I’ve always looked up to Amy Sedaris. You know, she was born across the river from my hometown? And ever since her Comedy Central TV show Strangers With Candy filled my adolescent eyeballs with its raunchy, subversive humor, I’ve definitely known who she is. You can’t miss her. Beyond her iconic character, Jerri Blank, she’s cultivated a persona of screwball physical comedy, outrageous grossness, and over-the-top femininity that I give a silent nod of respect to: can relate. She’s maintained my respect for the past two decades, and that’s saying something in this day and age when it seems like every other day, someone you looked up to as a kid turns out to be racist, homophobic, transphobic, or a sexual predator. Amy Sedaris has remained — as far as I know — an incorruptible force of positivity and light for weird kids and weird kids-at-heart.
Which is why I felt so weird about her napkin commercial.
Like, how can I get mad at *napkins,* you know? “Selling out” for napkins? It felt a little bit like a shot across the generational bow: my generation (Millennials) are supposedly KILLING THE NAPKIN INDUSTRY, and I instinctively recoiled: is this another Baby Boomer (Amy Sedaris was born in 1961) howling at us “CrAzY kIdS” (aged 23-38) to buy wasteful, disposable, eco-unfriendly paper products?
Oh yeah. Amy Sedaris got me to Feel Feelings about NAPKINS. Here we go.
Napkins were TOTALLY a part of the mise en scène of my white-middle-class-suburban-background. Nightly family dinners meant SETTING THE TABLE which meant a napkin at every place setting! There was a napkin BASKET which held the napkins in a temporary state between storage, and distribution on the table. I absolutely took napkins for granted! And it took Amy Sedaris to make me realize I haven’t had a proper NAP-KIN like the ones I grew up with since… uh, well, the last time I visited my parents!
I think I was led to believe that napkins would be a much bigger part of my adulthood, a necessary component of a home. But I can say confidently that I have NEVER PURCHASED NAPKINS NOT EVEN ONCE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. Those Millennials killing the napkin industry? C’est moi.
I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m not a messy eater. Friends, I am perhaps *the* messiest eater. Have you ever heard of “Onigiri Chin”?!? I invented Onigiri Chin: it’s when you’re eating the onigiri you bought in the basement of Penn Station from the sushi stall next to the bookstore and you open your mouth so wide to scarf it down while shoving your way through Herald Square to your therapy appointment that the lipstick from your lower lip smudges off onto your chin. Oh I’m exactly the kind of consumer who could benefit from a good ol’ napkin. But when I’m perched on the edge of my bed — where I eat all of my meals at home, leaning over my vanity, watching Chopped on my laptop — I’m more likely to reach for a tissue off my bedside table to wipe the mayonnaise off of my chin. Tissues are perfectly functional as napkins! In the past, I’ve also used paper towels, if I’m anticipating a BIG (mayonnaise) mess. Napkins! Who needs ’em!
This isn’t to say I haven’t used a napkin in my life since I left my parents’ home. Sure, there are still napkins in my life. But where are they?
Well of course, there are napkins in restaurants. I remember Napkin Etiquette 101, I know how to put a cloth napkin on my lap at a fancy establishment! But cloth napkins are always fraught with anxiety: they always fall off your lap and onto the floor, requiring you to ask a waiter to bring you a new napkin. Where do you PUT your napkin when you get up to go to the bathroom? On the table? On your chair? And then there’s my very specific napkin anxiety: LIPSTICK. I always feel like I get nasty glances when I walk into a nice place with my bold, dark lipstick choices, as if they just KNOW I’m gonna get red or purple or blue stains on their white cloth napkins. Ugh! The horrors!
Now if I’m in a Starbucks or a Pret A Manger, where you can help yourself to napkins, I’ll grab a fistful and keep them in my purse, but not for napkins. Ya see, in NYC, often-times you’ll need to use a public bathroom and more often than not, there won’t be any toilet paper. Here’s where your purse-stash-o’-napkins comes to the rescue! Hey, it isn’t ideal, but it beats the alternative! Ya following me still? Tissues as napkins! Napkins as toilet paper! It’s all a construct! FREE YOUR MIND!
BUT I have to admit, I still do find the *idea* of paper napkins charming, *especially* when they’re tossed into a bag of delivery food. It’s like a tiny pretense of class and civility even when YOU KNOW I’m eating this meal on the edge of my bed while watching TV. And if crouching over a drippy sandwich so you don’t spill on your sweatpants while watching Hulu isn’t something that Jerri Blank would approve of, then maybe I don’t see eye-to-eye with my hero after all. I’ve pled my case. And after all that — I don’t know about you but — I’m wiped.
napkin image via Wikimedia Commons