On Jan. 16, the toilet-paper manufacturer Cottonelle introduced the Fresh Rollwipe, the planet’s inaugural, fully flushable moist bathroom tissue on a roll. In a boast that would have made Thomas Crapper blush, the company hailed the Fresh Rollwipe as the “first major toilet paper innovation in over 100 years.”
Well, we shall see, cocky Cottonelle. Here in New York, pampering experts were cautiously optimistic about the promised T.P. revolution. “I mean, it sounds soft, as we would hope any toilet paper would be,” said Mara Stern, the director of publicity at Bliss, the Soho day spa. “The whole clean factor makes it interesting.” Lisa Zandee, the director of sales and marketing for W Hotels, was minimally enthused. “We’re always looking for ways we can enhance the products,” she said coolly.
Naturally, one’s toilet-paper choice is a delicate subject, a selection that reveals much about the bathroom stocker, not to mention the bathroom stocker’s concern for his or her friends’ well-being. Neither Ms. Stern nor Ms. Zandee would reveal what brand of toilet paper their respective employers used. (Ms. Stern would say only that it was “nondescript” though “high-quality.”) Representatives of the Plaza and Waldolf-Astoria hotels did not return phone calls from The Observer seeking comment on the subject.
Georgette Farkas, a spokesperson for Daniel Boulud’s restaurant Daniel, was also T.P.-cryptic, refusing to name names. “It’s definitely soft,” she said, adding later: “There’s nothing worse than encountering … cheap toilet paper.”
As for Fresh Rollwipe–a cousin of the old Handi-Wipe, it will come with its own plastic holder–Ms. Stern sounded pessimistic. “We are not down with heavy, perfumy stuff, or anything that smells like a Glade product in any way,” she said. “We would definitely prefer eucalyptus to mountain-berry anything.”
“I think it [toilet paper] is a matter of personal choice, something we could leave to our guests at home,” Ms. Farkas said. Ms. Farkas then indicated that she didn’t want to talk about T.P. anymore. “This is an area that Daniel would rather bow out of,” she said. “I think he sometimes feels there’s sort of a line that he may draw as far as subjects are concerned, and this is it.”
But Dan Biederman was happy to talk about toilet paper, toilets, flushing, the whole deal. Mr. Biederman is the head of the 34th Street Partnership, a business consortium that recently installed a pair of pay toilets at Herald and Greeley squares. “I’m not surprised you called,” Mr. Biederman said gamely when The Observer phoned him up on a recent afternoon.
Mr. Biederman, who’d read newspaper accounts about the Fresh Rollwipe, said he has not decided whether or not to use it in his new public loos. “We’ll follow it closely,” he said. “We always try to improve every project we do, so that we can truly say, after Year 1, 2, 3, that it’s better–much better–than it was when we started.” Still, Mr. Biederman admitted he had other things on his mind besides the first major toilet-paper innovation in a century. “Right now, we’re trying to get ivy to grow up the [toilet stall] sides in the spring,” he said.
It was a cold January afternoon when I entered the damp lobby of the Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th Street to attend a rehearsal taping of Donny Osmond: This Is the Moment , a traveling concert of Broadway hits (“of the most excruciating pop variety,” The Seattle Times had sniffed) sung by Mr. Osmond, the famous cherubic entertainer from Ogden, Utah.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing there. I couldn’t say I was a big fan of Mr. Osmond’s, like the wide-eyed folks who had come from places including Texas and Indiana. I couldn’t say I was a total lunatic, either, like the folks who had come from places including Mexico and Finland.
I was just … curious. An invitation for the This Is the Moment rehearsal described an “up close and personal” performance by Mr. Osmond, with the promise of the performer inviting the audience onstage for a sing-along. Onstage with Donny Osmond? I’d always had a tremendous fear of audience participation, but I’d maintained a vague fascination with Mr. Osmond since my corduroys-with-patches days watching Donny and Marie (even after I discovered, much to my pre-teen chagrin, that the handsome Donny and Marie were brother and sister, not a happily married couple).
So there I was, deep in the Hammerstein cave, waiting for the Big O. The stage glowed under blue lights; upon it, a full orchestra was stacked like a wedding cake. We were warned not to take photographs during the performance–if we did, we were told, they’d snatch our cameras. The show’s stage director spied a couple of empty seats near the front row, which were promptly assigned to a pair of bleach-blond women with Southern drawls. ” Ahhhhhhm dropping dead! This is waaahhhld!” one of the women hooted.
Suddenly, the orchestra stopped tinkering with its instruments. The roadies scurried offstage, and the director began counting down: 10, nine, eight … and then, blam! He was there, atop the orchestra pyramid, in a neat pair of slacks and a flouncy black dress shirt with silver sparkles, his polar-white teeth twinkling under the lights. Spirited by a still-detectable wholesome je ne sais quoi, he stepped down the staircase, squeezed his fist and sang “It’s Possible,” his face contorting into painful-looking twists.
I admit: I wasn’t quite sure how to behave. I felt a little overwhelmed and embarrassed by all those shimmying, hollering fans of Mr. Osmond’s surrounding me. On the other hand, I didn’t want to appear stuck-up or, worse, disdainful–the last thing I wanted was to have Donny spot me in the front row, laughing heartily in his face.
So I went with it, hooting and clapping, submitting to the moment. It was easier than I thought. It has been eons since Mr. Osmond, now in his fifth decade, has had a certifiable hit. But he has passed somewhat respectfully into semi-legend status, padding his child-and teen-star résumé with stints in shows like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and accepting, like a good sport, the ironic-chic embrace of the MTV generation. If nothing else, he remains a likable guy. (Not to mention handsome.)
Mr. Osmond finished the opening song, and the crowd went even wilder. He fixed his gaze upon us and said, “So, being on stage is really all I’ve known my whole life”–an audience-bonding moment slightly diminished by an offstage teleprompter reading: SO, BEING ON STAGE IS REALLY ALL I’VE KNOWN MY WHOLE LIFE.
Later came the eagerly awaited audience-participation bit. During a break with the cameras off, Mr. Osmond turned to the crowd and said, “We’re going to do something here.” The plan, he explained, was that he would descend from the stage and walk among the audience. At the same time, he reminded us not to take photographs–and in a nice, Howard Hughes-ian touch, there would be no handshakes, either. “If I come up to you, just pretend you’re having a good time!” Mr. Osmond instructed.
The cameras rolling, the song began. Mr. Osmond descended from his stage as promised. There was more whooping and hollering, and no photos, no handshakes. On his cue, we rushed up on the stage–onstage with Donny Osmond!–and sang with him. It was about as improvisational as a Presidential campaign photo op, but the energy couldn’t be contained and the sincerity was, well, sincere. “Now I feel that if I die, I will be complete,” a woman beside me confided later. “Even I talked to my pastor. I said, ‘Pastor, you know, I’m serious. If I die, I think I will be happy now, because I saw Donny.’”
Five Things Worth Clearing Up:
1. The actress who plays the crack-smoking teen in Traffic is not Julia Stiles. Her name is Erika Christensen.
2. Cinnamon has three N’s, not two.
3. CeCe Kieselstein-Cord is the mom. Elizabeth Kieselstein-Cord is the daughter.
4. The 917 area code is not just for cell phones.
5. Kim Cattrall was orange at the Golden Globe Awards. That was not your TV.
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