Day 9

Today’s topic: Toothpaste and toilet paper! An unusual pairing, I admit.

I told a friend I was going to write about the two and she immediately worried about a toothpaste shortage. No, I answered her — and now, a worried nation — there is no shortage of toothpaste!

Instead, I’m writing about these two “t’s” because today’s tp hoarding reminds me of a time long ago when I experienced a real toilet paper shortage and a “sorta” scarcity of toothpaste, at least of American toothpaste.

The shortages I faced were in the late ‘70s while studying in the former Soviet Union.
Back then, toilet paper was as elusive as freedom as speech. When it could be found, tp came in the form of tiny, tough one-ply squares or triangles. Often it was merely cut-up pieces of Pravda, the newspaper.

The word “pravda” means truth and, of course, Pravda the paper printed little of it, serving instead as a propaganda machine for the state and Communist Party. Most people agreed using Pravda for toilet paper was really as good a use for it as any. But that said, no comrade could declare that Pravda provided plush delight for one’s behind.

On the rare occasion, “real” toilet paper made an appearance in the bathroom stalls at Leningrad State University where I was studying, there was a rush for relief — necessary or not. And just like on American grocery store shelves today, faster than you can say hoarding, the stalls were stripped bare of those tiny triangles of tp. None were left for comrade students who might have actual needs later in the day.

And yes, when I went back to the USSR for the second term of study, along with the essentials of thermal underwear, sweaters, scarfs, gloves, and boots, I made room to pack multiple rolls of toilet paper. For several nights before I left, I sat in front of the TV unfurling rolls of the stuff, folding and flattening it, ensuring I could fit it in my suitcase. No, I did not cut it into tiny triangles, but the thought did cross my mind. And that’s the pravda.

About the toothpaste: You could buy toothpaste in the Soviet Union in the ‘70s, but, like life under Communism, it was not sweet. It was gritty and tasted terrible. So, on both study trips, I squeezed and squeezed my Crest tubes till nothing was left. It’s a habit I’ve retained to this day. Who knows? With all this sheltering-in-place, it’s a habit that may come in handy!

Meanwhile, attention, bakers, here’s a hot tip: I hear flour and yeast are in short supply!
And so goes Day 9 or, as my friend Rachelle observed, Groundhog Day. Stay healthy, my friends.

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