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Some 20 months ago, I stood in an aisle at Publix, surrounded by hundreds of panicked shoppers. COVID-19 was coming, and there on Aisle 7, the toilet paper aisle, not a single roll remained.
My anxiety - a mix of Chicken Little and the Little Red Hen - kicked in. The sky is falling, but, dammit, I'll take care of things myself. If I couldn't rely on toilet paper, I'd better find something else.
In the past, folks used rocks or leaves, seashells, even. Some used corn cobs or animal furs.
"The ancient Greeks and Romans used small ceramic disks and also sponges on the ends of sticks, which were then plunged into a bucket of vinegar or saltwater for the next person to use," writes Kate Murphy in The New York Times.
Some readers may have even used this column.
As COVID-19 began to ravage, an object came to mind. I'd long associated it with dastardly French aristocrats or the Kardashians, but as our toilet paper stock dwindled, I wondered: could this be my solution?
Could it be a new day at our house?
A new ... bidet?
The bidet - rhymes with "spray" or "Chevrolet" or "no stinking way" - is a 17th-century French bathroom invention. Bidet means "pony" in French; the royal highness would straddle her bidet as cleansing water emerged.
In WWII, U.S. troops saw them in French brothels and associated them with promiscuity. The taboo began. Despite studies showing bidets as healthier and more hygienic for our bums than toilet paper, the bidet, popular in Europe and parts of Asia, has remained misunderstood in the U.S. The perforated toilet paper roll, first patented in 1891, would reign.
During the early pandemic, bidet interest and sales surged. For good reason.
"The bidet uses only one-eighth of a gallon of water, while it takes about 37 gallons of water to make a single roll of toilet paper," Michelle Yan Huang declares in the Business Insider. "Investing in a bidet seat or bidet attachment can lower your spending on toilet paper by 75% or more. You'll also be saving some of the 384 trees that are cut down to make a single person's lifetime toilet-paper supply."
Companies like Omigo, Toto and Tushy all sell inexpensive bidets. Last spring, I visited HelloTushy.com - be very careful you do not search for other "tushy" websites; you cannot un-see things - and bought a standard entry-level model for $79. (Tushy sells cushy-soft towels to pat dry.)
My bidet was back-ordered for weeks, which, for some, wasn't long enough.
"No, no, no," my son said.
"Dad," my daughter said, "please don't."
"Are you sure about this?" my wife said.
No, I wasn't. I'm in my late 40s, which meant I'd gone to the bathroom roughly 16,000 times in my life, always with Charmin nearby.
"Once you use a bidet to clean after pooping, you cannot go back to wiping and toilet paper," Tushy CEO Jason Ojalvo told the Los Angeles Times. "Wiping seems not just inefficient, but also barbaric, by comparison."
Hear that kids? Barbaric.
Finally, it arrived.
"Let's get this potty started," the package declared.
Instructions were a peach. Takes about 10 minutes, the directions said.
Two hours later, I had it installed.
The bidet attachment is flat, like a crescent moon, and goes under your toilet seat. And under the crescent moon attachment is a nozzle; it points downward, toward the toilet bowl, like a periscope going the wrong direction.
A new water hose connects to the nozzle; the water sprays up and out. You control the nozzle with dials on a small panel, about the size of a deck of cards, which juts out from the toilet seat attachment, sort of like the way you control your seat on an airplane.
Off, on, water up, down.
I thought it would be like a bubbly brook. I might meditate nearby.
The family gathered around for the big reveal. I turned it on. Brook, schmook.
More like a Vegas fountain.
The far wall got soaked. You could run under this stream like a quarterback out of the NFL tunnel.
"It's like a pressure washer," my son said, shaking his head.
It was, well, different.
Imagine every day, after a few cups of coffee, you visit a library. But now, after coffee, instead of a library, you go to a water park.
A water park isn't like a library at all. Not bad, just ... different.
And isn't that what COVID-19 did? Normalized the different, the unexpected, the never-before-considered?
The bidet, once weird, became normal. And toilet paper, once normal, became weird.
After 20 months, the bidet has taught me that I can change one of the most fundamental aspects of my life for the better. Back in that Publix aisle, I never dreamed that would happen.
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.