Harvey Estes

Harvey Estes.

I recycle bath towels. I am not ashamed to admit it. When you take a shower, you are clean. You use a clean towel to remove clean moisture from your clean skin. Surely you can let it dry and use it once or twice more.

This could be a genetic thing. My dad recycled bath towels and more. In his later years, my sister walked into his kitchen one day and saw a couple of paper towels draped over the back of a chair. When she asked him what they were doing there, he said, “Oh, I’m drying them out; I’ve only used them once.”

Fortunately, my wife and I are the same religion, at least on this issue. We even have our own system to keep from confusing whose towel is whose. We drape our towels over the same shower curtain rod, but I know which is which, because she tells me, “I am always right; use that to remember that my towel is on the right.” Memory devices always work better when they are based on accepted fact.

How devoted am I to towel recycling? Sometimes I even grab a once- or twice-used towel and take it with me to the gym for when I shower there. I did that for a while until ...

... I got my gym card renewed at Greenville Aquatics and Fitness Center and discovered that I have free towel privileges. I can just waltz in, say “Towel, please,” and hand over my gym card. They look at the word TOWEL printed in red and voila.

“Large or small?” they always ask with a smile, and I always say, “Do you have extra-large? I have a lot of real estate to cover.” And they always laugh at least a courtesy laugh. What would life be without basic rituals? And also I just saved 50 cents. And also I have saved washing a towel at home, which over time, begins to mount up. The blessings accumulate.

And they’re good towels, too, wound up in tight little rolls, exactly the right texture between crisp and soft. And, there’s nothing like the confidence of leaving the gym clean rather than in the malodorous state I have sometimes known. It’s important to protect the environment from air pollution. I have, at times, been the planet’s worst enemy.

But there’s still a problem here and I just can’t let this go. I get dried off in the locker room and the towel is so efficient that it seems barely moist, I know I could squeeze a good two or three more showers out of it. So instead of tossing it into the hamper, I take it to the main desk by the exit.

“Hey, let’s be sensible. I know this towel has at least a couple of showers left in it. And I would hate for you folks to have to wash it just for the few tiny drops of clean water that I have left on it. So ... do you mind if I take it home with me, use it a couple more times, and then bring it back?”

As usual, the words are said with a smile, “No, I’m sorry. The towels have to remain here.” Well, I don’t blame them. Anyone in the hotel industry could tell you, when people take your towels, you just can’t count on anyone to bring them back. I wouldn’t trust me either.

But still, it was hard to avoid the feeling that the system is against me. I was trying to conserve on resources and save the planet, but they just wouldn’t let me do it. I got so depressed that I went home and binge-dried off with at least a dozen fresh towels and threw them all in with the dirty laundry with only one use each.

That was when I hit rock bottom. I woke up in a hotel room in Conetoe, barely used towels scattered everywhere.

But I found a 12-step group (there really is a meeting for every addiction), got towel-sober, and once again I’m a 2-or-3-shower-per-towel man.

And I live by the rules ... most of the time. But every now and then I sneak a towel home from the gym and use it a couple more times, and sneak it back. I have gotten away with it so far, so when you read this, please keep it to yourself.

Harvey Estes is a nationally published puzzle master whose Pitt County Crossroads puzzle alternates with his column in The Daily Reflector every other week. He lives in Pitt County north of Greenville.