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Friday, June 26, 2020

A Little Humor in the midst of Chaos

Roger Carlton, columnist for the Graham Star newspaper in Robbinsville, NC

My name is Rolla Teepee. My life began in Brazil where melaleuca trees grow in abundance in an area formerly known as the Amazon Rain Forest. Pulpwood made from the trees is abundant because my parents grow nearly 100 feet in seven years. This is far faster than the growth rate of evergreen and hardwood trees used for other types of paper products. To the best of my knowledge the tariff wars with Brazil have not yet reached my parents emigration level.

My parents emigrated from Brazil and entered the United States legally. They were rather expensive with their costs being nearly $500 per ton. The machines that convert the pulp from a swirling mess to such TP brands as Cottonelle and Charmin cost $300 million each. The metamorphosis process from pulp to TP is owned by a few companies like Kimberly Clark and Proctor & Gamble. 

One of these mega companies created my family of 24 mega rolls in a mega pack. We were very happy to be sent to a shelf in a mega store called Walmart. We might have gone to another mega mega store called Costco or a mega mega mega fulfilment house called Amazon but that didn't happen. These stores use a fancy technique to move my family from the $300 million machine to the store shelf. That technique is called supply chain management in general and just-in-time manufacturing specifically. This means that large space-using products with single-ply margins need to be delivered quickly and frequently and not waste warehouse or shelf space.

In normal times supply chain and just-in-time management work very well. When hurricanes form near Africa and breathless weathercasters warn of imminent doom along the entire east coast of the United States, people have TP panic and rush out to buy a year's supply. When a pandemic happens and people are using TP at home rather than work or restaurants, the TP pipeline clogs up and nothing can clear the blockage. The only event that will clear the constipated system is the end of the panic.

My family mega package was put on the shelf after the panic began with its 700 percent increase in TP sales. Our shelf life was less than three seconds. In fact, some end users fought over us and the flimsy plastic walls of our home were nearly ripped apart. Thank goodness we made it to a home and joined three other mega package families. So, we had a TP village and our panic caused shortage seemed wiped away. 

But all good things have an end. Slowly but surely 23 members of my family were plucked from the package where we lived and skewered on a roller. This process is called ICE which stands for Intestinal Chafing Experience. How cruel. Maybe someday, someone will tell the rest of this story when space limitations allow. 

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