A DECADE OF STORYTELLING POWERED BY THE BEST WRITERS ON THE PLANET

CLICK BELOW TO REDISCOVER HUMANITY

The Toothpaste Chronicles – Let The Squeeze Begin …

–INTRODUCTION

As you remove the tube from its box and prepare for that first squeeze have you ever thought about how much life will have transpired between then and the time you force the last little bit of paste out of hiding and onto you brush? No? Well, not to worry, I have.

In the days, weeks or months that lie ahead (as determined by the size of the tube, frequency of use, the amount used per brushing, the number of others who use the tube, etc.), how many things will happen outside of the usual routine things of life? How will you and those around you be impacted? What challenges await?

What about that tube you just tossed into the trash? How did things play out? Did things occur you would never have imagined? Out of the ordinary? Memorable? What might you have done or said differently if you had the opportunity? Or, did time simply and quietly pass by?

I don’t know why the thought drifted across my mind (just as well…I likely saved a bundle in counseling fees). We hear about thoughts ‘striking’ people as if they originated from somewhere outside of our mind….. some sort of thought warehouse. Or maybe falling on our head from out of the sky as a flock of thought birds fly overhead…..no doubt some of my thoughts might best be described as thought excrement of this variety.

But the ‘toothpaste’ thought didn’t ‘strike’ me, it just unexpectedly and without fanfare, ‘oozed’ out of my brain for no apparent reason, and there it was. Once it did I could not shake it; like the relative who comes for a visit with no departure day in sight, it just lingered and would not go away.

Maybe if I just ignored it, the thought would go back to wherever it came from – like what my older brother Danny would do when mom insisted he take me with him as he was departing to his friend’s house…. ignore me – pretend I wasn’t there. (mind you, I have put these countless emotion-scaring incidents completely behind me and bear no ill will toward brother Danny…… (it’s truly amazing what a few hundred counseling sessions can accomplish!). Similar to how I responded to my brother’s efforts, my thought would not be ignored. It actually turned out okay with Danny’s friends once I got to know them… you see, mom knew I didn’t have many friends of my own – okay, by ‘many’ I mean there were only two (if you apply a very loose definition of the word ‘friend’) – but that’s a tube for another time.

I don’t recall having any particularly heavy thoughts the day this one arrived. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite a heavy thinker ya know…. I just don’t recall any ‘great’ thoughts that day. There already exists quite an ample number of perfectly normal and extremely more accurate measures of time than toothpaste tubes, so there was absolutely no need to create a new one…..“I’ll be away for a few days”…. much preferable to, “See you in 12 squeezes!” It came out of the blue, or in this case, the gray, matter…..one evening some time (I’d say roughly 5 or 6 medium-sized tubes) ago, as I squeezed a new tube for the first time – a very mundane, inconsequential, oft-repeated and not very exciting activity – squeezing a tube of toothpaste….but at that moment a few random brain cells collided and there they were…..

THE QUESTIONS; “What events will take place before that tube was empty?, What cool stuff would happen?, What not-so-cool or even downright bad stuff would happen?, Would I meet new people?, Experience new things?, Where might I go?, Would I want to go there? How will I get back if I do go? Would I learn a new card game?, Make a new friend? Improve my tennis serve?” (still hoping for that last one).

I consider myself to be in decent health, but a few ‘big’ questions too; “Would I be around for the last squeeze?” (after all, our tubes are numbered). Most of my tube wonderings aren’t earth-shaking types of queries (i.e., “why am I here?”, “why is there air?”, etc.), but from the moment of that first series of questions, time for me has been divided into the Pre-tube and Post-tube era. There is simply no going back.

First, some background. You should know that when I say ‘the last squeeze’ of a tube, I mean there is no remaining toothpaste in the recesses of that tube. Having been raised in a large family (eight kids) by post-depression era parents who were on the lower end of the economic scale, discarding a tube of toothpaste, or anything else, with anything usable remaining would be unthinkable. So yeah, I mean THE…last….squeeze, as in there ain’t no mo paste comin’ outta that tube! It’s important for you to know this before we go any further.

Where did it come from? Okay, I know I said it was just as well not to know the ‘why’ behind my thought, but I can’t help wondering what dark, shadowy, weird recess of my brain formulated such a thing. A severe lack of vitamin whatever? A yet-to-be classified psychotic disorder? After all, surely I had more important, or at least more practical, things to think about, didn’t I? Wouldn’t no thoughts at all have been preferable to that one? As my mother often said, “What was I thinking!?”

I could blame the 60’s…. a time when, yes, I did, in fact, inhale (note to millennials: Google President Bill Clinton’s response when asked whether he smoked marijuana). I admit (not proudly but in all honesty) that yes, I did in fact – unlike our former president – inhale….to the best of my recollection I did so on more than one occasion. Okay, “more than one” could more accurately be described as “numerous” occasions. It was, after all, those numerous occasions that were the likely cause of my never becoming an astronaut, but even so, can I really lay the blame for my ‘toothpaste’ notion on the ’60s? Sadly, and again, perhaps mercifully, I’ll never know. I know what you’re thinking… what does it matter anyway? Good point.

Since the time the thought flittered across my mind it resurfaces regularly with most every squeeze of the tube (economy or travel size, it matters not)…..like ‘sands through an hourglass’, so goes the days, weeks, or whatever of my life.

There is no escaping it. I now live in a PC (Post Colgate) world of my own making. First squeeze, “What lies ahead?”, mid-tube squeeze, “What have I done?”, final squeezes, “Will I ever get it right?” Thankfully (at least so far) there’s always another tube, another chance…a ‘do-over’.

As you and I open our next new tube, will we find ourselves asking,”What does life have in store?” As for me, the answer appears to be a strong ‘yes’. As for you….though, perhaps, fortunately, you have only limited exposure to this way of thinking thus far, is it too late? Have you been infected? Sucked into a Twilight Zone realm from which there is no return?…..asking yourself similar questions to mine with every new tube….every squeeze? Is it worth the risk of ever grabbing a tube again? Should you go pasteless?

We can’t put the paste back in the tube. How many times have you and I thought back to a moment in time and wished that we had said or done something differently…..or not done or said something at all?

Perhaps a little ‘toothpaste’ thinking will help us to be better prepared for those moments; better able to respond in a way that causes us not to regret but to feel good as we relive those moments.

You may be familiar with an old Jim Croce song, ‘Time in a Bottle’ (love that song). The lyric goes “If I could put time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do, is to take every day, til eternity passes and then, I would spend them with you”. What a lovely sentiment. I don’t imagine the song would have been nearly as popular had Jim went with ‘toothpaste’ in the lyric rather than ‘time’ (after all, everyone knows toothpaste doesn’t come in a bottle; and you can’t squeeze a bottle), but the concept is the same……once it’s gone, it’s gone, toothpaste or time. We must use it well!

”Live your dash” comes to mind. It’s a phrase from one of the most popular poems in the world – The Dash, by Linda Ellis.

It means to be mindful that we’re only on this earth a little while. It encourages the reader to spend each day with passion and purpose… and to inspire others by living a life of joy, compassion, and kindness.

When I hear someone say, “Live each day as if it were your last”, I can’t help but think, “Who does that?!” I mean unless it really is your last day, who lives like that?” My bank account would be empty! Chocolate for breakfast! Cake and pizza for lunch! Forget the workout! Extra butter with my bacon, please! Okay perhaps I’m being too literal, but I get the idea…..It’s easy to buzz through life repeating a series of repetitive habits and behaviors and miss the real substance of it all; not stopping long enough to ‘smell the roses’. Perhaps toothpaste thinking isn’t such a bad thing?

Aside from promoting good dental hygiene, it’s my hope in recording some of the meanderings that follow – The Toothpaste Chronicles – that you and I might just be a little better prepared for whatever lies ahead for us; good, bad, and in between; routine or not. To live on purpose; intentionally; and in doing so to squeeze all we can out of opportunities we are given….and in the wake of that, be encouraged.

Mike Pitocco
Mike Pitocco
​Following a stint in the USAF Mike worked in retail management on Long Island, New York prior to relocating and beginning a new career with the California Department of Corrections, from which he retired after 33 years of service. Retiring as a Program Coordinator with the Division of Addiction and Recovery Services. He continued his involvement with the drug treatment initiative for several years as a consultant with the University of California, San Diego, Center for Criminality & Addiction Research. While working at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, CA, Mike activated Celebrate Recovery (CR), a faith-based ministry, at the prison. Mike and his wife Sharron also activated CR at a number of other correctional facilities in the state. Mike volunteered and eventually was hired as a full-time Chaplain at the Lerdo Detention Facility (Kern County jail) in Bakersfield, CA; eventually becoming Supervising Chaplain, and earning his certificate of ordination from Prison Ministry of America. Mike was also the Ministry Director of CR at Canyon Hills Church in Bakersfield along with co-founding the Kern County Prison Ministry Alliance, the goal of which was is to reduce recidivism one life at a time. Mike considers himself truly blessed to be Sharron’s husband, the proud father of Christina, Daniel, and Sean and grandfather (aka, ‘Papa’) of Lawson, Harper, and Savvy. For Sharron - God’s instrument in knocking off some very rough edges - for family, for life and love, and whatever he may be privileged to share through writing, Mike gives glory to God alone…. Soli Deo Gloria. He is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

21 COMMENTS

  1. Welcome to BizCatalyst360, Mike!! Your article stirred memories of my dad, who recently died, –how he’d take scissors and cut the tube of toothpaste to scrap out every last glob that he could. He grew up during the Depression-now no longer needs to brush his teeth-or maybe they do this in heaven? I don’t know.
    I do know that your questions of time in a bottle-or tube-literally stir me as I know my life remains limited. I have attention, focus, intention, wakeful consciousness, presence in which to live each day as though it could be my last….And I’d probably be outside in nature from the moment I got out of bed to that last breath on that last day because that’s how much I LOVE nature…. and yet, here I am inside typing on my laptop, attempting to reply to your thought-provoking article. What I now know is that I continue to shed habits/practices that do not support my life and putting into place deep self-care, self-love practices including taking my body to neutral to PAUSE, dancing more, moving my body a lot, laughing, giggling, spending time with people who have amazing imaginations, big hearts, huge passion, and warm, nurturing hugs. I love brushing my teeth-sometimes with my left hand to change things up-to be mindful in the moment. I meditate and feel the socks on my feet. Ideas flow up from inside of me as I create greater space from the relinquishing of all those harsh inner critic thoughts-that mostly have existed the building of my being. I live with a practice of gratitude that I return to again and again. Shifting a complaint to a thank you. A practice. Return to center as often as I can as this feels so freaking good to my being. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this flow of toothpaste globber oozings from my heart. Keep asking these questions!! Keep writing!!

    • Thank you very much for your kind compliment Larry. Words have such power……they must be well chosen…..a real challenge. The spoken word especially – how often have spoken first and engaged my brain after?!!

  2. The challenge of intentionally living is to align our actions with our values ​​and ideals. To win the challenge we have to work a little every day, changing our way of living a little a day, building rituals that help us do it, learning to discern what is important from what is not, and to protect it from us themselves. Winning this challenge means finding the rhythm to live as we want.
    The society in which we live is programmed to distract us, creating different needs and desires from those we feel within us. Reasoning every day on how to act on our lives, rather than reacting to the accidents that happen to us, will lead us to find the clarity necessary to align our actions with our values. This is the only way to change the lifestyle we have today and really make it our lifestyle. The ultimate goal is to develop self-awareness, understand who we really are, what our goals are and behave accordingly.

  3. Welcome, Mike. I was sitting in my office staring at the pool and thinking great thoughts (okay, maybe not very great) when a mutual friend called my attention to your article. I really hadn’t pondered the relationships between a tube of toothpaste and life until you brought them to the forefront. You make a good point that once squeezed out the paste can’t be returned to the tube, just like a word spoken can’t be recalled, or an act undone. Points to ponder. Perhaps life was better in the old days (before your time) when toothpaste was actually a powder and came in a can. That you could put back.

    I’m not sure there is a relationship between toothpaste and life but I have noticed that I use toothpaste very freely when the tube if full. As it nears empty I use it more sparingly. Maybe I’ve unconsciously connected toothpaste and life though. I always try to buy toothpaste at 2 for 1 price and was recently excited to find a 3 for 1 deal. Does that mean that subconsciously I think I will live so long as I don’t run out of toothpaste? Hmmm.

  4. Hi Mike,

    Welcome! I agree with Len and Susan, and I certainly will be more thoughtful when I squeeze out toothpaste before brushing my teeth. I love the metaphor as well as your thoughtful and entertaining article. I look forward to reading the next entry of “The Toothpaste Chronicles.” Also, I am impressed with all you do to help those who hope to have a second chance.?

  5. Congrats Mike! My…what weird, wonderful thoughts you have. (This explains a lot. ?)

    It is interesting to think of life in terms of what occurs from tube-to-tube. (Will one have a BRUSH with death? Will my contributions be FLOSSED over? Will I be unexpectedly EXTRACTED ????)

    Great story there… I’m going to stop thinking about life between tubes now… before I can’t.)

▲ "CULTIVATING HUMANKIND TOGETHER" ▲

DAILY INSPIRATION. DELIVERED.