Tuesday, January 4, 2011


When I was a kid, and just starting to get serious about camping and backpacking, most of the supplies and equipment used by my friends and I came from the CAMPMOR catalog; a small, newsprint affair with smudgy text and poor images of tents and boots and socks made of wool.

In these current, more sophisticated days, everyone has had a subscription to the CAMPMOR catalog, and they fill the recycling baskets of Our Fair Union alongside so many stacks of THE NEW YORKER and THE PARIS REVIEW. But when you live in Bumble-fuuuuudge County Tennessee, a catalog that sells the things you need to traverse glaciers is a magical thing. We would scour every page, wondering which anorak would be the most durable, and debating the merits of different waterproofing techniques. Between BACKPACKER magazine and the CAMPMOR catalog, we were in constant preparation to trade blankets and beads with the Hurons before setting off into untamed wilderness.

Most importantly, inside the pages of the CAMPMOR catalog, you could find a strange elixir that existed no where else in the world (that we knew of). This was DR. BRONNER'S MAGIC ALL-IN-ONE PEPPERMINT SOAP. It came in small, simple bottles, with amazing labels covered in unreadable text. It was apparently the greatest liquid ever made by the hands of man.


* washing
* shampooing
* brushing your teeth
* cleaning dishes
* cleaning clothes
* condition your skin
* lubricate gears
* soften leather
* scrub wounds
* deoderize your smelly armpits
* Freshen your breath
* Invigorate the senses

... and dozens of other applications, all the while smelling (and possibly TASTING) like peppermint. It was soap, detergent, and toothpaste all rolled into one bottle. It was organic (although that was a vague term; it sounded great but had we were unsure what exactly it meant), biodegradable, and best of all, it was made by A CRAZY PERSON.

My friends and I were obsessive weirdos, constantly digging for the strange and esoteric. At age 13, there was very little cooler in the world than THE ILLUMINATI! trilogy, the stretch in CEREBUS where the title character becomes the Pope of a fictional church, or finding French science-fiction comics buried in the backs of dusty used bookstores. We memorized entries from old copies of the FIEND FOLIO and DUNE, debated Sindarin versus Noldor in the Second Age, and dog-eared pages H.P. Lovecraft's texts at mentions of the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred and his Necronomicon. (Of course, thanks to a rise in Geek Culture and the World Wide Internerd, all of this stuff is readily available and used as a punchline on sitcoms. You better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone...)

The rantings and writings of Doctor Bronner became shorthand crazytalk among my Scout Troop for years. Shouts of "DILUTE! DILUTE!" were a battle-cry, and with wild eyes and dirty fingers we were always ready to "help teach the whole Human race the Moral ABC of All-One-God-Faith!". The labels of every bottle of Magic Peppermint Soap were coated, every quarter-inch, with bizarre text that was the perfect combination of biblical ranting, awesome product design, and obsessive, full-throttle CRAZY. It was the perfect prop for our blossoming geekery. We had no idea who Dr. Bronner was, nor did we care. It didn't matter. (In fact, reading an article about him at age 17 kid of ruined the whole thing. It became sad and I felt like a jerk for making fun of what were the sincere beliefs of someone struggling with mental illness.)

I don't think I've ever been without a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap in twenty years. Luckily, it's available now in most every supermarket, drugstore, and deli. I've used for dozens of purposes, and I've tried all the new flavors. At this point, it's beyond just buying a useful product. Now, when I get hit with a whiff of that strong Peppermint (or almond) odor, it takes me back to happy times. Early mornings in empty shower-houses at Camp Stahlman, washing my face in a Blue Ridge Mountain creek after a long day on the trail, and taking bubble-baths with my first real girlfriend in a tiny East Village apartment. A mural of amazing memories the size of Canada's buttocks, without a negative moment among them.

All that, and it smells good.



James Somners said...

Ahh seriously it is the best! It is the only soap I use. An odd countercultural thing of some sort I guess, but it really is all it is cracked up to be, and more. I was shown the wonders of it a few years ago, and now I could not live without it!

Herryponting said...
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