Singing the Paper Towel Blues

Being a lifelong fan of the late blues legend, B. B. King. I was recently reminded of a lyric from one of his hits, “I got some outside help I don’t really need.” While King’s elegy concerned an unfaithful spouse, my issues are admittedly more mundane. In specific, I take great umbrage with “improvements” to two common household products: paper towels and facial tissue.

To begin, I understand that the makers of these items are obliged to come up with new features so as to keep consumers engaged. I also understand the old aphorism “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In my humble opinion, that is exactly what has happened.

In paper towels, we have a very useful, cheap and straightforward item. You spill something. You tear off a towel or two and you wipe it up. No muss, no fuss, no drama.

Apparently, that was too easy. A few years ago, paper towel manufacturers introduced “select-a-size” sheets. Through this innovation, you can tear off only a third of a sheet at a time. Theoretically, you’ll use fewer sheets.

I don’t know what world one-third paper towel users inhabit, but it isn’t anywhere near my house. I don’t have any messes that one-third of a paper towel adequately addresses. In fact, I rarely have any messes that two whole paper towels address.

I’ll admit that in the heady early days of select-a-size I bought a roll to give it a shot. I was young… naïve… starry eyed… foolishly open-minded. It didn’t take long to figure out the folly of this purchase.

As way of background, when I buy paper towels, I buy a boatload. A couple of years ago, I bought my typical Mega-bale of them — full size, of course. I took the huge cube home, unwrapped it and put a new roll on the empty holder. A day or so later I spilled something and was greeted with the unpleasant fact that I had inadvertently bought select-a-size. Nothing makes a floor full of orange juice more enjoyable than a third of a paper towel — and it’s not like I was just going to throw out a dozen new rolls, even if they were the dread Satan-sized towels. Lesson learned. I read more closely now.

If I want a greasy Kleenex, I’m pretty adept at making them that way myself.

I have a similar bone to pick with facial tissue, Kleenex, if you will. Apparently, plain ol’ Kleenex was just too good to leave alone. It’s not enough to have forty-three different sized boxes in a rainbow of colors and patterns. Some marketing wizard had to add lotion to them. 

After all, who doesn’t want a slightly greasy feeling tissue? If I want a greasy Kleenex, I’m pretty adept at making them that way myself. Which leads me to this simple point: When I have a head full of snot, I don’t want a Kleenex that makes me feel like I’m rubbing more snot on my face. Maybe some do. I don’t.

None of this should be taken as an opposition to innovation. I’m no Luddite. I’m all for the double-seal sandwich bag and LED light bulbs. I just want “better” to actually be better.

If my messes and nasal quandaries ever diminish to the point that I need tiny towels and additional lubrication, I’m sure these products will delight me, but I don’t see that happening. As B.B.’s immortal words suggest, until then, they’re just giving me some outside help I don’t really need. 

Note: This post contains previously published material. Also, bonus points to the reader who correctly identifies the nose featured in this essay’s photograph.


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