Bad Towels

We bought some bath towels a while ago.  They look nice, I suppose, with their fancy raised pattern, but when you consider their essential purpose as towels . . . well, they suck.  Actually, now that I think of it, they don’t suck, and that’s the problem.  These towels have no apparent absorbency, and just kind of smear the water around.  We hoped that, with a few washings, the biers might loosen up somehow and they might actually function properly, but our hopes have been dashed.  These towels are a lost cause.

This is irksome.  Of course, you can’t test towels for absorbency when you buy them, but it’s only fair for a consumer to assume that a product that is supposed to sop up water will, in fact, have a reasonable amount of absorbency.  After all, that’s the whole point of a towel.  And how would you check out a towel, anyway?  It’s not like you can give it a test run to see whether it does the trick when you step out of the shower.

towel with crappy absorbency is like a raincoat that isn’t water-resistant.  And you don’t get to test raincoats before you buy them, either.  But be assured of one thing:  we will never again buy a towel made by this manufacturer.

Striking That Delicate Balance In Naming Toilet Paper

During a recent stay at a hotel I noticed that the spare roll of toilet paper in the bathroom was an institutional brand called Subtle Touch.  It made me think of the challenges involved in naming toilet paper.

Toilet paper, of course, has a crucial hygienic purpose that involves a tender area.  The name should indicate that it can get that important job done, but with an appropriate nod toward comfort.  Equally important, the name should suggest that duality without straying too far in one direction or the other.

Consider Lava hand cleaner, for example. The ’60s commercial for Lava featured a square-fingered man’s hand stained with God knows what — grease?  oil?  the entrails of animals? — being washed with the product, which was made with pumice.  The man’s hands came out clean and as pink as a monkey’s butt, but the ad probably scared off most people in the hand soap market.  Lava might appeal to car mechanics and slaughterhouse workers who wanted to be spic and span for the dinner table, but having our skin abraded by stone dust whenever we lathered up was too much for the rest of us.

I’m not sure Subtle Touch really hits the proper mark on the toilet paper-naming spectrum.  Who wants subtlety, given the essential function of toilet paper?  Other potential toilet paper names that would stray too far toward the comfort end of the spectrum:  Angel’s Breath, Seaside Breeze, and Wispy Wonder.  On the other hand, I doubt that many people would be tempted to buy toilet paper called Scour Power!, Scrubbington’s, or Rump Blaster.

There’s a delicate balance to be struck.  Come to think of it, Delicate Balance would be a pretty good name for this very special product.

Datsun’s Return

When I was a kid, Datsun was one of the Japanese carmakers that seemed to suddenly burst onto the scene and sell a lot of cars.

It produced models like the Datsun 280ZX, a cool-looking, reasonably priced sports car that was popular with many of the guys in my age group.  Then, one day, “Datsun” was gone — forever (we were told) replaced by “Nissan.”  For years, Nissan did whatever it could to try to erase the name Datsun from the collective consciousness of the American consumer.

Now, more than 30 years later, Nissan has decided to reintroduce the Datsun name.  Nissan wants to offer a low-cost line of cars.  However, it doesn’t want to call them Nissans because that might impair the Nissan brand.  So, “Datsun” is being exhumed from the graveyard of familiar brand names, and low-cost Datsun cars will be sold in Russia, Indonesia, and India beginning in 2014.

How many products that once were popular but have fallen into obscurity are still available to the general public?  Do they still sell Brylcreen, Bufferin, and Blatz beer — just to focus on the Bs?  And if a name that has been consciously discarded and scrubbed from human memory, like Datsun, can be revived, could we see a resurgence of other discarded, gone-but-not-quite-forgotten brands?  We’ll know when we start to see Burma Shave signs, RainTree soft drinks in the supermarket, Quake cereal in the breakfast food aisle, BBFs (short for the clumsy, vintage ’50s moniker Burger Boy Food-o-Rama) on Columbus street corners, and chintzy commercials for the Veg-o-Matic back on late night cable TV.

The Misguided Concept Of “Natural Deodorant”

The other day Kish went to the store and, among other things, bought me some deodorant.  She came home with Arm & Hammer “Essentials Natural Deodorant.”  The container says the product provides “Natural Protection,” is “Aluminum Free” and “Paraben Free,” and contains “natural plant extracts to absorb and fight odor.”  It’s unscented, of course.

I appreciate my wife thoughtfully buying personal hygiene products for me.  In this instance, however, I think she made a questionable choice — because when it comes to deodorant and anti-perspirant, and avoiding those embarrassing pitstain moments, I want all of the protection modern technology can buy.  God help me, I want aluminum, if it does the job!  I want parabens (whatever they are)!  Hey, shouldn’t zinc be in their somewhere, too?  Any American consumer knows that the best odor protections are mined, not plucked from the canopies of tropical rain forests.

The marketing campaigns for such “natural” items don’t make sense to me.  For one thing, I am buying a product in a plastic container that I will use and throw away, to be deposited in a landfill.  Given that reality, how much can I really care about “natural” anything?  Shouldn’t “natural” deodorant be sold in a hemp satchel or some other biodegradable receptacle?  And am I really supposed to believe that tribal shamans somewhere were experimenting with kelp, mosses, and the crushed berries of the zum-zum tree in a relentless quest to determine which natural substance would best absorb bodily odors and stanch the sweat flow?  When you are clad only in a loincloth, are frequently smeared with mud, and are trying to avoid dangerous predators during your forays into the steaming jungle, you’re probably not focused with single-minded intensity on perspiration issues.

I’d feel more confident in the “natural product” deodorant marketing pitch if there were natives somewhere whose traditional garb included light blue button-down cotton shirts that showed, in sharp contrast, those unseemly underarm stains.

A Nifty Little Gizmo

When I went to the grocery store last weekend to buy baking supplies, I made an impulse purchase — a Proctor Silex Durable Food Chopper.

I needed something to chop nuts, and I was tired of using our big blender to do so.  This gadget promised to chop up to 1 1/2 cups of nuts in a small plastic container that could then easily be poured into a mixing bowl, without requiring me to use a long-handled spoon to scrape out nut remnants from the distant bottom of the blender.  And guess what?  I really like this little product.  I like its entirely unglamorous, functional name, I like its simple design, I like the fact that it is easy to clean and use, and I like the fact that it cost less than $10.

I particularly like the fact that, even though it is low-priced, it has a neat feature — no on/off switch or speeds.  When you’re ready to chop, you put the lid on, give it a clockwise turn, and the chopping begins at one speed.  And the safety element comes from the fact that you need to have your hand on the lid, applying clockwise pressure, so that the lid won’t fly off during the chopping.  Pretty cool!

We often complain about bad consumer products, so it’s nice to run across one that is both inexpensive and well-made.  The Proctor Silex Durable Food Chopper lives up to its name, and then some.

Lipstick On The Cup

It’s very early on a work day morning.  As part of my routine, I make some coffee.  I pull down one of our coffee cups from the cupboard, and there it is — that telltale half moon of red lipstick, left there when Kish used the cup.

Don’t get the wrong idea.  It’s not as if we don’t wash our coffee cups.  It’s just that our dishwasher doesn’t remove lipstick from cups.  I’m sure we’re not alone on this.  In our household, the only way to get the lipstick off the cup is to take one of our scouring pads and apply some elbow grease to scrub the cup clean.  As I was thinking when I was doing precisely that the other day:  why do you think they call it lipstick?

Lipstick is just one of those everyday consumer products that has unexpected properties.  Lipstick and a white coffee cup would come in handy if you wanted to leave an indelible message for future generations.  Lipstick apparently has the same mysterious bonding properties with dishes that also is found with cereal and milk.  Have you ever noticed that if you eat a bowl of cereal and leave it in the sink without immediate rinsing, the milk dries and the cereal becomes cemented to the bowl with epoxy-like strength?  You basically have to use a spoon and chisel the shriveled, dessicated Honey Nut Cheerios off the side of the bowl.  And nothing can leave a longer-lasting stain on shirts, human flesh, or gum tissue than the garish yellow dust of a few Cheetos.  These products, which are routinely consumed by modern Americans, have an odd permanence about them.

It gives you an entirely new appreciation for the apparent capabilities of the human digestive tract, doesn’t it?