Columns

2010.04.07 The rite of flaming tissue

on . Posted in By The Way

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.

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