Running Free

Running Free

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


The other day I had a grousing session with a paper towel. It was being stingy – giving me only half of a sheet versus the usual whole sheet required to clean up my messes.

As I grumbled at the white sheaves unfurling across the kitchen counter I tried to rip off a section. My futile efforts were rewarded with a piece of paper towel not big enough to wipe up the sweat on my brow - never mind the freshly brewed coffee that gave renewed meaning to cup runneth over…

No, my paper towel was anything but strong and reinforced with fine recycled paper: shards from some happily pulped tree urn. Mine was as flimsy as a toothpick. As I moved in for a closer look at my woeful mound of lazy paper serviettes, I noticed that indeed there were perforations along every six inches or so - unlike the usual 8X10 smooth sheets to which I had grown accustomed. I could see through them – like parchment really.

For forty years – or close to it now that I really think about it… I have never had an issue with the size of the paper towel. Until now. Marketers in their infinite wisdom have decided that I must have a need for smaller sheets. I just must. What they have given me in their efforts to simplify my life are gray hair and a migraine. Simplified indeed.
I have been perfectly content with my strong enough for the toughest spill Brawny and “the quick picker upper” Bounty quilts of amazing absorbency. (Note: it depended and still does which one happens to be on sale making me an equal opportunist.) I knew my paper towels (PT) and they knew me. We were homies of the homestyle variety.

Both of these lovely rolls of big white strength were big enough to handle any disaster I might throw at them: including the aforementioned pot of coffee, goops of mayonnaise, eggshells, wet oatmeal - the list is endless. I could always rely on my tried and true paper towels to get me through a sticky situation. You could say that over the years we have developed quite an intimate relationship me and my quicker picker upper and strong and mighty friends.

Recently however, this relationship has been sorely tested. Wandering the aisles of my local department store in search of paper goods including paper towels, I was suddenly assaulted by an entire room of paper towels from the likes of Bounty, Brawny, Viva, and a host of others I had never even heard of. Imagine both sides of an aisle swathed in bunting bundles of paper towels - five shelves stacked deep and so wide –twenty feet long and a good fifteen feet high. I never imagined so many choices. Beckoning to me from across the aisle were “Extra soft”, “Select a size”, “White” (why would I need another color?), “Super duty”. Where were my ‘regular’ old paper towels?!

I searched desperately for my friends of the tree cloth - who seemed to be now gone. So, I made a best guess decision and after ten minutes of shock and awe I headed home. I needed to take some aspirin. I installed my newly acquired paper towel roll and realized that despite my best efforts, I had purchased the half sheet “select a size”…

What is a soul to do? Back to the store I trotted, buoyed by three Excedrin and a bottle of water. I was ready to do battle with the paper towel aisle. I had a dictionary of terms to help me on my voyage this time. And as I made my way to the paper towel aisle something caught the corner of my eye that made me well, stop in my tracks.

There on the end cap and snaking around the corner it appeared that there were not one but two aisles and a back row dedicated to – toilet paper (TP)…How would I ever begin to fathom the marketing here when I had not fared too well with the PT? How would I ever even begin to fathom this world of sexy TP adjectives like “Jumbo” “Mega” and “Super sized..”?

For those of you of a certain age, perhaps the name Mr. Whipple will ring a bell. And right about now, I wished that I could request that Calgon and Mr. Whipple take me away from this almost unbelievable selection of TP. What I would give to squeeze a bundle of Charmin right about now…

But I digress. I simply wanted my well-known and dare I say, well-loved familiar brand of paper towels. My head was hurting and I decided I would have to wait until another day to begin to tackle the TP issue.

In their attempts to simplify the lives of us busy homemakers, marketers have created a plethora of choices that is overwhelming. Can we just go back to the good ol days when brawny wasn’t scrawny and paper towels were designed to be the quicker picker upper…please??

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