This dismal facility offers its patrons a few sheets of grubby newsprint impaled upon a threateningly protruding metal hook; and in the gift shop, scratchy-looking toilet paper is piled on the counter, clearly a favorite souvenir. The museum mentions the lack of toilet paper so often that it seems to be the one humiliating grievance which sums up all the others. I ask Janusz Malinowski, an advertising executive in Warsaw, about this outsize interest, and he tells me a story I have trouble believing. "Rolls of toilet paper were sold on ropes, not wrapped in plastic," he begins. "But it was very hard to find, because there were always shortages of everything, even if you had money, and people who were fortunate enough to get a whole ropeful—six or eight—couldn't believe their luck. They'd walk home from the store with the toilet paper tied around their neck, like a necklace. They even went out of their way to walk down a busy street, just to show off." I've heard a lot of stories about life under communism, but the notion of waltzing down the street wearing toilet paper like a diamond ring or a shiny mink coat seems too preposterous, so I check with a friend in Kraków just to be sure. An extravagant display of toilet paper not only suggested wealth, he tells me, but it reeked of friends in high places. "Because you would only know where to get that much toilet paper if someone influential tipped you off."

— toliet paper as a status item  

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