Wednesday, December 10, 2014


NOTE: this is a fun little short story (a memoir) that I recently wrote for a holiday writing contest.


by matt burns

“Matt, can you help me out with this? My back’s kind of bothering me.”

I grabbed the cardboard box and it was heavy, that’s for sure. I took it out of the garage and plopped it down on the couch in the family room. My mom never remembered what box had what. It was either the ornaments, ceramic XMAS trees, outdoor Xmas lights, indoor Xmas lights, or the…

“Oh, this one’s got the toilet paper people,” mom said, peering into the box.

“The what?”

“The toilet paper people.”

“Ah, yes, the Toilet-Paper People.”

I looked into the box and carefully took out my Frankensteinian creations. My little babies were still in rather excellent condition. I figured they must have been about 25-years-old, give or take, but the memory of making them was still so vivid in my head.

I was in the third grade when I created my first Toilet-Paper Person. It was early December and I was in art class. The teacher handed out the discarded cardboard cylinders that had – not long ago – been enwrapped in multiple sheets of rolled toilet paper.

“Gross, what are we supposed to do with these things?” all the students wondered.

The teacher told us that we were going to make people out of them.


“Yes, people. Are you deaf?” (Note: she did not say ‘are you deaf?’. I made that part up for dramatic purposes.)

The cardboard cylinder was to function as a torso from which we were to create a person. With the help of some paste, yarn, and some construction paper, we all went to work. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein only I didn't have an Igor to assist me, which frustrated me a bit. By the end of the class, my creation was complete. My first Toilet-Paper Person! It was alive!

The first TP person I made in art class.
Indeed, I was amazed by the creative process. Maybe it even made me feel like God but maybe I’m being overly dramatic when I say that. Let’s just say that I had fun creating something that did actually look like some form of a new friend. There were eyes and a nose made out of construction paper, hair made out of yarn, a coat made out of smock scraps…in the end, there actually seemed to be a personality to the face…maybe even a soul. Ok, maybe not a soul. What I’m getting at here is that I didn’t have many friends back then. Or maybe I’m being cliché here and I actually had plenty of friends, but maybe I didn’t like many of my real friends so I wanted fake ones…made out of discarded toilet-paper rolls. I’m not sure what it was. All I knew was that I liked this toilet-paper person that I – yes I!!! – had created. And, heck, I wanted to create more of these friends!

Which is exactly what I set out to do.

The theme I had in mind was based on the Enchanted Village at the Jordan Marsh in Boston's Downtown Crossing. To be honest with you, I’m not even sure I ever walked through the actual village, but one December my parents took me into Downtown Crossing and we walked by the Jordan's storefront where there were large window displays and within those displays there were miniature versions of the Enchanted Village, complete with fake snow.

I was so…um…enchanted by the fantasy world. I wanted to escape my current reality and live inside that enchanted reality. Yes, reality (in my eyes) was terrible. I did not like school at all and I still had a few weeks to go until Xmas break. I wanted to live in an Enchanted Village that looked so lovely, and I figured, why not create my own village…and inhabit it...with Toilet-Paper People? Eureka!

From that day forward, whenever I wasn’t forced to be in school, I secluded myself in my office and went to work making the Toilet-Paper People. Of course, when I say “office”, I really mean a little area with a small table in the corner of my dining room. This was the go-to place I hunkered down in when I needed to work on some important dioramas or gods-eyes or (in this case) Toilet-Paper People.

My ensuing creations were three times better than my original TP person I made in art class. Instead of using simple construction paper to make eyes, I used buttons. For a mouth, I either used yarn or small pieces of pipe cleaner. I used frayed cotton balls to make beards and gray hair. I found some of my mom's old bell-bottoms from the 70's, cut off some scraps and made shawls/kerchiefs out of them. I even made beaded necklaces for jewelry. In other words, I was making some highly-evolved TP-people.

I put in some long hours. Afternoons. Nights. Weekends. I needed plenty of grape-flavored Juicy-Juice to keep my motor running. I even tried to sneak in some work if I was home “sick” from school (muahaha sometimes I was a little faker – but, really, who needed to learn their times tables when there were Toilet-Paper People to be made?!). 

The Old Maid's in the middle.
After about a week of intense hard work, I had created a whole village-worth of people. There were young TP men and women, old ladies and old men, old maids wearing kerchiefs while looking desperately for a husband, a Santa Claus and even my most favorite Toilet-Paper Person: a Scrooge!

But, wait, the village still wasn’t complete, mainly because there was no village, just people so far. More work had to be done.

One of my favorites: Scrooge.
I took a flat piece of cardboard and glued a bunch of cotton balls to it, which acted as snow. Then I took a small cardboard box and decorated it to look like a house. I folded another piece of small, flat cardboard to make a triangular roof and glued cotton on that as well. Then I surrounded the house with my beloved Toilet-Paper People and I couldn’t believe what I saw before my eyes: there it was…my very own Enchanted Village. I did it!

I proudly displayed my Enchanted Village on a shelf in our finished basement and that's where they've been every Christmas since. When January inevitably arrived, I was always sad to see the Enchanted Village get packed up in a box along with all the other Xmas decorations. I suppose if I had begged my parents, they would have let me keep it up all year, but then it wouldn’t have been as exciting unearthing the village every December and escaping to my fantasy world full of pure enchantment where no school existed!

I encourage you to make some Toilet-Paper People of your own. Actually, it’s pretty simple. Just save your cylinders of cardboard TP rolls when you’ve finished using every last square of toilet paper. Then just get creative. Make a face out of whatever materials you have around the house. Use some old fabric or tissue paper to make clothing. Make a beaded necklace. Make a Santa Claus…a Scrooge…maybe even make an old maid looking for a husband. The sky’s the limit!

That's right, folks: using copious amounts of toilet paper doesn't have to be a pain in the bum anymore (pun was intended). Just think: the more TP you use, the closer you'll get to making a new Toilet-Paper Person! Talk about turning a negative into a positive. 

Season's greetings!