Urban Barbarian’s Pandumbic Prepper Advice

March 13, 2020 at 9:32 am (By Amba) (, , )

In The Graduate, a movie you may know of even if you’re too young to know it—for its portrayal of Mrs. Robinson, a 40-something cougar preying on a fresh college grad, and its Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack featuring the song of the same name—Dustin Hoffman’s character is taken aside by a friend of his father’s and given this portentous career advice:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir. . . .

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

As the tsunami of COVID-19 bears down on us, I have just two words for you:


If you didn’t drive to Costco for a flat of toilet paper and now you can’t find any, I’m guessing you can still get a whole bunch of paper towels. Any brand, any size

You may not know this, but paper towels are the original substance, the Prima Materia, the stuff the world was created from.

I know this because I have not lived a normal American life. I’ve never owned a house, I never bought a new car (I’ve owned a new car just once—I won it on Wheel of Fortune, as I can prove if you have a dusty old VCR in your basement; I’ve never had a basement). I had a dishwasher and a washer-dryer only for the four last years of my husband’s life when we were renting a normal American apartment in Chapel Hill, NC. This is not because I was a back-to-the-lander or heard the words “carbon footprint” in a prophetic dream in 1971. It’s because I was an early adopter of the gig economy and I live in New York City, specifically in Greenwich Village, in a tiny old building that is just barely wired even for A/C. New York City houses millions of normal and supernormal American lives, but it is also a reversion to a Stone Age jungle. We walk everywhere. We have a hunter-gatherer’s alertness to our surroundings.

So I have never understood why there has to be a different paper good for every purpose. For instance, I’ve never gotten why, in America, strong emotion is associated with Kleenex. (Somebody finally clued me in. I was bragging about how when I cry, I like to feel the tears running down my face. There was a pause, and then they said, “. . . And your nose doesn’t run?”) Instead of holding and comforting someone (I get that your therapist shouldn’t do that), when they start to cry we hand them a Kleenex. What a triumph of Puritanism and brand placement! But seriously, why do we need toilet paper AND paper towels AND napkins AND Kleenex? In our skylight walk-up we did have toilet paper, usually the plainest 1000-sheet, 1-ply kind, but for everything else? Paper towels. Setting the table? Tear off a few sheets of paper towel, fold ’em—voilà! napkins! Nose running? Grab a paper towel!

Well, I’m here to tell you that in a pinch, paper towels can be toilet paper, too. (You’d have figured this out, if you haven’t already—the last time you ran out of toilet paper.)

Paper towels are thick, and there is a real danger of clogging your plumbing—not a mess you want to get into when you and the plumber are both quarantined. So here’s what you do. Virtually all brands of paper towel are 2-ply. So while you’re sitting there, you find or finagle a little separation along the edge and then you gently pull the two layers apart. You have two sheets of about the thickness of 1-ply toilet paper, ready to fold or wad. And: It lasts twice as long!

When this is over, returning to our ordinary lives, we may find them very strange, overstuffed with cumbersome unnecessaries. Maybe, in that new world, some entrepreneur of minimalism will even invent and market the one paper good that does it all.


Here’s a clever variation on this very theme. It isn’t necessary, but it is comforting because it looks more like the real thing. I’ve clued him in about the 2-ply deal.

And here’s another bright idea for the NEXT pandemic.

1 Comment

  1. Heidi Menocal said,

    brilliant. i did not know about separating the layers.

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