A guy who made city’s unused toilet paper a precious gift
It was a great run that brought relief to thousands of Seattle’s poor. But it’s the end of the roll for the Toilet Paper Guy, the nickname given to retiree Leon Delong.
By Danny Westneat
Seattle Times staff columnist
DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Leon Delong discovered that many downtown office buildings discarded rolls of toilet paper well before they were actually empty. So about once every other week or so he would take his pickup truck and collect bags full of the stuff, and donate them to local charities.
Leon Delong sure wasn’t aiming to become king of an underground empire.Leon Delong sure wasn’t aiming to become king of an underground empire.
But now that he’s bowing out, people are noticing there’s a rip in the fabric, if you will, that for years has kept this city, uh, going.
“We sure miss him,” says Anthony Brown, manager of the state’s largest food bank,Northwest Harvest’s Cherry Street Food Bank in Seattle. “People come by all the time and ask: ‘Where’s the Toilet Paper Guy?’ ”
This story begins 15 years ago, when Delong retired from his cable-splicer job at Seattle City Light. Like a lot of new retirees, he instantly got restless.
At the same moment his daughter Allison Delong, a manager for downtown high-rises, was puzzling over a toilet-paper conundrum that — who knew? — has bedeviled prime office buildings for decades.
“It’s the ‘can you spare a square’ problem, like with Elaine in ‘Seinfeld,’ ” Allison told me. “These are Class A buildings. They absolutely do not want what happened to Elaine to happen to any of their tenants.”
To make sure no white-shoe lawyer or bank executive ever draws a blank, many of Seattle’s premier office towers instruct the janitorial crews to install full, fresh rolls every night, whether the ones in use are finished or not.
“It creates a huge supply of what they call stub rolls,” Allison says. “They’re rolls with a half-inch or more of paper left on them. They were chucking them in the trash. It drove me crazy.”
Ditto Leon. He was raised on a farm, where “we were taught to use every single thing we had,” he says. “Some of this toilet paper they were throwing out, it was pretty fancy, quilted stuff.”
So the two hatched a plan: Ask the janitors to save the stub rolls, and Leon-who-needed-something-to-do would pick them up and drive them to a food bank.
“Pretty mundane, right?” Leon says.
Except mundane doesn’t usually snowball like this.
By the time he got pneumonia last month and called it quits at age 76, Leon was collecting partial rolls of toilet paper from high-rises totaling 7 million square feet of offices — nearly one-quarter of the Class A office space in downtown Seattle.
The Columbia Center, the old Washington Mutual Tower (now 1201 Third Avenue), the new WaMu Center (now Russell Investments Center), Metropolitan Park East and West, One and Two Union Square — basically the Seattle skyline became Leon’s TP supply. Every other week he hauled three heaping pickup loads of toilet-paper stubbies out of Seattle’s top business addresses.
Packed in plastic in groups of four or five rolls, the item became the hottest in the food bank’s history.
“I’m telling you, putting out Leon’s toilet paper is no different than putting out T-bone steaks,” says Brown, the food bank’s manager. “If we don’t hold some of it back, it’s gone in an hour.”
Leon collected 2,000 to 3,000 stub rolls every other week. Across 15 years that means the Toilet Paper Guy moved on the order of a million rolls. What was a trivial annoyance to one part of Seattle society, Leon spun into gold for another.
I know, it’s just TP. But as someone who once substituted coffee filters in an emergency, I can attest: It’s like gold when you don’t have it.
“I’m amazed how much this mattered to people,” Leon says. “To me it was just a nice thing to do. Now it’s my claim to fame. You know, I’m sort of proud of it.”
The food bank vows to keep the program going, with other drivers. But Leon may be irreplaceable. Brown said some volunteers who package the stubbies ask “why are we doing this, it’s just old toilet paper.”
Not Leon. At one point I referred to his product as “rolls that are three-quarters empty.” He corrected me. They’re one-quarter full, he said.
So take it from the Toilet Paper Guy. Life is a toilet-paper roll. What you do with what you’ve got left is up to you.
Source: A guy who made city’s unused toilet paper a precious gift | Local News | The Seattle Times