Published on November 3rd, 2014 | by Richard Black


The Gift of Soap: When You Care Just Enough to Give the Very Least


Soap. When you care just enough to give the very least.

I was washing my hands a few days ago (please know that I’ve washed my hands a few times since then as well) when I came to a profound question or at least as profound as I get when it comes to questions. Ready? Here it goes.

At what point over the past few decades did it become appropriate to give someone a bar of soap as a gift? It’s a rhetorical question so you don’t have to answer but please feel free to comment if you’re inclined.

It’s nice to be noticed.

Like most English Composition majors I know that Big Soap rose to power in the 1990s. It was all part of Bill Clinton’s attempt invigorate the economy by prompting millions of women to buy fourteen dollar bars of soap for each other in lieu of a more thoughtful gift like a toaster oven or a vacuum cleaner. At least that’s what I assume Slick Willy had in mind by “not having sexual relations” (wink, wink) with Monica Lewinsky.

It’s hard for me to believe that a man from Arkansas would succumb to his baser instincts and jeopardize the integrity of the office of the president for a BJ without an ulterior motive. My point is that by the time the investigation was over and we’d learned that Monica had preserved a dress with the President’s seed, in addition to the fact that a cigar could now be considered a sexual device, the entire nation wanted to take a scalding hot shower and we needed soap to make it happen. The rest of the story writes itself. Soap began flying off the shelves at exorbitant prices prompting boutique soap shops to rent space in malls which in turn sparked a rise in the stock market via REITs and the economic recovery was set in motion.

They don’t call him Slick Willy for nothing after all.

Economic lessons in history aside my recent interest in the subject occurred as I was giving my daughter a bath. I’m talking about soap now and not Bill Clinton’s sexual preferences or how he singlehandedly reinvigorated the economy. As Darcy flounced around in the tub I noticed that someone, perhaps my wife or a soap industry ninja, had replaced the bar we’d been using for the past few years. It’s a nice bar of soap, the new one that is. It smells like cinnamon or coriander or some other spice designed to engage the nose in a misguided attempt to…well presumably get the public to buy baked goods or eat soap or create some very confusing feelings for everyone as they shower in an attempt to boost the sagging profits in the psychology/medical sector. I couldn’t say.

As I continued my rather broken but somewhat coherent train of thought it occurred to me that I haven’t bought a bar of soap for a good twelve years, a period that roughly coincides with the amount of time I’ve been with my wife. This thought lead to another which I promptly forgot and is unfortunate because I’m pretty sure it could have solved the whole ebola issue in Africa and the crisis between Israel and Palestine but again, I digress.

A few days later I found myself washing my hands again in the same bathroom sans daughter and recalled that I should probably be screened for ADHD but, more pertinently, remembered that people, acquaintances, friends and family members continue to buy my wife soap. Being a recent fan of linear thought and, in the interest of continuity for this post, I began to ponder the mystery of how it came to be appropriate to give someone a cleansing product as a gift.

Speaking from the male viewpoint if anyone gave me a bar of soap I’d wonder whether or not I needed to take a shower. I don’t shower often mind you but I’d still think that the gesture would be a bit rude and shortsighted to boot. Fortunately men don’t buy each other gifts, at least straight men don’t. We just buy a buddy a gift card to Home Depot and Best Buy and call it a day if we can even manage to do that.

Women are different from men or so I’ve heard and not just because they have a vagina, breasts and internal plumbing that makes a Rube Goldberg machine look simple. Women take passive aggressive gift giving to to a new level but apparently giving and receiving a bar of soap these days is something they all just take in stride.

I’ll never be able to fathom what goes on in the female mind, or the mind of anyone else for that matter. That said every time I see my wife open up a present that turns out to be a bar of soap I can’t help but think that some bitchy clique of girls in high school was sending her a message.

“Like I really love you. FYI you don’t smell all that bad I just didn’t have the time to find you something REALLY nice but when I was at Target I thought you could REALLY use these twelve bars of Irish Spring deodorant soap. It’s the strongest scent I could find. Don’t take it like personally but here’s a gift certificate for a lifetime supply of depilatory cream and some Tic Tacs. I TOTALLY LUV you BFF LOL GAG.

I think my real question is where do we draw the line? What sort of hygiene products are acceptable to gift in this day and age? Is it appropriate to give my college bound niece a a lifetime supply of tampons in lieu of a more thoughtful gift?

According to my wife who is reading this post the answer is a clear and very loud “no” but that’s probably because I don’t know what her size might be or if she even uses tampons.

My wife is now telling me that my niece does not want to receive tampons but what about maxi pads?

As my wife has just thrown a shoe at my head I intuit that gifting a young woman a metric ton of sanitary napkins is apparently also not cool.

Please tune in to other updates as I investigate this issue in depth with a less hostile and barefoot audience.

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