King for a day at the hoarder-ravaged Stone Drive Walmart

Jeff Bobo • Mar 29, 2020 at 7:30 PM

By the time I figured out we might need to start hoarding supplies for the COVID-19 apocalypse, every bag of freeze dried pinto beans and every roll of toilet paper had already been snatched from the shelves of every store everywhere.

If this virus thing peters out in a couple of weeks, some folks out there in the greater Tri-Cities region will have a LOT of leftover pinto beans to eat up. Beans and bags of Mahatma white rice.

That’s why I’m forecasting this toilet paper shortage to extend well beyond the virus crisis (as well as an upsurge for the demand of septic tank-emptying services).

Toilet paper shortages aren’t a big worry for me. Newspaper. Phone book pages. My old college journalism textbooks. I’ll get the job done one way or another.

My better half, Lynn, on the other hand, is a toilet paper-a-holic. A super sized Sam’s Club pack that would last me 18 months when I was single is gone in three days at our house. (Well, that may be a slight exaggeration but that’s how it seems.)

I was King of the Walmart

Lucky for her, I’m a natural born survivor. When confronted last weekend with empty toilet paper shelves at the Stone Drive Walmart, my natural survival instincts took over, and my mind quickly rebooted some hidden store knowledge that apparently hadn’t occurred to anyone else.

Way in the back corner of my Walmart past the automotive section is an aisle dedicated to camping supplies. And within that aisle were shelves filled with camper toilet paper, which is distinctive from regular TP because it dissolves better to keep your camper’s “black tank” from getting clogged.

I took four packs containing six rolls each priced at $5 per pack, which is pretty much what you pay for regular packs. 

In Sunday School I learned to take only what I need and not be greedy, so I left quite a few packs of camper TP on the shelves.

As I proudly strutted down the aisles with four big packs of “hidden treasure” TP in my buggy, fellow shoppers watched with amazement and admiration — and then raced back to the regular toilet paper section filled with hope. Of course, the regular TP aisle remained empty, and my legend began to grow.

For that brief shining moment I was King of the Walmart. The only man to solve the ancient riddle, “How does one find toilet paper in a land with no toilet paper?”

But those toilet paper-finding skills are useless if you can’t find food, and the hoarders had already taken all the pinto beans and white rice — as well as every pack of beef, chicken and pork in the butcher’s section.

A lifetime of frugality finally pays off

I grew up a “latch key kid” of two working parents, and my mom spent a lot of my childhood going to night school after work. That meant Dad and I had to fend for ourselves a lot of the time for supper, and we both became pretty good cooks.

The idea was to cook a big pot of something to last all week so that when you got home all you had to do was put it on the stove, heat it up, and kick back for a night of entertainment courtesy of “Barney Miller,” “Mork and Mindy,” “Laverne and Shirley,” the Fonz, and “The Incredible Hulk.”

Those childhood skills served me well last week at the post virus apocalypse Kingsport Walmart, where basic necessities like hamburger, porkchops, chicken breasts, bread, lunch meat, canned soup and stews, and instant noodles were all just memories from the past.

There are about five guys out there who bought up all the food and stuck in their freezers. All I can say to them is I hope a tree takes out your power line and you have to throw it all away.

Thankfully, those greedy hoarders aren’t interested in the ingredients Lynn and I need to survive.

The secret of boneless, skinless chicken breasts

The hoarders just walk right past the canned tomatoes, canned spaghetti sauce and noodles, freeze dried great northern beans, canned kidney beans, frozen bags of sliced peppers and onions, canned refried and/or whole black beans, and basic plain nacho chips.

My store knowledge served me well once again.

Although all the fresh meat was gone from the butcher section, no one bothered to check out the freezer section, where they sell big bags of individual boneless skinless chicken breasts for $3 a pound.

I’ll clue you in on a little secret I learned by accident many years ago. Boneless, skinless chicken breast is as good as, if not better than, beef or pork when it comes to cooking big pots of spaghetti sauce, chili, tacos, and soup beans. It tastes just as good, and it’s a lot more healthy.

(I couldn’t find soup beans, but any freeze dried bag of beans will work in a pinch. I found great northern beans instead, which are just as good to me.)

Those breasts are also a staple in one of my real specialties, a big pot of chicken and dumplings. Spoiler alert: My dumplings are dry like biscuits in the middle. Mmmm. Makes me hungry just thinking of it. 

The King of Walmart was dethroned

So there I was, the King of Walmart strolling through the post-virus, hoarder-ravaged Stone Drive Walmart with enough food and toilet paper to last me a couple of months.

Then my pride and vanity got the best of me. I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. The guy who checks your receipt as you’re walking out the door said, “Wow, did they get in a shipment of toilet paper?”

“No,” I replied proudly. “It’s camper toilet paper. They got a whole shelf full of it back there.”

No sooner had the words escaped my lips than my brain said, “You fool! Don't give away the location of your hidden treasure!”

Walmart Guy’s eyes lit up, and as I walked by I saw him reaching for his cell phone. My strut evaporated. The King of Walmart was dethroned.

That slip of the lip weighed on my mind all night. The next day I went back to the camping section and sure enough, every roll of camping toilet paper was gone.

“Fool! This night your soul is required of you”

Maybe that was the Good Lord’s way of saving me from myself and not allowing me to fall into the same greedy trap that so many of our neighbors have succumbed to.

There are a couple of Bible verses that come to mind when I think about these hoarders who took all the toilet paper, pinto beans, and other grocery necessities.

Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?”

In other words, have fun staring at 500 packs of toilet paper in your garage for the next 10 years.

Proverbs 28:25 says, “A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.”

I think that proverb proved true. After all, I did prosper by finding my camper toilet paper, and then shared my good fortune with the Walmart doorman.

This last one especially applies to the COVID-19 toilet paper hoarders.

Luke 12:19-21 says, “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

I’d like to thing that means the toilet paper hoarders are the ones who will be stuck using newspaper, phone book pages and my old journalism textbooks when they reach their heavenly reward.

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