If you want to make “Big Brother” interesting, ration the toilet paper.
The public verdict on CBS’ latest laboratory experiment is that it’s tedious. The reasoning, popular punditry goes, is that reality is boring.
I disagree. The flaw was thinking that cramming 10 people into a two-bedroom apartment would inevitably result in chaos. Come on: It might seem crammed to some, but it’s frontier real estate for an immigrant refugee family or college students wedged into a studio apartment.
The problem with “Big Brother” is the network is stocking the place with all the domestic supplies, and that removes the source of all disharmony in the home. You don’t need five men and five women just a guy, a girl and one roll of toilet paper.
Now, popular wisdom always casts women as the squanderer of bathroom resources. They take too much time in the shower, they take up all the medicine cabinet space, and they use up all the toilet paper. Yet visit any male household and just try to dig up a roll in emergency circumstances.
I lived with a guy for five years (I’ll call him The X). Naturally, I, as the female component of this living arrangement, received the unjust condemnation as the toilet paper hog. Since I was always the one changing the roll after he vacated the bathroom (trips which took 30 minutes at a time, mind you), I protested this false accusation. Of course, we were at loggerheads.
I remember that when he went on a weeklong trip, there was no changing of the roll. A little more than a week after The X came back, we were on our second roll.
He, of course, denied the evidence. Worse yet, he reached a stage of such complete denial that he would not change the roll. Changing the roll, you see, would have meant admitting his tissue abuse.
Instead, he would leave the last sheet clinging to the brown paper cylinder. When my yowling would start echoing from behind closed doors, he would merely plead deafness and tap the volume + signs on the TV remote a few more times.
I lived in Boston when the blizzard of ’78 hit. This is not earthquake or tornado country, so you don’t stock up on canned beans or Charmin. But ever since that enforced encampment, my mother would spiral into a desperate, near-alcoholic panic if we ever dipped below two 18-packs.
However, that has barely affected me. I don’t break out in a sweat or add extra perforations with a hole puncher anymore when the supply dwindles down to six. All I ask is for a roll of paper to be waiting for me when duty calls.
So, I tried logic with him. I pointed out that intestinal repression might lead to irritable bowel syndrome (or maybe that’s what I called him). I said that most household injuries occurred in the bathroom, and the inelegant waddle dance in search of a new roll was the top reason.
It took an exhausting housebreaking just to convince him to leave one measly extra roll in the bathroom. However, when it came to replenishing the supply, his denial reached a pinnacle of complete slovenly defiance. He would place a new roll on top of the spinning carousel.
Even as I was both enraged and befuddled at the same inopportune time, I couldn’t help but be impressed. That was a truly sublime act of lavatory disdain. Too bad we didn’t have a toiletcam to preserve the moment that and the waddle dance.
Vera H-C Chan is a Times staff writer who occasionally channels the spirit of Erma Bombeck. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.