2010.04.07 The rite of flaming tissue

Written by David Green.


The weather gets nice and springy; I get good and sick. I remember this happening many times in the past, but  that was probably when I was a typical kid who saw the sunny day and figured it must be warm out—even though it was almost back to winter and I needed a coat and hat.

That wasn’t the case this time. I don’t know what it was. A sort throat arrived that soon slid into aching sinuses and then chills and fever and finally it just emptied out into a cold.

I gargled hot salt water a few minutes ago—probably the third time in two days—and went through the routine of gargling a song. I wish I’d have kept track of my choices over the years.

I don’t even remember what I chose a few minutes except for the final tune. I was gargling “My Baby Does the Hanky-Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells. I got to the part where it takes big jump up the scale and I swallowed a little salt water and gagged but didn’t lose dinner.

It was at that point when I knew for sure I would be heading to the archives to look for an old column to run this week.

The Rite of Flaming Tissue

April 4, 1990

The trees around my house were papered Saturday night, but you wouldn’t have known it the next morning except for the telltale ashes blowing across the yard.

I’m sure you’re familiar with this American pastime that began back around the turn of the century. In her book, “The History of Things in Trees,” Charmin Twoply describes children wadding up pages from a Sears & Roebuck catalog and throwing them into the branches of a hated school teacher.

In its contemporary practice, rolls of toilet paper are thrown repeatedly through trees to create the effect of giant white jellyfish quivering in the night breeze. When done properly, especially under moonlight, it truly is beautiful.

I’ve never papered anyone before. Never. It’s not that I had this mess coming to me for past sins. I’ve witnessed the results many times since I live across the street from a pair of high school teachers. I knew my time would arrive some day, but I figured it would be several years down the road when Ben was in high school.

We returned home early Saturday night from a restaurant meal, part of the continuing celebration of Rosanna’s fourth birthday. In trade for cheerfully going out to dinner, I was allowed to run off to the office for a while to dig out of a deepening hole of work.

Before my time was up, Colleen called to tell me that papering was occurring even as she spoke on the phone, and that now the paperers were knocking on the door.

“I suppose you would like me to come home,” I said.

There was a pause, then she answered, “Wait, they’re singing happy birthday to Rosie. I better hang up.”

I finished the project I was working on and walked out into the darkness to face the litter. There it was—front yard, side yard, back yard. There was even an array of plastic forks stuck into the flower bed in front. That must be some regional variant to papering of which I wasn’t aware.

The front door was locked and a huge refrigerator box blocked the view into the hallway. I let myself in and was bombarded by paper airplanes. I’m sure it was the two four-year-olds in the crowd that did the most damage outside, surely not their parents nor the the other adults present.

Someone asked how the tissue was to be cleaned up and another jokingly suggested burning it down. The delinquents arose and moved outside with matches.

Only some startled neighbors and a few passersby witnessed this remarkable spectacle of flaming toilet paper slowly burning upward to the trees. I tried to remain calm and thought about the details of my home insurance. If only Charmin Twoply was alive today to add this chapter to her book.

Kids, please listen to me—do not attempt this at home. Do it at someone else’s house, and first check for a nearby fire hydrant. Don’t wrap tissue around any tree from the pine family and never perform the Rite of Flaming Tissue during the dry season.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016