It was the summer of 1980. My college graduation present from Mom and Dad was round-trip airfare to Europe on Laker Airlines, which was the low-cost carrier of that day. I saved up enough money for a Eurail pass, borrowed a shoulder bag from Mom, and set off for the broadening experience of foreign travel.
My first stop on the continent was Amsterdam. After a day of visiting the museums and the Dam I decided I needed to secure lodging for the night. A travel guide had said the Hotel Kabul was the cheapest night’s stay in Amsterdam, and I was more interested in saving money than anything else. When I arrived at the Hotel Kabul, however, I began to question the wisdom of that approach. The hostel was in a run-down part of town a few blocks from the red-light district. It was dark and dingy inside. But it was inexpensive. I paid for the cheapest sleeping accommodations, which turned out to be the bottom half of a bunk bed in a barracks room filled with perhaps 20 bunk beds and a number of scruffy looking miscreants. The bedding was marginally clean. That night I slept — fitfully — in my clothing, trucker’s wallet pushed deep into my pants pocket, using the shoulder bag as a kind of pillow.
As the first gray light of morning filtered into the dim sleeping area I groggily decided I really needed a shower. I took my stuff to the bathroom, secured a shower stall, and rinsed off in a tepid stream. I emerged from the shower . . . and looked in vain for a towel. Being a complete rube, I hadn’t realized that hostel users either brought a towel or rented one at the front desk. I had done neither. So there I was, dripping wet and feeling like a complete imbecile, in a grim bathroom in the cheapest hostel in Amsterdam. What to do?
The options were few. I could try to wipe myself off with some of my other clothing and then cart the wet clothes around as I did my day’s touring. I could sit around until evaporation worked its magic. Or, I could resort to the toilet paper towel-off — and that is the option I chose. After first congratulating myself on the solution, I quickly came to realize that this was not the greatest idea, either. The Hotel Kabul’s toilet paper was — not surprisingly — ridiculously cheap. It somehow combined a pulpy scratchiness with gossamer thinness. As I tried to swab myself dry I realized that I was instead being coated with a flaky crust of toilet paper dust and tiny nubbings that stuck to my skin like glue. I tried to remove all traces of my resort to the bathroom tissue option, but you don’t really want to spend a lot of time in a strange communal bathroom picking objects that look like lice off your skin. I know I was unsuccessful in ridding myself of all of the toilet paper trappings. So, I skulked out of the lobby, keeping as far away from the front desk as possible, and relied upon the good manners of the friendly Dutch to refrain from telling me that my skin was streaked with a weird white residue and I was leaving a trail of toilet paper pellets as I walked on.
My European tour was underway. From that point on, I gladly paid to rent a towel at the other hostels I visited.