The Old Coot – household paper on a diet

Paper goods are in short supply across the country: toilet paper – paper towels – napkins – tissues and the like. Due to the panic buying that occurred when the corona pandemic unfolded, you can’t blame people for the shortage, though the media tried to. What are you supposed to do when faced with the probability of being confined to your home for an unknown period of time? Hurricanes, blizzards, rising rivers and other pending disasters force us to hoard items we’ll need to survive the situation.  

But, the shortage in paper products has been going on for a long time, long before a diseased bat in a Wuhan wet market allegedly introduced the virus to the planet. No, the paper shortage is something this old coot has been grumbling about for years. Paper products have been thinned down and made narrower. That’s the shortage I’m talking about. Toilet paper, tissues, napkins and cardboard have all gone on diets over the past several years. Thinner, narrower. Just not up to snuff (or a sneeze) like they once were.

I remember sliding down hills on cardboard squares (usually from household appliances) for days and days when I was a kid. The cardboard held up, no matter how many trips down a snowy slope, no matter how much dampness it absorbed. It also held up to flapping on the spokes of our bicycle wheels, producing that motor sound we loved. That was great fun for me until I discovered that some of the spokes became loose, requiring a trip to the bicycle repair shop to have the wobbly wheel tuned up. It cost me three weeks of my meager funds from my lawn mowing and paper route earnings. 

The thinning of paper goods was unleashed on the unsuspecting consumer to improve corporate profits. It was done in a way that was hard to detect. I can just picture the scene in the boardroom when the CEO, sitting around with his executive staff, mulled over ways they could earn their bonuses, tied to the bottom line. Raise the price? Or, reduce the size? All hands shot up for the product downsizing option.  

It’s not just paper products that took a hit in the boardroom – food packaging has been downsized too: cereal boxes, canned goods, everything that could be made incrementally smaller has gone on a diet. The one that bothers me most is the reduced size of ice-cream containers. They look like they are about the same size as they always were, but they’re not. The corners have been rounded and the width narrowed. It’s been a well-executed process, designed to fool all the people, all the time. Something PT Barnum said couldn’t be done, but he was wrong. But not us old coots who are ice-cream aficionados; we noticed. You can only fool us old fools some of the time. Like when we cough up our credit card information to a nice lady on the phone that threatens an IRS confiscation of our bank account. But mess with our ice cream, and we’re all over it. Right, Rick Cadran?

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