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Dispatches from the Edge

My 46-hour hunt for toilet paper

At first, I didn’t feel a sense of urgency. And then I did.

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Editor’s Note: This story is part of a Globe Magazine special report, appearing in print on Sunday, March 29. It was reported between March 12 and 14.

The post on the All About Franklin Facebook page on March 10 should have tipped me off: “BJ’s is out of toilet paper in case anyone wanted to know.”

But I just didn’t feel that sense of urgency. Not the kind that makes a person rush to stockpile milk, bread, batteries, and Charmin. I can hold on a little longer, I thought. I’d been through the Blizzard of ’78, nor’easters, and Y2K and had never ever seen a toilet paper shortage. Surely there’d be a few rolls somewhere.


Turns out I was wrong.

Two days later, after working from home on March 12, I joined countless others on the great toilet paper chase. This is how it went.

March 12, 7:13 p.m. | Walmart, Bellingham

The toilet paper aisle is empty. “What is going on?” a nurse near me wonders. “Why would people do this?” I post a picture on Facebook and move on.

Empty toilet paper shelves at Walmart as people stocked up for the long term during the coronavirus pandemic. Stacey Myers

8:15 p.m.-ish | Market Basket, Bellingham

The parking lot looks busier than it does on weekend mornings – I’m not even going in.

8:41 p.m. | Stop and Shop, Milford

I’d skipped two grocery stores near my home because I’d heard they were out. This one is, too. I’m not worried. After another Facebook photo, I head home. When I double-check my stash, I’m suddenly not feeling so calm: I have just one backup roll. This could be a problem.

March 13, 8 a.m.

Overnight, pals in New York and Kentucky offer to mail me some. A friend on the Cape says they’re “all wiped out.” A colleague’s wife points me to Dollar Tree and Staples. A gym buddy jokingly offers to sell me a roll. And a former co-worker pulls out the Seinfeld card and asks, “They can’t spare a square?”


More bare shelves at Stop & Shop in Milford.Stacey Myers

4 p.m.-ish

My sister strikes pay dirt at a gas station convenience store in Norfolk – three four-packs. She offers to share, but I can’t. She has a four-person household, including two teens. My search continues.

5:05 p.m. | CVS, East Central Street, Franklin

A friend reports the CVS at her end of town has some TP, so I take a break from work. In the entryway: plenty of ice melt and snow scrapers. Inside: no toilet paper. I do spot plenty of weighted blankets that promise to apply “calming pressure” to help you relax and sleep. Should I?

5:21 p.m. | Dollar Tree, Franklin

Across the street, the sky above Dollar Tree is suddenly gray and foreboding. I probably should just heed the sign and move on to the next store. But I don’t. Again, no luck. I try a few more stores in town, and give up.

March 14, 11:30 a.m. | Uncle Bill’s House, Walpole

My quest has made me the butt of family jokes. (This is not a first.) I visit my uncle, Bill, who gleefully says he has a gift for me, left by my beloved late Auntie Peg. He hands me small travel-size toilet tissue that he’d just found while sorting through some of her stuff. How did she know, I wonder. My cousin Tom calls: “Did you get toilet paper yet?”

A generous friend comes to the rescue.Stacey Myers

5:33 p.m. | An Undisclosed Location

I head to a friend’s house for dinner, where I finally catch a break. Her husband orders toilet paper for his business and happens to have a secret stockpile in the basement. She didn’t want to say anything on Facebook, she says, afraid there could be a run on her house. She offers up four rolls wrapped in beautiful blue tissue. I’m beyond relieved.



Stacey Myers is a member of the Globe Magazine staff. Send comments to stacey.myers@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.