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Commentary & Opinion

Are you proud of your towels?

Neatly stacked towels
Ralph Gardner Jr.
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The news is often so dire these days that my wife turns off the car radio and plays a podcast instead. It’s even traumatic to learn the latest about plagues, shootings and melting polar ice caps in print.

I’m not sure the New York Times Wirecutter section, their product rating and recommendation site, qualifies as good, helpful news. Isn’t the current trend to reuse everything conceivable? But if nothing else, it serves as a pleasant distraction, the equivalent of online window shopping. And it often does a deep dive on everyday items. It’s sort of like smelling the roses if the roses were things like coffee makers, commuter bike lights – one of the rare items that I took their recommendation and bought, both front and rear – and bath towels.

Their testers offer readers the criteria that led to their choices. In the case of towels they first measured them, used the towel after showering to see how well they dried and felt against the skin, washed them, and checked for shrinkage. Finally, they tested them for how quickly they air-dried “in our bathrooms.”

By the way, does the New York Times have test bathrooms or are these bathrooms in employees’ home scrambled into service? And who are the testers? Are they Times reporters? Special Wirecutter swat teams? Members of the general public pulled off the street? Don’t we deserve to know?

I’m not planning to follow their lead, in any case, and purchase their top pick “thick and luxurious” Frontgate Resort Cotton Bath Towel, because I’m physically incapable of spending over thirty bucks on a towel. Don’t get me wrong. Thick and luxurious is important in a bath towel. I just have a hard time believing that there’s that much difference between one towel and another.

That’s a question that borders on the philosophical, of course. There are certain products that you decidedly get what you pay for, or that are simply better even if they don’t cost that much. Wise potato chips comes to mind. I find their ratio of salt to oil to crunchability unrivaled, though I’m aware others have their own strong opinions about the optimal chip. Vodka’s another food, or rather beverage, category about which I have decided beliefs. They all taste about the same to me so why spend more than the minimum once you’ve settled on a reasonably attractive bottle?

I enjoy thinking of consumerism as a version of hand-to-hand combat where the advantage goes to the pugilist best trained, fit, experienced and – this is the key – confident in his or her own skill and boldness. Also, my attitude towards corporate America has become increasingly biased and bitter. I don’t consider those that sit atop the food chain in their corner offices my friends. The art of the deal, from the shopper’s point of view, is to help them go broke while getting what you desire. The greatest accolade would be a wanted, or rather an unwanted, poster with my mug on it as the archetypal consumer immune to advertising in all forms and as versed in universal pricing as Einstein was at quantum physics.

Wirecutter also carries a budget pick. In the case of bath towels their recommendation is the Fieldcrest Casual Solid Bath Towel. It was priced at $8 when the story was first published in September but now comes with an asterisk and an $11 price tag. Talk about inflation and supply chain bottlenecks!

Whether the cost of a new online bath towel is thirty-one bucks, eleven or eight is a matter of supreme indifference to me. Why? There are certain items that I don’t see how anybody can buy over the Internet without first examining them in person, running your hands through the fibers. I have great respect for the New York Times, I’ve even written for it on occasion, but I’ll make up my own mind about what qualifies as thick and luxurious, as opposed to merely plush.

I believe I hear someone snorting and giggling in the next room. That may be my spouse. Our linen closet isn’t the stuff of Martha Stewart dreams. It features a motely crew of towels, ranging from those whose thickness would appease the most discerning houseguest to others that are best reserved for drying off the dog after she’s been skunked and then promptly discarded. And I haven’t even gotten to bathmats, a perennial bone of contention between me and my far better half.

I enjoy swiping them from nice hotels and then using them, not just to absorb the bathwater under my feet but also to evoke pleasant memories – of a London club where I once stayed or a grand hotel in Vienna paid for in full with Starwood points. While we’ve never had an extended discussion on the subject I believe my bride considers bathmats, or towels for that matter, decorated with a hotel logo to be somehow déclassé.

I get her point but here’s my feeling: I’m not sure I’d want to entertain guests who judged me based upon the quality of our bath towels once they achieve some minimal standard for wicking water from your body. Perhaps it was the way I was raised. Fraying doesn’t begin to describe the condition of the towels in my childhood home. I doubt my parents ever considered getting theirs monogrammed, a subject Wirecutter didn’t address in their column; if they replaced them every other decade that was splurging. I suspect their attitude, which I share, is that towels are too ephemeral to invest much time, energy or money in. You’re tempting disappointment as soon as they tear or get discolored, as they invariably do. The more modest the initial investment the more manageable the heartbreak.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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