It’s called Towelgate, and it has sent shockwaves through the linen-buying community.
Buzzfeed, picking up a photo from the blog Neotarama, was first to shed light on the sham: “Bed Bath & Beyond Is a Palace of Lies,” the site proclaimed. As the smoking-gun image proves, those gloriously stacked towels lining the walls of the retail chain’s stores aren’t real. Instead, one individual towel is placed upon a rippled foam display, creating the illusion of a stack. So when you think you're seeing five towels, you're really seeing one. Got it? Here, look at the photo again. I know, I just blew your mind.
Like Plato emerging from the cave, the light was almost too much for the Internet to bear. I needed to talk to someone about this, so I called Bed Bath & Beyond’s corporate headquarters. “Busted! Yes our little ‘secret’ has been discovered (again),” wrote spokesperson Jessica Joyce. “We do use a foam mold to keep our towel displays looking neat and clean for our customers.” Busted, indeed. What other types of foolery is the home-goods outlet engaging in? Joyce wouldn’t say.
Unsatisfied by this appalling lack of corporate shame, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Walking into the nearest location, in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, I resolved to blow the lid off this thing, once and for all. Immediately, though, something was amiss: the organizational high I'd depended on for a sense of calm and order in this crazy world had been shattered. If the towel stacks were but an illusion, what of the color-coded wall of scented candles, the adoring forest of hanging shower curtains, the breathtaking 14-foot homage to pads and tampons?
Interviews with store associates and shoppers soon confirmed my suspicion that BBB is nothing more than a cleverly disguised panopticon. The first employee I talked to readily admitted (with a smile!) that yes, the towels were placed on foam displays. A poor cog in the machine, she seemed to feel no more disgrace than a blood-diamond miner. But she maintained that it was the only display in the store that used such sleight of hand.
Seeing this woman was a lost cause, I asked a young male employee to let me in on any other secrets of the franchise. “Um, they’re real and all, but like, we organize these linens by size, king at bottom, twin at top,” he offered. Clearly, here was more evidence that Big Brother & Beyond is trying to mess with us. “So the people with the smallest beds—who presumably are the smallest—have to reach the highest shelf?” He just laughed and turned away.
I returned to the towel section and attempted to speak to a shopper who'd just thrown a few in her cart. When I told her about the farce that lay before her, she rubbed her eyes, clearly under the BBB opiate haze. “Huh. I don't have anything clever to say today. But I'll still buy these towels.”
Searching for someone to join in my outrage, I approached two young men who appeared to have escaped from Occupy Bushwick in search of shelter. I offered to expose the mirage to them, and called for their comment of outrage. “Don't you want to see it for yourself?” I implored. The bearded one shook his head, already resigned to the structural tyranny before him. “I'm sorry, we're busy,” he mumbled, admiring bamboo place-mats.
Still determined to take justice into my own hands, I returned to the towel section again, eager to snap a picture of the foamy deception before me. If none of these people cared, I would expose this story to the world! Because BBB likes to mess with short people, I had to step on a shelf to reach the towel display. Placing a courageous foot upon our social hierarchy itself, the shelf quickly collapsed beneath me. Metaphor.
That’s when I heard a warning on the intercom: “Security, Zone 2.” A manager approached me, all smiles. “Do you have a question?” he asked. “Why yes, yes I do.” I looked him straight in the eye and asked him if it's true. Were all these beautiful folded towels nothing more than an illusion?
"Sure, it's true," he replied. He didn't even seem ashamed.
"Then what else here is an illlusion?" I asked.
"Nothing. That's the only thing. Everything else here is real," he answered before walking away.
I shook my head, and as security lightly hovered near me, contemplated buying a Spiderman lamp.