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On HandkerchiefsI grew up using Kleenex rather than handkerchiefs. That was one of many domestic memes I inherited from my mother, one that falls somewhere between the real ideas, like banister pigeonholes, and the simple brand preferences. (Isn't it funny that domestic memes are like mitochondrial DNA not only in being useful but also in being matrilineal? Is that a coincidence, or is there some reason for it?)
I think it was in graduate school that I first tried handkerchiefs and then gradually switched over to using them exclusively. I completely don't remember what it was that made me try them. I did develop a half-serious Kleenex conspiracy theory, but I'm pretty sure that came later. It's the lint, you see … the lint that comes off a Kleenex when you shake it. You breathe it in, and it makes you sneeze more. And, it's not just Kleenex … all the tissue companies are in on it! I'm not kidding!
Anyway, these days I treat handkerchiefs as just another kind of underclothes. I have a grocery bag full of them (but that's another story), and every morning I pick one out, fold it, and put it in my pants pocket.
Handkerchiefs have more uses than you might think.
For most of the above, it's important that the handkerchief be made of some reasonably thick material that absorbs water … and that brings me to another theory I have.
It took me a long time to find handkerchiefs I really liked. I had a few good ones, but I just couldn't find any more like them—all I could find was silk handkerchiefs plus some cotton handkerchiefs that when taken home and washed invariably proved to be thin and shiny. But, in the end, I did figure it out. The problem was, I wasn't taking into account what many people apparently consider to be the single most important use of a handkerchief: looking good folded into a triangle in a suit pocket. So, when I looked for good handkerchiefs in department stores, I found handkerchiefs that looked good; and when I gave up and went to Target, I found ones that were good for sneezing into … and that were cheaper, too.
By the way, I had the same kind of problem with dish towels, and although I've solved it, I still don't really understand it. I've tried buying dish towels in various places, and it always seems to me that they don't absorb water, which to me is the whole point. Instead, all they do is spread it around. The only explanation I've come up with is that maybe they're optimized for drying hands rather than dishes. Anyway, the solution, which I only discovered by accident, by seeing them in use at a friend's house, is flour sack towels. They're thin, but really do absorb water.
@ June (2004)