The assignment landed in my inbox with great urgency, as so many journalistic assignments have before. I knew instantly that this had the potential to be a big story. This time, I wouldn't be having any clandestine parking garage meetings, or liaising with CIA whistleblowers or Beltway insiders. No, my investigative task was far more intriguing: Find out why Charmin added a scalloped pattern to the perforated edge of their Ultra Soft toilet paper. It was time to blow this thing wide open.
It seemed that an editor at this publication had recently peed and, upon reaching for TP, noticed that her roll now possessed a slightly mystifying squiggly edge. The perforations on her toilet paper, traditionally a straight line, were now waved in a frilly scallop. Her mind reeled: Is this a thing? And further, is there any actual utility to this design change? Does it, like, increase absorbency, or reduce the roll's carbon footprint or something? That is, does it have a point beyond mildly confusing people as they wipe their asses?
To find answers, I went straight to the top. No, not the vice president (though who knows, she may be involved — I'm not ruling anything out), but to the media contact for Procter & Gamble, parent company of Charmin. "What a lovely design touch!" I wrote in my email. "We're wondering how long this product has been scalloped, which types of Charmin are scalloped, and what the thinking was behind the design change."
They ignored my email. Naturally, I wondered: What exactly did they have to hide?
Well, it turns out that not everyone finds the scalloped edge so whimsical. Some find it downright loathsome — and hard to tear. Take Walmart user Joangry, for example, who in May of this year registered her displeasure in a scathing one-star review: "My mom has [an] illness that affects her in the bathroom. She has enough problems. So fighting to tear toilet paper is not acceptable. I purchased a lot of this toilet paper, and now she can't use any of it, like $100 worth because you changed the perforation. Fix it. Put it back the way it was. Straight across." Her demands couldn't have been clearer.
Charmin responded to Joangry's review, adding a new wrinkle to this mystery. "We're sorry to hear that this has been your experience," they began. "We'd like to mention that we are testing a scalloped perforation in select packages of our Ultra Soft. However, we can assure you that this perforation isn't a permanent change."
What? The scallops, having only just flitted across our collective consciousness, would soon be on their way out? But why? When? And for what purpose? Had it all been an elaborate troll? Much like Charmin's toilet-paper-retrieving robot, which, despite all its fanfare at the tech trade show CES, wouldn't actually be sold to customers? Or how about their SmellSense prototype, a handy sensor that tells you before you enter a bathroom whether it smells like farts — which also would never actually be made available for purchase? What was Charmin playing at, dangling all this TP innovation in front of us and then snatching it away?
Or were they simply shining Joangry on, lying to her about the perforation's impermanence? Because here it is late October 2022, a full five months after her hatchet job on the Walmart website, and the scallops still seem to be circulating among the general population. (Just ask the Scary Mommy editor who got me into this mess.)
You could almost grant Charmin a pass for their wishy-washy messaging about the wavy edge staying or going. After all, they were getting mixed messages, too. Some people hated the scallop, including Home Depot shopper laurenm669, who eloquently explained that the product in question causes "little pieces [to] get stuck in my cooch when I wipe." (Charmin, ever charming in its public dealings, responded to her by saying, "We're beary sorry to hear about your experience.”) And yet others adored the wiggle at the edge of their ply. "I am in love with the scalloped edges," wrote fellow Home Depot shopper Momof2PlustheDog. "I know, silly, right? It is such a small touch, but when I see it, it gives me a little joy."
Hold the phone. Maybe this was all far simpler than I'd thought. Maybe Charmin really had added the wiggle to their Ultra Soft TP merely as a whimsical wink to their customers. Maybe this was like one of those secret touches you see on the subreddit r/IRLEasterEggs, which is full of amusing quirks embedded into everyday objects. (For example, embroidery next to a pants zipper that reads "Be careful, you've only got one," or a roll of dog poop bags ending in a cardboard tube that reads "Use bare hand now.”) Maybe even people who make mass commercial products have a sense of humor, a need to reach across time and circumstance to connect in some small, fleeting way. Maybe they put some spin on these quotidian objects knowing it might make someone, somewhere, a little happier for a moment or two. There's merit in that, I think, and selflessness, and maybe even a kind of hope.
Still, they could've answered my damn email.