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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Mystery of Towels

I've always had an anxiety disorder. There are plenty of stories for other days, but at the heart of it, I have always believed in a set of arbitrary rules imposed by "authority" to dictate the way in which the world works. Not only do I observe a strict adherence to all actual laws and rules (I have a physical inability to jaywalk or cross at a crosswalk unless the walk sign is lit, for example), but I've grown up under the impression that the unknown and omnipresent "authority" has implemented various other rules for life by which I must abide. For example: dogs are not allowed to bark (although I observe on a daily occurrence that OTHER people let their dogs bark, this is against the "rules" and therefore not something I can allow my dogs to do), you cannot accidentally drive the wrong way down a slanted parking lot lane, you cannot wait until you get to the front of a line for ordering food to decide what you want, you cannot push tables together in restaurants or take chairs from other unoccupied tables without first asking, you cannot throw rocks into streams or lakes, etc. I realize most of these are things that pertain to common courtesy, but for me, it's not a desire to just be courteous to other people, it's a fear. An ultimate fear of... getting in trouble.

I don't know who would get me in trouble (other than the mysterious "authority figure"), but these rules and my intolerable fear of getting in trouble has dictated how I've lived my entire life. Which is to say, mostly in fear of getting in trouble.

Towels fall into their own set of rules for conduct.

When I was a kid, we had plenty of towels in the house. But they were all older, and my parents never bought new towels for as long as I could remember. Most of them were just plain, simply colored towels, but there was one that stood out among the rest. A white towel with green lettering across the top: Holiday Inn.

For some reason, in my little kid mind, this was interpreted to mean that ALL towels came from hotels. Which means, my parents had STOLEN every towel we owned. I didn't have a problem with this aspect of towels, though, because, clearly, that's how everyone obtained their family towels.

The fear truly arose when it dawned on me that one day, I would have to move out of the house and live on my own. And somehow, I would have to have towels of my own. I knew that stealing was wrong, though, and somewhere in the towel-fear was the underlying truth that stealing was against the rules (legitimately this time), and someday, I would have to break the rules, too. Now THAT is a nauseating thought.

This thought taunted me for years. How would I ever stay in enough hotels to get even half as many towels as my parents had? I was seven, and I'd only stayed in ONE hotel in my life (and we didn't even keep ANY of the towels from them!). At this rate, I would be towel-less forever. The worried nagged at me. You couldn't be a successful housewife without enough towels. Would my husband travel a lot? Would we have the money to stay in hotels? How would we steal towels without getting caught? How would we dry ourselves off before we had ever stayed in our first hotel?

One time, when I was about 13, my mom brought home new bath towels. How could that possibly be? She hadn't stayed in any hotels recently! But no - she found a loophole in the towel rule system. They were over-sized towels. Possibly, they could even be considered beach towels. And clearly, beach towels were an exception to the rule. You could buy them at Sam's Club. Everybody knew that.

Over the years, I learned another exception to the rule: you could get towels as a wedding present. I didn't think through the logistics enough to wonder where the gift-givers got the towels (likely, it was an expensive wedding gift because it cost them the price of an overnight stay in a hotel, at the very least!), but I knew that this was the answer to all my fears. I would simply ask for towels for my wedding. And nothing else. Then the pressure would be off - I wouldn't have to worry about staying in hotels, ever.

The summer before college, my mom took me to Target to help me find stuff I'd need for my dorm. I had given thought to the towel dilemma before, but I assumed my parents would be okay with lending me a towel or two from their collection (after all, they had more than enough - think of the amount of money they must have spent on hotel stays before we kids were born!). She marked the items off the list as we loaded them into the cart: sheets, comforter, pillows, laundry basket, etc. Then she said the most startling thing, "do you want to get towels next?"

What's that, Mom? Towels? But we're in Target! Wherever would we find TOWELS?! To hide my confusing (and sudden curious fascination - how was she going to get herself out of THIS mess without looking like a fool?"), I mumbled something in the tone of agreement. Then she led the way to the next aisle over.

I was greeted by the most glorious sight. An entire aisle, dedicated solely to... towels. Every color towel you could imagine. They lined all the shelves, from the very bottom to the very top! With matching wash cloths and hand towels! Oh, happy day! I stared dreamily at all the towels, slowly turning circles of awe as I made my way down the aisle. Here was the solution to all my worries. My fears had truly been relieved. My mom, having spent the last 18 years with me, must not have noticed the way an entire weight of towel-fear had been lifted off my shoulders. She probably thought I was just being weird and doing a towel dance for the mere sake of dancing for towels. Regardless, we quickly picked out some pink towels and ended the shopping trip without any further mind-altering realizations.

I like to try and give myself a little credit and say reasonably that I must not have thought about towels and towel purchases for a good portion of my life. After all, my family had all the towels we needed - it was only when I looked to the future that the dark cloud of towel-accumulation-fear would rear its head. I prefer to think that I just didn't think about it. Surely if I had given it any thought, I would have assumed you could buy towels in a store. Why had I never seen a towel aisle before?? However, as much as I try to build up childhood me, the fact remains that I wasn't fully aware (at least on some kind of a conscious level) that you could buy bath towels in a store until I was 18 years old.

And you thought I was a reasonably intelligent person. :)


  1. You kill me!! With laughter of course. I'm sure I bought new towels occasionally over the years--come on now we didn't just use the ones from our wedding for 18 years!!! And I still don't know where the Holiday Inn towel came from--I didn't steal hotel towels. I swear.

  2. The really funny thing about this is that I recently said something to Brian about it, and he agreed that he also didn't realize you could buy towels in a store until an awkwardly old age. He probably never thought about it, but at least I wasn't the only one who was unsure of their whereabouts!