Few man-in-the-street columns, perhaps none, have been written about paper towels. In fact, paper towels are rarely, if ever, the topic of conversation, in spite of the fact that all grocery, general merchandise and convenience stores sell them.
Few of life's necessities generate less benefit for the seller and less respect from the buyer than paper towels. They are treated as a money-losing commodity by the retailer, a necessary evil by the user. Kleenex, napkins, even toilet paper are displayed proudly in attractive packages and enjoy a prominent user-friendly location in most homes and offices.
Paper towels, however, come in plain see-through cellophane wrappers and are generally hidden inside cupboard doors or under the counter.
I can think of no single household item that comes as close to being indispensable. Even toilet paper, a never out product can be temporarily replaced with Kleenex. Paper towels serve as cleaning rags for windows and all kitchen surfaces, hand towels for the egg whites, animal blood, fat spills, and jelly drops. They give us a base for microwaving bacon, and reheating any and all leftovers. In a pinch, a double layer substitutes as a plate for the morning roll, toast, or muffin. There is nothing better for checking the oil in the car, boat, lawn mower or snow blower than the cheap and disposable paper towel.
There have been very few enhancements developed over the past 50 years for this incredibly powerful tool. Someone decided to package a roll of half sheets with the idea of reducing waste. From my point of view a complete failure, as there are few occasions where a half sheet is enough, and no situations where full or multiple sheets are required where multiple half sheets work. The leading brand, Bounty, is marketing a quilted heavier product at a higher price, which doesn't appear to work a whit better than the standard.
Gradually, subtle colors and patterns have been introduced on the borders, but the overwhelming majority of sales continue to be made in pure white.
After running out of vodka and cigars, nothing makes me angrier than running out of paper towels. A "wad" carried in a pocket or purse, provides immediate relief for the unexpected spill – a towel to wipe away sweat on a hot day – an all purpose handy wipe for a runny nose or a bug splattered windshield.
It is very comforting, at the beginning of the new millennium, in a high tech world dominated by the internet and its dot.com users, that the paper towel, essentially unchanged, retains its effectiveness and importance in our fast paced lives.