It’s peak season for toilet paper pranksters

David Heitz

If you have a middle or high school student as a child, be prepared to “get rolled.”

And your kid can’t wait. After all, having toilet paper thrown into your trees means you're popular at school.

At least it did when I was in middle and high school. In my town, teen toilet paper artists would cloak massive oaks in Charmin, Angel Soft, but usually generic toilet paper.

In my hometown in Illinois, toilet papering became a fierce competition. Some neighborhoods would have a dozen or more homes rolled at the same time. If your house didn’t get toilet papered, you probably didn’t have many friends.

Now, toilet papering is considered vandalism in some places. It’s not likely many people have been prosecuted. The toilet paper is out of the trees during the next rainfall.

This is toilet paper season. The stretch between homecoming and Halloween will bring out the TP brigades.

I may have loved nothing better about high school than toilet papering the trees. As a mostly "A" student who also had a part-time job, I fit the mold of a good kid. How rebellious it felt to toilet paper the trees, even if an adult often bought the toilet paper for us.

My mother delighted when our large maple tree would be struck by the rollers. She found the flowing rolls of perforated softness “beautiful,” especially as it would blow in the wind.

Origin of toilet paper capers unknown

I am not sure if toilet papering is a regional thing or a nationwide phenomenon. It seems it’s not as popular as it used to be. Now children can prank each other on social media. Who needs toilet paper in the trees when you can sit around and click.

And video surveillance is everywhere, even on doorbells. Usually, if you got caught toilet papering someone’s house back in my day, they came outside and joined the fun. Rumors would swirl that some students would toilet paper their own houses just to look popular.
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Where I grew up, and among my toilet paper league, the sport of cloaking your friends’ trees in toilet paper usually was done in good fun. The harmless toilet paper cleans up pretty easily, but eggs do not. Toilet papering when combined with egg throwing crosses the line. The egg can eat the paint off your siding. My dad was furious when our house absorbed an egg during a toilet papering mission.

Toilet papering can be prosecuted as vandalism

The Pensacola News-Journal is one of the few papers in the country that has addressed the toilet paper capers among teens. “Legally, the best case would be that the police officers make you clean up the mess and then alert your parents and the owners of the house,” the News-Journal reported of Florida law. “The worst case would be a criminal mischief charge. If the damage is under $200, it would be considered a second-degree misdemeanor. If the damage is more than $1,000, it could become a third-degree felony.

“Of course, if any property is damaged, then you and your parents are liable for damages, but that would be a matter for civil court.”

The paper warned of something I never thought about when I was a toilet paper roller in the 1980s. “The most serious dangers in this situation, however, are not legal repercussions,” the newspaper reported. “Serious harm can occur if an overzealous or fearful person in the house accosts you with a gun, or if some other potentially violent situation develops.”

For the most part, toilet paper trailing teens only decorate the homes of people they know. Even parents would come outside and help us toilet paper their house when we got caught. Then we’d go inside for hot cider and carving pumpkins.

Tips for cleaning up the mess reports more damage can be done removing the toilet paper from the trees than the stunt itself. In a blog, it references tips from Davey Tree Service.

“Before the rain has a chance to set in, be sure to get rid of that lingering toilet paper,” according to the blog. “Once the paper has the chance to absorb the rain, it only becomes more of a nightmare. The moisture will cause the paper to become soggy and act like cement to the branches if not removed beforehand.”

The blog suggests using a gardening tool to reach the higher rolls. “When removing the paper, don’t pull or tug at it, as it will rip and the workload will ultimately double. Be careful to try and unwind the TP from the tree and delicately lift it with the tools. If the tools still leave remnants behind, try using a leaf blower to get the rest.”

You can even blast the toilet paper off with a hose, but that will leave yard remnants. Still, the final mow of the season will gobble that all up and the autumn leaves, too.

If your house gets toilet papered this year, rest assured your child has plenty of friends at school. Hopefully they are all good kids. They’re known to help with cleanup after a rolling.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO

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