Soapbox Time

Scott Gardner

The other day while taking a shower (which is not to say that I haven’t taken any since then), I observed that the bar of soap in the dish had been reduced to a small, warped, transparent green rectangle resembling a slimy, half-melted microscope slide used as part of some inhuman 19th century biological experiment. This brought to mind an important assignment I had given myself about a week before but had continually neglected to do, which was of course to replace the soap in the shower.

Trying to use the remaining shard in the dish would have involved a careful lather-dance requiring equal efforts in manual dexterity, gentleness, force, and grace, so as not to lose it down the drain, crumble it to bits in my hand, or perhaps even lacerate myself with its sharp edges. However, having woken up just three or so minutes ago, I knew I would not be up to such a task. So, admitting failure in the timely fulfillment of my assignment, I got out of the shower and took a few cold, wet steps toward the cabinet under the sink to retrieve a new bar.

I quickly located a promising squarish container in a basket on a lower shelf, ripped it open, and returned with its contents to the warm cocoon of the shower room without undue exposure to the icy February morning air. But I am not always so lucky in under-sink expeditions, and this was my reason for making “replace the soap” a formal project on which I had hoped to bring all my faculties to bear while in a relaxed state, without the distractions of time, temperature, or wet nakedness. For under the bathroom sink, behind the towels and in the dark corners, there are things lying in wait, unheard-of gelatinous things in fluorescent colors, strangely shaped entities that seem designed to startle, odoriferous creations defying adequate description—despite the fact that, ironically, they are covered with labels.

I’m talking about the plethora of personal care products: shampoos, conditioners, body washes, body wipes, face scrubs, elbow scrubs, neck tighteners and dead skin looseners. The more exotic ones mix their standard smelly ingredients with substances you’d be hard pressed to imagine, such as salt, sand, plankton, coconut oil, olive oil, motor oil, microbeads and nanoscrunchies. (Note: personal hygiene products in the United States are now prohibited by law from including tiny artificial abrasives such as microbeads and broken glass.)

Recently I noticed from the label on my shampoo that it was “thickening.” I don’t know exactly how many months or years I have used this particular brand, but it suddenly occurred to me that for the first several decades of my life I was most likely using shampoos that were not “thickening”—meaning that they could well have been thinning shampoos instead. As this “8-ball to the cranium” realization set in, I started rifling through all the other bottles and tubes in the bathroom to see what their labels were—and were not—telling me. 

Among them I found a “refreshing cleanser” (as opposed to, I guess, car-washing soap or floor wax, which reminds us of little else than exhausting labor); a “deep treatment mask” (something psychoanalytical?); and a “thoroughly clean face wash” (which is probably top of its line and costs substantially more than the lower-end “deficiently decontaminated” or “appallingly germ-ridden” face washes).

One of the more curious bottles I saw, sitting next to a toilet brush, was an “all-purpose cleaner.” Surely this one made everything else redundant, didn’t it? A cleaner that does it all: cleanses, sanitizes, treats, lifts, rejuvenates, thickens, massages, maybe even guts your Christmas turkey for you. I was ready to start brushing my teeth with it until I noticed the promotional photo on the label, which clearly showed the product being sprayed on some moldy bathroom tiles. By this time I’d been awake for a good 15 minutes or more, lucid enough to guess that maybe this cleaner wasn’t quite as universal in its applications as I had at first thought. So I spritzed a bit into each armpit instead, and went to get dressed, feeling refreshed.