Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Toilet paper and tradition

It was the dark of night. I was reading “The Iliad” for the umpteenth time, consumed by the battle between Hector and Achilles. I had hoped to tutor my daughter Simone as she prepared for the challenge of Ms. Moore's summer reading assignment. How can the sophomores of La Cañada High School bemoan reading “The Iliad,” a classic piece of literature?

I was consumed with rage for what Achilles did to Hector so I didn't at first hear the ring of the phone. However its persistence finally caught my attention. It seemed like an omen that needed a resolution. A phone that rings in the middle of the night is never good.

“Hello?” I said. The caller introduced herself as a La Cañada High School senior.

“Mr. Puglia, may I have your permission to TP your house?” she asked.

Can you imagine someone asking your permission to decorate your house with toilet paper? I was told the mission would go down after 8 p.m. on the evening of Aug. 19. I would be waiting with treats for the seniors.

We had never been TP'd before, so naturally we were ecstatic over the possibility. For years I'd drive by my buddy Bill Decker's house and to my chagrin, his house was continually draped with toilet paper. Do you know how it feels to always be a bridesmaid and never a bride?

I informed the girls of the upcoming prank. Sabine explained the long-standing tradition at LCHS: The evening before school begins, the senior girls TP the homes of the juniors.

I thought that was absolutely amazing. We never had such traditions in the Bronx. How could one possibly TP a tenement? La Cañada's uniqueness is expressed in its many traditions. It's what makes this town rich.

There is a beauty in tradition. My grandfather told me of a popular Sicilian saying: “People and the world change, but tradition keeps it all together.” Tradition keeps us rooted to the past. Although its implication is long-standing, it is born again in each new generation to be lived and applied in a new and particular way.

I hoped that by this simple prank, my girls would understand the reverence of tradition, the dignity of worshiping what had existed before one's self came into being. Tradition leads us inward, defining our core and creating stability within the family and community. Stories, rituals and values are passed from generation to generation, assuring those not yet born a valued share in the richness of a cultural linage.

So I think you have to look beyond the mere act of toilet-papering a house.

The evening of the 19th came. It was like waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. I was excited to see the seniors, however it was after 9 p.m. I fell asleep on the couch and never prepared the treats. I'm definitely not as good as I once was. At about 10 p.m. my girls were excited beyond belief. We opened the door and our yard was strewn with white streamers. We kept the TP up for two days. If it were up to me, I would have kept it until Easter.

I thought of Julius Caesar, who is credited with saying, “Veni, Vidi, Vici” — I came, I saw, I conquered. That's exactly what the seniors did. It was a fun night but the best part of the evening was when Sabine said, “Next year I'll be a senior and it will be my turn.”

That's tradition!

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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