March 13, 2020

The collector stared longingly at his prized piece of Beatles memorabilia, lovingly encased in a Plexiglas display box. He'd bought the item on a lark back in 1980, but had grown inexplicably fond of it over the past forty years. It had come with a certificate of authenticity from Ken Townsend, the former manager of the Abbey Road Studio. Townsend had even thrown in a picture that had hung on the studio's wall as a bonus when they'd closed the deal.

He'd known when he shelled out £85 for the piece that it wasn't exactly the Holy Grail of Beatles relics. But he had liked how unique it was. He knew of no other collector in the entire world who owned such a rare item.

A Beatles fan from Japan had once offered him a thousand pounds to break off a small portion of the artifact, but he hadn't wanted to sully its pristine condition. Later, he'd tried unsuccessfully to sell it on EBay. A few years after that, he'd tried to generate some interest in his treasure by showing it off on Antiques Roadshow, but the auction expert had been unable to determine its fair market value. So he'd held onto it instead, displaying it proudly in his living room for all and sundry to see.

But now he looked at it with a new set of eyes. Things had changed lately. The market for items such as this had shifted dramatically. And the temptation to break off a bit of his cherished possession grew stronger each day.

He reached for the display case, but hesitated. A wave of sentimentality washed over him, followed by an even stronger feeling that tugged at his gut. He grabbed his box of Kleenex instead.

-o-o-o-

March 13, 2012

Norman McMillan clutched the handle of his black leather valise tightly with his left hand, and knocked on the door of the hotel suite with his right. A well-dressed young woman opened the door and ushered him into the suite's luxuriously appointed sitting room.

"Mr. Starr will be with you shortly," she informed him. Then she turned and walked through a second door at the far end of the suite.

Moments later, Ringo Starr stepped into the sitting room and held out his right hand in greeting while he positioned his left fingers into a peace sign.

"So nice to meet you," said Ringo. "Peace and love."

Norman shaped his right hand into a peace sign, then realized his mistake. He rested his valise on the floor, then formed his left hand into a 'V' gesture while he shook Ringo's hand with his right.

Ringo laughed, then pointed to one of the upholstered chairs by the window. "Have a seat."

"Thank you, Mr. Starkey," replied Norman. "Or do you prefer Mr. Starr?"

"What's my name?" Ringo asked in a booming voice as he took a seat.

Norman laughed. "Ringo."

"You've got that right," Ringo replied. "Now show me what's in your bag."

Norman picked up his valise and rested it on his lap. He unfastened the clasp, but then stared into the bag and blushed in embarrassment. "This isn't the sort of thing I usually do for Sotheby's," he confessed. "My specialty is authenticating rare books and manuscripts. But since this item is made of paper, my manager gave me the assignment."

Ringo nodded. "Give us a look."

Norman dug his hand into the valise and grabbed the framed sheet of correspondence his client had provided Sotheby's along with the item he wished to sell. "This is a note from Ken Townsend, the former manager of the Abbey Road Studio, authenticating the piece."

"Ah, Kenny," Ringo said with a smile. He held out his hand. Norman offered him the framed letter. Ringo read the note and laughed. "Well, I should think this letter would be proof enough. Why do you need me to give my seal of approval?"

"My manager found Mr. Townsend's remarks a bit, well – how shall I put this? – cheeky," Norman blustered.

"And what sort of cheeks was he referring to?" Ringo asked with a sly grin.

Norman blushed again. He slipped his hand back into the valise and pulled out a roll of light brown toilet paper, each sheet stamped with the letters "EMI."

Ringo threw back his head in laughter. "Bullocks!" he swore when he was finally able to compose himself. "I thought I'd never see that goddamned loo roll again for the rest of my life!"

Norman offered the roll to Ringo to inspect.

Ringo shook his head. "No. I don't need to touch it. I recognize it well enough."

"I found some newspaper articles from the mid-nineteen-sixties in the library archives," Norman added. "As part of my research, of course. Apparently, Ringo, you were the Beatle who complained about the feel of this toilet roll and insisted that EMI replace it with a higher quality brand."

Ringo shrugged. "Well, as the last man to join the band, I got some of the crappiest assignments, if you catch my drift." He winked at Norman. "We all four of us groused amongst ourselves about that itchy bog paper, but it fell to me to issue the complaint to management. So my name got in the newspaper headlines."

Norman nodded. "This paper is rather…stiff," he acknowledged. "And strangely shiny."

"Hard and scratchy too," Ringo agreed. "And singularly unabsorbent. You had to use a crap load of paper to wipe your bum when you crapped, which only made matters worse. Though we did once find a suitable use for it."

Norman raise an eyebrow.

"When we were recording the song 'Lovely Rita' on 'Sergeant Pepper,' we wrapped some sheets of this loo roll through the teeth of a pocket comb, and blew on it to make a kazoo noise," Ringo explained. "It sounded splendid."

Norman laughed and placed the roll back in his valise. "So your band did use this loo roll at least once before you rejected it."

"Well, I can't say for certain that that's the particular roll of bog paper that drew our ire, but it's obviously from the same lot of rolls." Ringo skimmed Ken Townsend's note once more, then handed it back to Norman. "After we complained, the studio purchased a big bundle of nice, soft loo rolls, and always stocked the toilets with them whenever we were working."

Norman nodded. "It was the least they could do, I should think, after all the money your band generated for them." He slipped the framed letter back inside the valise and closed the clasp. "I don't suppose you could sign a note for me, verifying the authenticity of this roll before Sotheby's puts it on the auction block?"

Ringo shook his head. "No. It's not technically a Beatles artifact, since we never used it. Though I don't suppose you'd want to auction off the bits of roll that we actually did use."

"N-no, no, of course not!" Norman stammered. He stood up and offered Ringo another handshake. "Thank you for taking the time to speak with me."

Ringo stood up and walked him to the door. "Any time. I am curious, though. How much are you planning to sell it for?"

"I'm not sure," Norman replied. "The owner of this piece attempted to sell it on EBay a few months ago, but the bids did not reach his minimum asking price of £40,000."

"I'm glad to hear that," Ringo chuckled. "You know, during the heady days of Beatlemania, we four often felt like the world had gone completely mad. It's nice to know that reason has finally settled it, and nobody would spend a fortune for a roll of bog paper."

"Indeed," Norman agreed. He reached for the doorknob. "To tell you the truth, I rather doubt my manager will actually go through with this auction. It all seems rather silly."

-o-o-o-

March 21, 2020

The collector stared longingly at his prized piece of Beatles memorabilia once more. He knew he shouldn't touch it. It really was a one-of-a-kind artifact.

A ray of sunlight from the window shone down upon the Plexiglas display case, lending it an almost unearthly glow.

I'm not that desperate, he assured himself. After all, the Beatles themselves wouldn't even use this paper! They said it was too hard and itchy.

But then he thought about the empty shelves in his local Tesco. And the empty shelves at his local Sainsbury's.

There's not a bleedin' roll of bog paper to be had in the entire UK! he cursed in his head. He'd run out of Kleenex, and he'd had to use a plunger four times since he'd switched over to using kitchen roll in the bathroom yesterday.

He reached out his hand towards the display case and felt a sudden rumbling in his bowels. An urgent rumbling.

"Oh, fuck it all!" he cursed aloud. He opened the Plexiglas box, grabbed the roll of scratchy loo paper, and ran with it to his toilet.

-o-o-o-

Inspired by the true story of the Beatles' rejected roll of toilet paper that failed to sell on EBay in 2005, and by the current toilet paper shortage brought on by the world-wide outbreak of the coronavirus.