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Rolling Out the Raw Truth About Deprivation on a Deserted Island

July 19, 1999|ROY RIVENBURG

Gilligan 1999: If you were marooned on a deserted island and could have only one item with you, what would it be? That's the question posed by Kimberly-Clark in a recent survey of 1,000 Americans.

Here are our top choices:

* A cell phone

* A complete wardrobe, including smoking jacket (a la Thurston Howell III)

* Ginger or Mary Ann (preferably played by Elizabeth Hurley)

But apparently we're in a minority. The No. 1 item chosen in the survey--even over food--was toilet paper. Never mind that without food, nobody's going to need toilet paper. It still captured 49% of the vote.

Other popular "necessities" included fleece jackets (4.6%), Post-it Notes (in case you want to stick "Help" messages all over the island), pantyhose (1.6%), hair spray (to look your best when the rescuers arrive) and paper clips (so you can keep your receipts together for tax purposes).

The survey was conducted as part of a publicity campaign for Kimberly-Clark's new toilet paper, Kleenex Cottonelle with Cushy Ripples. However, it isn't the strangest part of the campaign. That honor goes to a toilet paper biography included with the promotional materials.

According to Kimberly-Clark, toilet paper as we now know it, is less than a century old. What did people use before that? Well, we recommend finishing your breakfast before reading any farther. Cavemen probably cleaned themselves with leaves and sticks, historians say. But geography was also a factor. In coastal regions, mussel shells were popular, and in tropical climates people used coconut shells.

In colonial America, the top choices were corncobs or newspapers (obviously this was before Off-Kilter). In 1857, when the first commercially packaged toilet paper was rolled out, it flopped because Americans saw no reason to pay for blank paper when their bathrooms were stocked with department store catalogs and old newspapers which served the same purpose and offered good reading. (Call this the "read 'em and wipe" theory.)

It wasn't until 1902 that the concept of toilet paper finally caught on. Today, running out of TP is one of the biggest fears in American households, according to surveys. The average family stores eight rolls to avoid such a mishap.

Panhandling in the '90s: Sign held by a homeless person in San Francisco: "www.sparechange.com."

Flying in the '90s: Daytona Beach International Airport has announced plans to give funeral directors 500 frequent-flier miles for every dead body they ship from the Florida airport aboard Delta Air Lines.

Milestones in History: This week 74 years ago, the AAA auto club publicly stated that women were as capable as men of driving a car.

Except that women need to stop and ask for directions. Men never have that problem.

Best Supermarket Tabloid Headline: "One in Five Dogs and Cats Descended From Space Aliens, Say Experts!" (Weekly World News)

This will probably lead to a new bestseller: "Mutts Are From Mars, Kitties Are From Venus."

Unpaid Informants: Wireless Flash News Service, Nancy Wride, San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press. Off-Kilter's e-mail address is roy.rivenburg@latimes.com. Off-Kilter runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays--except when we're stranded on an uncharted island.

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