One day about two weeks ago, I received a small envelope in the mail. No return address. I could feel a small, square packet underneath the outer paper. It had the telltale squishiness of an individually-packaged prophylactic. "Who the hell just sent me a condom?" It was near Valentine's Day, after all. I thought it was either a gesture of bonne chance or a creepy offer from some as-yet-unkown admirer.
But no, it was just a moist towelette from Lyle. A simple reminder, not an offer of safe sex. So, Lyle, this one's for you, though I warn you it's more about the moist and less about the towelette.
Take a look at the adjective "moist" for a moment. According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, the word is derived from the Middle English moiste, from Anglo-French, perhaps from Vulgar Latin *muscidus, alteration of Latin mucidus slimy, from mucus nasal mucus.
It is currently defined as:
1. Slightly or moderately wet.
3. Characterized by high humidity.
Not a very promising start. In baking or cooking, moistness is typically a quality to which we aspire-- it is the general goal of most cakes and chicken breasts, for example, to be moist. If they are not, the more sensitive cook will himself become moist around the eyes, as in the second definiton of the word.
I have often attempted to avoid the word "moist" altogether, with tremendous awkwardness. To compliment a dinner hostess on her cake by saying, "That was a wonderful carrot cake, Mrs. Baker. It was so wonderfully not dry." implies that this is something out of the norm, in terms of her baking skills. Saying that you are delighted to find the cake delightfully undessicated would fare no better. Instead, I have learned to say, "It's really good."
The word's synonyms are far less attractive. To hail someone's roast chicken as damp, dank, aqueous, steamy, clammy, humid, vaporous, dripping, boggy, or swampy would fare you no better in the diplomacy department than trying to use its antonyms.
Sadly, "moist" is the least offensive word choice available. And, don't worry, I won't look into the word "towelette." Not on this blog, anyhow.
The Moist Towelette
There is so much to say on the topic of hand washing, both before and after meals, as a social ritual or an obsession with hygiene, that I will merely direct you to someone who can tell you about all the various customs and taboos related to the subject. If you haven't read Margaret Visser's The Rituals of Dinner yet, I will hound you until you do.
There is precious little for me to say on the actual topic of moist towelettes. My phone call to the Kleenex Hotline yielded nothing. As to where and when they originated, I can tell you nothing.
They can be found in numerous places: fried chicken eating establishments, rib joints, automotive centers, casinos, airplanes, possibly even The Lusty Lady Theatre. Moist towelettes are nearly always offered to customers free of charge, often with a company's logo and business information printed on the package. They are, in a real sense, viewed as sanitizing business cards.
There are numerous aliases for the Moist Towelette: sanitary handwipes, wet wipes, wet naps, moist wipes, fresh wipes, etc. They are, by and large, the same thing. On wandering the aisles of a Walgreen's recently, I discovered with little surprise that they are very similar in make up to Baby Wipes, Feminine Wipes, and Toilet Wipes. Just add a little baby powder, springtime, or pine-fresh scent, slap on a different label, and you've got yourself a brand new product. It's just genius.
If there is more you'd like to know, good luck. However, if you'd like to make contact with a few people who are obsessed with moist towelettes, or would simply enjoy playing a quiet game of moist towelette Concentration, please visit ModernMoistTowelette.com.
Homemade Moist Towelettes
I know it sounds rather odd-- even a complete waste of time-- but you can, in fact, make your own. And without Polysorbate 20, Methylisothiazolinone, or Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate. They are gloriously, mindlessly easy.
Imagine your home made moist towelettes at your next outdoor or utensil-free eating event. At first, your guests will wonder what the hell you are offering them. If you have no problem at all with the word "moist", your explanation will be a simple one. If you're anything like me, you can just say, "They're for wiping your hands." People will thrill at your ingeniousness. And your thoughtfulness.
You can be just as clever as the folks at Kleenex or Proctor and Gamble, changing the scent of your wipes to suit your needs. Having a Moroccan Feast? Scent your wipes with almond oil. Persian? How about a bit of rosewater? Barbeque? Who cares? Just soak the towels in warm beer for all I care. The point is that the possibilities are endless.
1 cup Witch Hazel
1 tsp Glycerine
20 squares of good quality paper towels.
Fragrance of your choice (as much as you dare)
Fold paper towels into non-threateningly-sized squares. Combine witch hazel, glycerin, and fragrance in a small container with a lid. Like one of those free cruets that would come with your packages of Good Seasons Zesty Italian dressing mix. Shake well, and pour over paper towels. Let towels stand for a few minutes to absorb the liquid.