February Column MHH: Don’t Squeeze It, Smell It!

charmin        Years ago, there was a famous commercial in which a little old grocer admonished his customers not to squeeze the toilet paper in his supermarket.

Well, I don’t squeeze it. I smell it.

When I was 11, my family got hold of a bad batch of Charmin that permeated the house with a foul odor it took over a week to locate. My mother couldn’t find it and she was a bloodhound when it came to getting to the bottom of things. She searched every item in the clothes hamper. She checked the bottom of my shoes. She sprayed Lysol all over the house but the smell lingered on.

“I give up!” she said, waving the white flag of surrender. “You kids must have gotten into something!”

It wasn’t until I went into the linen closet in search of our sewing kit that I finally found the source of the stench. “It’s the toilet paper!” I gasped, nearly passing out from the emissions.

Now, my mother was not the kind of person to fuss about much. She believed that people were only human, accidents happen and it’s best not to complain. However, if her toilet paper smelled like road kill, someone was going to hear about it. She instructed my brother to bag up the offending rolls while she called the Proctor & Gamble customer service line in an effort to hold Mr. Whipple personally accountable.

P&G acted as if we found cyanide in an aspirin. They quickly apologized for the lapse in quality control, offered to send out a postage-paid box to recover the rancid bathroom tissue and promised to reimburse her for the purchase by sending her coupons for free products in the future. It seemed like a lot of hullabaloo for toilet paper, but then again, you can’t help admiring that level of corporate responsibility.

A few days later, the box arrived, but the toilet paper was nowhere to be found. “Where did it go?” My mother demanded, pointing to the empty space next to the house where my brother had left it. “It was right there!”

“You mean that black bag?” my father asked. “I put it out for the trash.”

It was the first time in history my father ever performed that duty and in one fell swoop, he not only prevented the toilet tissue from receiving due process, but he also killed my mother’s dream of free paper products for life. It was an event that seemed scripted right from a 1980’s sitcom but it proved to be a powerful lesson in, “try before you buy.”

There are few supermarket practices that garner as many stares and peculiar glances as popping a hole in a package of toilet paper and taking a big whiff. While it is acceptable to pinch produce, smell vegetables and sniff scented candles, shampoo and soap, most people will not take a deep breath of bathroom tissue.

But take it from one who learned the hard way, you should.



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