Q-tips and Other Afternoon Musings

We were out of Q-tips and I went to the store to buy more earlier today. I wasn’t entirely sure which aisle they were in, but figured they’d be in the same aisle as things like medicine and nail polish remover. There was store employee stocking shelves on that aisle and I asked where Q-tips were.

“Where what is?” he asked.

“Q-tips,” I said.



This went on a for bit. Masks protect us from death and dismantle much of our person-to-person communication system. Finally he said, “What is it?”

That gave me pause. I stood there realizing that I had no idea how to describe what a Q-tip was. “A stick with a cotton part on each end,” is what came to mind. I imagined him directing me to cotton candy mix.

“What’s it used for?”

Again, I was stumped. After a pause I said, “Uh, for cleaning things.”

“You’ll probably found them on aisle nine,” he said, clearly relieved.

I thanked him and headed back the way I’d come to find my way over to aisle nine. I got ten feet and found the Q-tips.

Thinking about this made me wonder. Q-tips is a name brand, like Band-Aid. I don’t know what to call the things other than Q-tips, but this guy had no idea what a Q-tip was, even after my feeble attempts at describing it. Looking at the box of Q-tips afterward, I see they describe themselves as “cotton swaps.” That’s not how I would have described them. If I’d asked for cotton swabs, I’d have expected to be directed to cotton balls, which is not what I was looking for.

Q-tips are also described (on the box) as “The Ultimate Home and Beauty Tool.” No offense to Q-tips, but it is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of a home tool. A screwdriver, a hammer, a wrench–those are the things that come to mind. I think the good people at Unilever are exaggerating a bit when they refer to Q-tips as the “ultimate” home or beauty tool.

The box indicated that Q-tips have a variety of uses, and they call out four:

  1. Beauty
  2. First aid
  3. Baby care
  4. Home & electronics

With the exception of the last item (I have used Q-tips to help clean small electronics), I’ve never used Q-tips for any those other uses. In fact, the one thing I do use Q-tips for–cleaning my ears after a shower–isn’t even listed as use.

My quarterly issue of UCR Magazine (UC Riverside being my alma mater) arrived in the mail today. When this magazine arrives, the first thing I always do is turn to the in memorium pages to see who died and if I knew them. I suppose this is no different to my starting the morning paper with the obituaries, but it still seems a little morbid to me.

Next, I turn to the class notes to see if anyone I know has been mentioned. I was in the class of ’94 and I rarely see anyone mentioned from that class. When I do, I rarely recall the person mentioned. It seems that our class was relatively unremarkable.

I’ve always wondered about those class note. I used to think that the staff of the UCR Magazine kept tabs on the names of alumni and would write brief notes about things they discovered. At some point, however, I noted that at the bottom of the page, there is this message:

“Have an update? Submit a class note at…” followed by a website. Which means the people themselves are submitting updates. I’ve seen updates about people with new books coming out (3 of the updates in the current issue are about forthcoming books), but never realized that the author’s themselves were submitting these. I don’t think I could have brought myself to submit a note saying that my latest story was appearing in Analog Science Fiction. On the other hand, I would be up for submitting parodies of updates. Here is one update that I could imagine submitting today:

Jamie Todd Rubin ’94’, was asked by a store clerk what a Q-tip was for. He was unable to come up with a good answer. So much for that 4-year education in a top-tier California university.

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