Mom should’ve known better than to check into a hospital for an issue less than life or death. She left Dad, my ninth-grade brother Terry and me, a high school junior, without adult supervision overnight. Barney Burton began his journey that single unguarded evening.
Our Dad, one of the first members of the Tower Club scholarship barracks under Ohio State’s old horseshoe stadium, became a master of the practical joke. We’d grown up on tales of his dorm-mates searching a huge pile for their own shoes, or an accounting major raising his fist and saying “Down with communism” before sitting in an unknown class. Neighbors opened their car trunks to find a disconnected urinal smiling up at them. Christmas cards signed “Sue and Dave” mystified car pool buddies all through the holidays.
In 1959, you could still win cash or valuable prizes in corporate contests involving creativity. Trips, power tools, freezers. Dad had just won two electric dryers from Toledo Electric for composing catchy slogans. He and Ter and I sat on the sectional sofa in the living room of our ranch-style home, joking around about silly contests, irritating jingles and dumb commercials. I’m the one who brought up toilet paper.
“Got to say ‘bathroom tissue,’” I complained. “You can’t hint what it’s used for. They show babies rubbing their fool faces with it. Harps play to tell you it’s soft.” Who cared about babies?
Dad chuckled. “At least they don’t ask you for slogans about toilet paper. No contests for a family tour of the Northern Tissue mill in Green Bay, Wisconsin.”
“No,” Ter chimed in, “but they’d probably give you some junky gizmo for two wrappers and a quarter.”
“Imagine some local promotion,” Dad mused, “on a made-up TV show the company never heard of.”
My turn. “The Barney Burton Show.”
“Oh, man,” Ter chimed in. “Junior executives flapping their arms and wondering who screwed up.”
We all laughed and tossed in ideas for worthless prizes. The ones with some functional connection to “bathroom tiss-you” seemed far-fetched. I’d just finished reading something in which a well-to-do joker had the seat in his guest lavatory rigged to play the National Anthem if you sat on it. “A musical toilet paper holder,” I said.
Two months later a letter reached the Swiss Alps. (to be continued….)