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Bedtime Story

My search for quality sheets has yielded nothing, and I'm throwing in the towel.

While reading the newspaper not long ago, I grew depressed by the number of challenges our nation faces—the decline of the middle class, the ballooning of the national debt, underperforming schools, and a war in Afghanistan with no end in sight. They almost make my problem seem insignificant: an ongoing struggle to find good bed sheets.

For years, my sheets and I got along fine. I would order them from L.L. Bean— a flannel set for winter and a linen set for summer. We put the flannel set on the bed the same fall day we put away the porch furniture. Come spring, when we dragged the porch furniture up from the basement, we would switch to summer sheets.

This arrangement worked well for many years until L.L. Bean apparently decided to save money by making cheaper sheets. Businesses are sneaky this way. They lure you to their product by making decent, reliable merchandise. Once you’re hooked, they find a manufacturer in China who can save them a few dollars, and the CEOs pocket the difference—and then boast how their prices haven’t changed in 10 years. Don’t believe them. If we’re still paying the same price for sheets that last only half as long as the old ones, we’re paying twice as much as we used to.

At the urging of a friend, we recently purchased sheets made of bamboo fibers. You wouldn’t think sheets made of wood would be comfortable, but they are surprisingly soft, and I really enjoy them the few minutes they actually stay on the bed. No matter how tightly I tuck in the bottom sheet, it pops off at the corners after a few minutes, and I have to wake up my wife and dog, clear them off of the bed, and remake it. Today’s sheets leave a lot to be desired.

If bad sheets were my only problem, I could endure it, but bath towels have also conspired to make my life miserable. I can’t count the times I have purchased a fluffy bath towel at the store, taken it home, and laundered it, only to have it come out of the dryer as thin as a Kleenex. Half of the towel is in the lint trap. The bath towel, originally one of humanity’s best inventions, has turned out to be a sore disappointment.

The modern bath towel is engineered for failure. Several years ago, I bought bath towels and a matching shower curtain. The shower curtain is still hanging in there, but the bath towels lasted less than a year. The store where I bought them had discontinued that particular style, so I’ve been unable to buy new towels that match the old shower curtain. Ordinarily, I’m not bothered by non-coordinating bathroom accessories. But I suspect the store had cheap towels made so they’d wear out and I’d have to buy not only new towels, but a new shower curtain to boot. If you ever purchase towels to match a shower curtain, make sure to get at least a dozen towels so you’ll stand a chance of everything wearing out at the same time. As for those matching toothbrush-holder cups that collect congealed toothpaste spit at the bottom, skip those altogether and use a jelly jar.

Some people avoid wearing out new towels by never using them. They hang them above the toilet to look pretty, but everyone knows not to touch them. One of the first things a kid learns is to not use the pretty towels. Nothing makes a mother madder than grubby handprints on a guest towel. The occasional guest is encouraged to use them, but by then the towels are saturated with airborne particles from flushing the toilet. The guests then use them, catch typhoid, and die. Whenever I stay the night at someone else’s house, I smuggle in my own towel.

If given the choice, I prefer hotels over guest bedrooms, mainly because of the towels and the sheets. Most people put their worn-out sheets on the guest bed. They’re worn to a nub and feel like sandpaper. Say what you will about hotels; they have great sheets and even better towels. When I was a bachelor, I used to occasionally help myself to them and for several years had a matching set of Holiday Inn towels, one of which I still use whenever I wax my car. If I owned a hotel, I’d chain the towels to the wall so people like me couldn’t take them.

There are four people in our household, each of whom begins their day with a shower. There are four towels in our upstairs bathroom. Because I work at home, I’m the last one to shower. By the time it’s my turn, all the towels are in a soggy heap on the floor by the ironing board. I have to sort through the pile to find the driest towel. It’s a bad way to start the day, and I usually don’t recover my good mood until lunchtime. The only thing worse than drying yourself with a wet towel is turning off the shower and discovering that all the towels are gone and you will have to dry off with toilet paper.

We wash our towels on Saturday mornings, my one day off. I would love to take a bath on Saturday morning, but my wife has the towels in the washer by 8 a.m., which means I have to be done with my bath by then if I want to get dry. I recently saw a product called a body dryer. You step out of the bathtub, stand under the dryer, push a button, and air blasts out of a vent and dries you. If I had one of those, I could take a bath anytime I darn well pleased, and no one could do anything about it.

When I was a kid, towels came in one color—white. Now they are made in every color known to man, but white is still the best color for a towel. If you don’t get clean, a white towel turns dirty, and you know to get back in the shower. A white towel keeps you on your toes, hygiene-wise.

Not long ago, I spent two days at a hotel. There were six white, fluffy towels in the bathroom, and over the course of those two days I took six showers just so I could use a fresh towel each time. There was a sign on the bathroom counter suggesting I use the same towel each time to save energy, but having a fresh towel for each shower is such a rare pleasure I couldn’t help myself. It was the best time I ever spent in a hotel room, except for my honeymoon, when I discovered that in addition to nice towels, the hotel we were staying in had also placed a shoeshine rag and a sewing kit in each room. I don’t know what you did on your honeymoon night, but I guarantee you didn’t have more fun than I.