankly weirder shit (no pun) happens around HM on a daily basis. I was mostly just disappointed that the new toilet paper was slated to be the same recycled crepe paper as before.

By the time I returned from the office (I think I was in Hawaii) the toilet paper situation was under control. Each stall has a two roll dispenser and we’ve also gotten in the habit of hanging a spare roll on the purse hook on the back of the door. (Sometimes I laugh a little when I think about the times my lady coworkers have had to do the pants down waddle to get a roll from under the sink. At least I assume they’ve had to do it…I have.) Everything was back to normal. Sort of.

It’s hard to remember a time when normal toilet paper rolls existed. While Schick and Gillette battled it to see who could create a six bladed weapon for those scary Latino girls who stalked me in high school and beat each other with lunch trays, Charmin and Quilted Northern were in competition to release the thickest roll of toilet paper known to man. Do you remember roll extenders? There is something so disturbingly American about the roll extender. I think that roll extenders and Double Downs are cousins. Or at least one leads to the other. Apparently, during that same time, Marcol, the red headed, recycled step child of the toilet paper world was having a little competition of their own. The goal? Create the thinnest ply toilet paper that can be spun into the tiniest roll of toilet paper the world has ever seen. The problem? Two work time PBTs (personal bathroom times) and the role is finished. Not a serious problem unless there are more bathroom users than roll replacers.

In my score plus years of life, I have never known a group of ladies more incapable of roll replacing. I’ll admit that the roll holder contraption is tricky and it does take some time to figure it out, but it’s not a Chinese finger trap. (I do feel a twinge of guilt as I’m typing, as I clearly remember my first year of marriage when I came home to find the hubs standing in the living room holding a fresh roll of Charmin and the bar that holds the roll in the holder. He then proceeded to perform a step by step live tutorial on how to change a toilet paper roll. I never liked him.)

The stages of toilet paper replacing anger are many, but distinct. It starts with ignorance. You go a few weeks constantly changing the roll before you realize you’re the only shmuck doing it. Then there’s the disbelief stage, followed by frustration, then anger, and finally (I think) the stage I’m currently in, humor. I know use the toilet paper “sitch” like my own personal daytime soap. Actually, I use it like my own little game.

It’s clear what’s happening, and as much as I don’t want to be a part of it, I also don’t need to be a loser. The fire of competition burns too deeply to allow me to ignore the game that everyone else is very clearly playing. It starts with initial observation. Is there a roll that is clearly the safe choice? The object of the game is to not be the person who has to change the roll. If there is a roll with clearly more TP, super. Done. Level one complete.

The midlevels of the game mostly involve keeping the rolls even. It’s then incumbent upon your opponents to make the tough choices. It’s like peace times. Yes, everyone is pretending to relax, but what’s really going on is highly strategic thinking. More vicious than defensive strategy is offensive strategy. Keep the rolls even until you force someone to make the choice. When one dips below the other, you give the next stall occupant and obvious choice. They advance because of your sacrifice. Sometimes you have to play dirty. Sometimes you have to be a soldier, make the tough choices, use less than the desired number of squares. Force a hand washing, if you understand what I’m saying.

And then there are the final levels, the ones where mind games and physical sacrifice are not enough. You must employ foresight. This is where the cheaters and pansies are revealed. Those who lack the mental fortitude to play the game. Instead of risking defeat, they go AWOL. I’ve entered the game only to find two empty rolls and the extra roll–still on the purse hook– with a trail of paper hanging almost to the floor. A flag of surrender. The sign of a coward.

There is also peculiar behavior derivative of the game. The bathroom, which was never a social scene in the office but was at once a place for at least two people, has become a one-at-a-time bathroom. You cannot risk someone seeing you leave your stall, know what your move was. The integrity of the game must be maintained at all costs. It is a game of stealth, silence, night moves and trickery. This is not about relief this is about victory!

I don’t know how long the game can continue. Eventually we will grow tired of the lies and someone will suggest we buy toilet paper with more than eight squares per roll. Or maybe we’ll spread a rumor that there are web cams in the stalls. But for now, the game is alive. And until there is a unanimous (though silent) understanding that it has ended, I will slip silently into the stalls and make my move. And my movement.

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