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Toilet paper, tp, papel higiénico, confort, we all use it.

The nurse will see you now

And when the tp runs out, or starts to run low, we think to ourselves “I must go down to the shops and pick up some more.” What? you don’t? Maybe you say, “Uh-oh, supermarket run a necessity, down to the last roll.” Or maybe you belong to one of those clubs, like Sam’s or BJs that involve pallets of toilet paper fighting for space with flats of ketchup in your vast expansive basement.

Not so here in Chilito. Here we don’t tend to buy in massive amounts first of all because the store owners have not yet figured out incentive pricing whereupon buying 4X the amount of something does not actually cost 4X the unit price (to wit: if a regular sized can of tuna costs 800 pesos, a double size one costs 1650. I don’t know why, maybe you’re paying for the glory of the larger can. I buy the smaller cans because a) I prefer not to spend more money and b) who can eat a giant can of tuna at one sitting, and that stuff smells if you leave it in the fridge). So there is no bargain to buying giant quantities of things. The second problem is where you’d put giant, industrial qualities of TP. Under the bed? My under-the bed is just a few inches high, it would fit those handy packs of kleenex, but the cardboard cylinder covered in fluffy white tp wouldn’t fit. Plus it would get dirty, because I’m not so good with the under-the-furniture cleaning sometimes.

So I found myself in need of this essential the other day, and was dreading going to the supermarket. I pretty much only buy milk, sliced bread, cleaning supplies and yogurt at the supermarket, preferring the feria or farmer’s/outdoor market for most other things. I also really like my local verdulería (put that on the list of my hard words, means fruit and veg shop) to pick up things mid week including goat cheese which everyone is paranoid about now that there was an outbreak of some bacteria (listeria) a couple of years ago, but I figure so long as I buy it from the same person who buys it from the same supplier from the same farm and I haven’t died yet, I should be in good shape. Thanks goats!

Back to the TP.

I happened to be at the local feria a couple of days ago, which for me is on Libertad, a street which means freedom, and there is a spillover (nonsanctioned) feria of people selling pretty much anything you could think of, and many things you could not, which I suppose is pretty freedom-inspiring. They’re said to “colar” which literally means strain, but in this case it’s from the use of the word that means cut in line, or sort of be a hanger-on to something you’re not really part of. Anyway, so freedom. Or if I’m mistaken, the feria is actually on Esperanza, a street which means hope, and you will forgive me if I can’t seem to distinguish between hope and freedom. I’m nothing if not language-impacted.

So there I was at the feria, my feria, full of hope and freedom, when I saw a man standing in the middle of the street selling comfort! (I mean confort, which is the Chilean word for TP, much like the American word for sticking plasters is BandAid. (or what are these called, if not bandaids?)). And I needed some. So I asked him how much a 4-pack was, even though I tend to prefer the brand the brand Elite. I was just thinking about how by cleverly buying tp at the feria, I could avoid the dreaded Santa Isabel shuffle (two steps towards the cash register, yellow light starts flashing, wait for manager to come with key, wait, shuffle two steps forward, and repeat, and no I do not want a bag, hey, bagger kid, with your lip ring, unfortunate haircut and pocket full of change, please look at me, because I am telling you that I do not want a bag, or twelve.

And so I asked about the TP, and he answered, and I pulled out a bill that was much bigger than what he’d asked for, and he abandoned his post with his tower of confort to ask the ferianos (people who sell at the feria) for change. And he skittered from person to person, asking for change, and weaving and bobbing and gesticulating in a way that only the very nervous do, and as I stood there, I realized something.

I was about to buy something stolen. And you, dear reader, you may be a better person than I, you might have told this stolen tp reseller, this man who makes a living by selling stuff he (or a friend) steals, and who ran all over hither and yon to make the change to give me cash to sell his ill-gotten toilet paper, you might have told him to take his stolen toilet paper and stick it where the sun don’t shine (how fitting). But not me. I was so embarassed by my stupidity that I just stood there and waited for him to count out my change and pop the four-pack into my waiting bag. And more and more people came up to buy from him, and soon his tower was just a little building, and later just a tiny one-bedroom house, and then it was gone, and he was a bunch richer, and we all had tp and could not go to the supermarket to buy it and I am a criminal, and I don’t even like the brand of tp I bought.

And every time I go to the bathroom I think about this story, and now I am sharing it with you so you can consider ways in which you’ve participated in the informal economy here in Chile or elsewhere, and how it was the wrong thing to do but you were so caught up in the moment that you didn’t figure out that what you were doing was wrong until it was too far gone and making a scene would have made you a big jerk. For what it’s worth, I don’t buy pirated movies, but that’s mainly because a) I don’t watch movies and b) because everyone else I know does buy them, and so they lend them to me.

(This photo is of a is a legitimate business, with a licence and everything, and not the one from which I bought the aforementioned item, though it is from the feria in question, and the item behind the sign that says 1500 is an 8-pack of Confort, not my brand of choice, if you didn’t catch that part)