Part one here.
Recently, my husband and I were in the City Market in Moab buying supplies for my special needs daughter’s formula. For fun, we sifted through the motorcycle skullcap rack, looking for a skullcap €”with skulls €”that my husband might like to wear in addition to the one I bought him following his recent brain surgery. That one is a black tieback cap ornamented with grey and white skulls clenching their crossbones in their teeth €”defiant pirate regalia. It goes well with his salt and pepper beard. I glanced toward my next destination €”the laundry soap aisle €”and noticed a man there, early-to-mid sixties, prowling restlessly up and down in front of the soap. He glanced at me briefly then returned to studying the shelves. I thought I detected more than a little bit of address in his glance, and indeed, when I entered the aisle, he whirled around and accosted me.
€œExcuse me, Madame, € he said. He had a French accent: €œMadame € was meh-DAM. €œI wish to buy soap for my laundry. But I do not know what to do. All these say they are €˜essential,’ € he said, indicating an Arm and Hammer container bearing the word Essentials, €œbut I cannot tell if they are or not. €
I had launched into the aisle looking for a specific product. As a practice, I mentally dodge the hundreds of other brightly colored and heavily worded bottles and boxes groping immodestly for my attention. This man’s question breached my fortified serenity. The distracting and mendacious language on the labels of every one of those bottles roared to full volume. I saw through his eyes the visually and linguistically confusing clamor in its entirety, added to by a din of perfumes. For my own peace of mind, I had learned to ignore the hyperventilating American English that advertising sharps and whomever it is that names motor vehicles has inflicted upon us all. But the man’s question punched through all defenses, and I stood, staring at the embarrassing columns of forced meaninglessness €”a parade of cartoonish nihilism.
One Gain detergent advertised itself as €œOriginal fresh, € another as €œJoyful Expressions € scented €œApple Mango Tango. € Surf, naturally, harvested from the sea for its image: €œSparkling Ocean. € Xtra had one scented version dubbed €œTropical Passion, € and another product in its €œScentSations € line advertised itself as smelling of €œSpring Sunshine. € The Arm and Hammer product in question not only had tagged itself €œEssentials, € but also had aligned itself with natural forces: €œHarnessing the Power of Nature. € Ultra Purex had an especially complex label, promoting its €œNatural Elements, € describing itself as €œNaturally Sourced, € and claiming to be scented €œlinen and lilies. € Tide Total Care had branded itself with the trademarked, shape-shifting phrase, €œrenewing rain. € Quite the potpourri of natural imagery, everything in the world but actual, open-to-the-eye information that might help the gentleman choose the right product for his needs.
Sadness overcame me. Was the Arm and Hammer detergent €”or any of the soaps asserting necessity €”literally €œessential €?
I shook my head, ashamed. €œNo, € I said. €œThey are not. €
€œWhich one do I buy then? € he asked. €œI want only a little, something cheap. €
What a dilemma. Responsibility for improving or confirming the opinion that the entire French nation (or Quebec €”Je me souviens) holds of Americans dropped heavily on my shoulders. I scanned up and down the shelves, mind spinning at the impossibility of deciding based solely on label descriptions and price. I was about to shrug apologetically and inform the gentleman he was on his own in the suds jungle when Sun Products Corporation came to my rescue. Their 50-ounce bottle of All detergent, #1 dermatologist recommended, with its comparatively simple label design, happened to be on sale for a bargain $2.99. All Free and Clear is the default laundry soap in our household. I snatched a bottle off the shelf.
€œThis is what I use, € I said, holding it out to him hopefully. €œIt has no perfumes or dyes, and it’s on sale €”it’s cheap, € I said.
He inspected the bottle closely. €œYou use this to pour into the laundry? € he said, indicating the plastic cap.
€œYes, € I said and started reading the instructions.
€œI think I can understand those, € he said, taking the bottle from my hand. €œThank you. €
He turned on his heel and fled the aisle, swinging the bottle as he walked. Palpable waves of impatience and €”was that disgust? €”rolled off his person. If it was disgust, no doubt it was magnified when he reached the checkout counter and discovered the $2.99 sale price applied only to those carrying a City Market Value Card.
Wish I’d remembered that …
To read part three, click here.