Sunday, October 1, 2023


There are two foundational questions I've wrestled with since childhood:

1. Do we all play on the same playing field?

All things being equal - and adjusting for luck, genetics, upbringing, and all the rest - do we all experience roughly the same degree of headwind?

Answer: No. Everyone has a totally different experience. You know that Indian saying about not judging a man until you've walked a mile in his mocassins? It's way deeper than we ever imagined. More on this another time.

2. Has all the simple stuff already been observed and catalogued?

Humanity has done such a diligent job of acquiring dense knowledge about ourselves and our world that surely all remaining knowledge gaps are about topics like the angular momentum of positrons in a super-conducting stasis. Stuff so specific and nerdy that you and I have nothing fresh to contribute, which means we have nothing to do but sit back, slurp milkshakes, and play with our phones all day. Which would certainly explain a lot!

But the answer, again, is "no". This Slog is a collection of simple observations and conclusions (if they've seemed complicated, it's only because I need to work so hard to coax readers to challenge faulty assumptions). Many have been fresh and previously unnoticed. So there's plenty of low fruit out there for everyday people to take stock of. Including this blockbuster:


Perhaps you have at some point briefly wondered why we launder bath towels which touch only well-scrubbed body parts. The question gets little thought, because 1. we know that bath towels get smelly if we don't wash them, and 2. only slobs don't regularly wash their towels, so the very question is disgusting.

I'm living in a place with ample space for line-drying clothes. And, to keep my bathroom mold-free, and generally keep everything bright sunshiny fresh, like a Karen Carpenter song, I've taken to hanging my bath towel and bath mat on a line immediately after every shower. Results have surprised, per this chat with Slog technical advisor Pierre:
Bath Towel Perpetual Immaculate Virginity


Because a dollar goes a long long way here in one of the poorer cities of Portugal, I can afford a cleaning lady. Two of them! A team! I pay 45€/week for a four-hour cleaning, and the place is immaculate. I feel like an aristocrat. They even wash the windows!

One day the cleaning ladies came immediately after I’d taken a shower. My bath mat and towel were still wet, so they, logically enough, hung them up on the drying line. Which sounds like the most normal thing in the world, but it slammed me like an epiphany.

Half the joy of cleaning ladies is they show you, by example and placement, how grown-ups are supposed to do things. And as a feckless jazz trombonist, I need this coaching. So now, I get out of the shower, and I go hang up the mat and the towel. Every time.

But here’s the thing. I don’t know when to wash the towel. Because it never smells. Ever!

I realize a smell test is flawed, because by the time it smells, it’s festering with bacteria. But given that I’ve been pushing limits, even if it were semi-festered, I’d have already passed the threshold, yet my towel remains snowy pure.

Theory: towels get grotty during extended moisturization. Drastically reduce the moisture window, and you dramatically expand the between-wash habitat zone.

First, is that right?

Second, when do I wash the fucking things? Never??? I feel like I’m doing something viscerally disgusting, but these are thick towels that require a lot of soap and space and energy to wash.
Pierre's reply:
It's only in contact with a freshly washed body, so all it picks up is dead skin, which dries and falls off like dandruff. If that reaches a steady state, you'll never reach the washing stage.
"Theory: towels get grotty during extended moisturization. Drastically reduce the moisture window, and you dramatically expand the between-wash habitat zone. First, is that right?"
"Second, when do I wash the fucking things? Never???"
The state of fluffiness should tell you. If it stops being fluffy (my guess is that it does in a matter of weeks) wash it.

It's still fluffy. I'm ashamed (due to long-engrained stigma issues) to admit that I'm going on a month, but it's actually getting fluffier. Like fine wine, it's improving with age. And it smells great. And I feel bewildered, slovenly, and delighted all at the same time.

YOU NEVER NEED TO WASH BATH TOWELS (but you do need to diligently hang them on a line to dry after every single shower).

No comments:

Blog Archive