Duke Cannon Supply Co. – Big Ass Beer Soap

“John Wayne's Butt”

The Duke Cannon Supply Co. offers a lot of similar products that are meant to appeal to a retro appreciation of manly values and tastes, and they do a pretty thorough job of covering all the bases, both evoking nostalgia and poking fun at contemporary tastes. To what degree it's tongue-in-cheek, somewhat ironic, is not totally evident, which I guess is good marketing, since “all-in-fun” is more universally appealing than “angry and disgruntled.” And while it's not exactly unique to name your product “Big Ass” something, it still feels a little bit bold. At 10 ounces, this huge block of soap is impressive to hold on to. Their website is a lot of fun, and so is the box, which includes a photo of the top of a beer can on one end, and in the fine print, a rant against craft beer. That the soap is made with beer as one of the ingredients allows a marketing tie-in with Old Milwaukee beer, which adds to the regular guy, real man thing. I do love the Old Milwaukee logo, and the idea of it, though when I did drink beer, I remember it being on the low end of the spectrum as far as swill-factor went, but I drank my share because it was cheap.

Oddly, there are no ingredients listed on the box, though I did find them on the website. Not surprisingly, some chemical-y bullshit, but I'm sure they would find my interest in ingredients not manly, and any possible concern with personal or environmental health to be against their credo. Or at least the values of the “Duke Cannon” character they are portraying. I'm guessing that a lot of this soap is given as a gift and then never leaves the box—I've found that your average person is freaked out about trying new things, soap included. I wonder if it should be considered a manly value, to boldly try new, weird food, or new unusual soap? Anyway, to their credit, I found the light tan color lovely and the large letter “D” indented in the soap compelling. It felt soft and sudsy, and didn't make me break out (rarely a concern, but always a plus in its absence). My greatest focus was on the soap's fragrance and how that made me feel over the bar's fairly lengthy life. My obsession with fragrance, I'm sure, is decidedly not a manly endeavor.

At first, the smell nauseated me a little bit—not extremely, not terribly—but it was definitely on the unpleasant side. But as I used it (and I realize this has become a common theme) either the fragrance mellowed out a little or maybe I just got used to it. It definitely grew on me, and while I'm not totally in love with it, I like it a lot, like a man friend who is a little inappropriate at times. I guess part of the appeal is that I can't really nail down the smell. It reminds me of something, it's nostalgic, kind of retro, I guess, and really does evoke, to some degree, a working-man, or door-to-door salesman smell. There's probably something out there it matches up with exactly, but I just can't figure it out. Let me try one last time: OK, it brings back some childhood memory, like a soap my parents used or some aftershave my father had. I admit, Duke Cannon really pulled it off. I suppose not wanting you to think it will be like bathing with stale beer, their marketing claims a “Woodsy, Sandalwood Scent,” which strikes me as a little... artistic. If you were really dead-set on a retro man's soap, why not Kirk's Castile or Fels-Naptha?—two hardcore cleansing soaps I remember from childhood (which I have yet to review, here). Well, because that's not the point really—the point is humor and nostalgia—which this soap does have, in spades.

Soap Review No. 73

Chami Soap – Laurel Soap

“Laurel Gray”

At first, this doesn't seem like soap at all, because it's such a rough-hewn, hard-edged, uneven, square brick, and it's even uneven in color—green, brown, tan, parts of it pretty light, and parts of it very dark (my “tagline” Laurel Gray doesn't refer to the color, but the character played by Gloria Grahame in In a Lonely Place (1950)). It's so brick-like you'd think you might pave a patio with it—certainly not use it to wash. Stamped on the top is the logo, which is a kind of heart-shaped indentation, and inside that, indented writing, Arabic, I guess, and then at the bottom of the heart, four small, very distinct stars. There are also four black stars on the simple, white, 2 ½ inch square, paper label, under where it says Chami Soap. Under that is says: Laurel Soap, then: Specification: 90% Olive's Oil – 7% Laurel's Oil – 3% Alkali. All caps in a box, then: Made in Syria, and under that, smaller: Syria – Aleppo – Rkak St – Manara Building. Then the date of the product and expiration, and that's it. There it is, right down to the building. This soap is the real thing, but it cost me like nothing, under $2, I believe, at the Holyland Grocery and Bakery on S. 27th and Ramsey. That's a great store. I'm not sure of the weight—it's not big, but it is a square shape, most efficient for soap wear. The other weird thing is that it floats—I don't know why, but it does. And it lasts forever—I started this bar months ago—and granted, I use 9 different bars of soap at a time—it's still going strong—a little, two-tone, green jewel, still soapy and full of fragrance.

Because of the civil war there that went on for years, when I think of Syria I think of bombs and destruction, but now maybe things are coming around? Aleppo is an old, old city, and must be one of the most interesting places in the world. Maybe some day everyone will be able to freely visit everywhere, and we'll all realize no matter what our problems, interests, or beliefs, we're all a bunch of hairless bugs, dropped into the horror and beauty of nature, here for just a moment, but each with the potential of individual reinvention and the creation of poetry. The only real enemies are those who want to amass all the resources while others go hungry—but no matter how much gold you have in your cave, I say at the moment I bathe with this soap I'm as rich as the richest person on Earth. I would love to visit the soap-makers. I'm going by what I read on the shaky-web, but this soap might be made by the old process, boiling the ingredients in a vat, then pouring it on a big floor, evened off to the thickness of the soap, and cut into squares after it cools and hardens. Then the squares are stamped with the logo, gathered up and stacked where they dry for months and months. Olive oil soap like this has a really nice texture, smooth and lush—I imagine it's very good for your skin. This particular one has an intense fragrance—not super strong, but very distinctive—part of it is the olive oil, and similar to all the olive oil soap I've used. But also there's a lovely, slightly floral smell, and I guess that must be the laurel oil. I really like it. This is just one of my favorite soaps, for sure, and if I ever end this quest to try all bar soap known to man and settle on a dozen or so in my house, I think this will be one. Using it seems to do something positive to my brain—I don't know if it's the fragrance (aromatherapy), or something in the soap itself (biological), or if there is something else—mystical, magical, even.

Soap Review No. 72

Upper Canada – Maple / Erable

“Double Maple Love”

The box this soap comes in is confusing enough—it says “Naturally” in big letters, like that's the brand name, and then “Upper Canada”—which is the brand name—in the smallest font on the entire box. Naturally is, apparently, an adverb that describes the product, or a song by Selena Gomez about hot sex, or if it's in parenthesis, a song by Gilbert O'Sullivan about no sex, that, if you're my age, you heard on the radio when you were 12 enough times to last two lifetimes. It also says “Maple” and “Erable” and “Soap Bar Pain De Savon”—which is apparently either redundant or bi-lingual, since soap bar means pain de savon and vice versa—if we're to believe the internet. “Erable” is either a computer algebra system (CAS) from 1993, or the French word for Maple—I'm going to go with the latter. The soap is square but has a bold maple leaf indented, so I'm guessing most of these words are redundant, unnecessary, and not needed—except maybe for the word “soap”—because it looks exactly like that delicious maple candy that's made from maple syrup and butter (same color, even). It also smells like maple, as does the candy, so it's probably not a bad idea, in order to prevent any tragic mixups, to positively identify this product as soap.

The smell is not overwhelmingly maple, which is probably a good thing, though it is extremely pleasant and subtle and lovely. The box says there's also “caramelized vanilla”—and the fact that I don't notice it is a fine indication that they're not, with the vanilla, thank god, overdoing it. This is an exceptionally soft and silky feeling soap—I don't know if that's due to the Glycerin (indicated in the ingredients, or not (though there are very few ingredients, and that's a good thing). I tried to read about what exactly is glycerin, but I didn't get very far (a lot of chemistry), but in general, for soap, it's a GOOD THING, and not to be confused with nitroglycerin, which would make your soap potentially explosive, and even deadly, if you dropped the bar in the shower (I mean literally, not metaphorically). But I reiterate: it's not the same thing. I guess this soap comes from Canada, and I'm a little sad to see it go. (Actually, a lot sad to see it go—I mean, for sadness on a dwindling soap level). It's one I wouldn't mind using again (and again and again), but I'm not sure if I'd have to go to Canada to get another bar. If so, I'm going to also get some of that maple candy while I'm at it.

Soap Review No. 71

Castelbel – Cotton Breeze – “Always Be A Unicorn”


This is a really big, white bar of pleasant smelling soap, though it didn't impress me too much at first. It came in green paper packaging with the brand “Castelbel” in silver letters with their crown logo, and then in gold glitter block letters “ALWAYS BE A UNICORN”—what does it mean? Under that: “Cotton Breeze Scented Soap,” and 300g or 10.5oz. Big. It's made in Portugal.

So I research “Always be a unicorn”—first brings up an insipid song and animation on YouTube. I shouldn't ever have bought this soap, and stuck to my always avoiding anything unicorn. But I was just intrigued, like a fool. Then an Etsy page. Good lord. Apparently there is this saying: “Always be yourself unless you can be a unicorn, then always be a unicorn.” Problems: that is too long, and it's stupid and annoying. Because it's presented as something you can't argue with. Except I WILL, because it says if you can be a unicorn then DON'T be yourself—so it's essentially implying there ARE NO UNICORNS. But why do they persist then? (Not to mention, if you take the second part of that phrase without the the first part, it means something entirely different.)

Maybe unicorn is the key—look it up: What is a unicorn? There is some weird sexual stuff I only just discovered—don't get into that—forget that part. As a mythical creature, I have NO USE for it—so why did I even buy this soap? Maybe there is a clue on their website: No, there is not. But the website is funny, awkward English—that's cheering somehow. Another funny thing on the packaging: “Cotton Breeze Scented Soap”—what does that mean?? Is it supposed to be the smell of fresh laundry? First impression: It smells like fresh laundry.Which is to say, it smells like TIDE—which is actually a positive thing with me. Note: See my short story, “Shit, Roses and Beer”—which is published in my collection, 5 Minutes Late (1988) TBS Publications (currently unavailable, but if you look diligently in those “little libraries” around town, I occasionally drop stuff off there).

Soap Review No. 70

Pré de Provence – Starflower

“Almost Not Blue”

I bought this soap on a whim one day—well, always a fan of the Pré de Provence bar soap—but kind of taken by its bright blue color, and also wondering what “starflower” is, exactly. I haven't been able to find anything definite about which version of starflower is represented here—it could very well be Borage, which has a lot of lore connected to it, but since I don't know for sure, I'll allow that to remain a mystery. The fragrance was pretty off-putting to me, initially, though I admit that it's grown on me and mellowed out over time. I eventually decided that it reminds me of Chanel Allure perfume, which I had a small bottle of once (and also found initially off-putting). While I can find no documented connection between Allure and starflower, I know what I smell, and unless and until you get me some Allure again, and I can do a head to head comparison, you're not going to convince me that this soap fragrance isn't an exact match with that Chanel fragrance—in all of its brashness and lack of subtlety. As far as the color goes, my eye sees it most accurately matching to “periwinkle,” a light blue color that gets its name from the periwinkle flower, which is, of course, that color. I wonder if one might mistake a periwinkle for a starflower? A little more looking also finds Argentinian Blue as a close match—the light blue color on that country's flag. I'm most familiar with that color from watching World Cup soccer when it rolls around—I always really appreciate that beautiful color on their cool uniforms.

Soap Review No. 69

Pacha – Pines & Needles

“Christmas Everywhere”

This is a strictly seasonal Pacha soap, at least I'm assuming, as I don't see it in the store, nor on their website, yet I was able to buy it the last two years around Christmastime. Two years in a row, and I'd call it a holiday tradition, for me, now. If it shows up next December, I can pretty much assure I'll buy another one, because it's one of my favorites. Just by using 10 bars of soap at a time, all the time (for research!) I've been able to make this one last up until summer. It's a refreshing soap to use all year around, particularly to wash your face. It also has somewhat of an aromatherapy function for me. Since I can't find anything in writing, at the moment, I'm going to assume the soap is scented with some kind of pine oil, and the little oblong fragments in the soap are pine needles. What kind of pine? I don't know, and of course, there are an infinite variety of those kind of plants and trees. Anyway, this is a particularly good smelling one, whatever the source. One thing I really like is that it's not in any way subtle. It just about knocks you off your feet. It might be a little much for some people. Not me! In spite of the sledgehammer fragrance, it's also very gentle on your skin. It probably has the biggest fragrance to gentleness disparity of any soap I can think of, for that matter. How does it work in an aromatherapy sense? Well, the fragrance evokes a time and place, which could be holidays, and walks in the woods, in winter. The strong evocation of Christmas, of course, comes with some inherent sadness, at least for me, and probably for most people. Having gone there, instantly, with that intense smell-memory, you can then emerge on the other side, wherever you happen to be, say a sunny summer day in June. Maybe not cured, exactly, but able to take that next step in a positive and constructive direction.

Soap Review No. 68

Nature's Blend – Walnut & Sandalwood

“Artie Fufkin”

I'm not finding too much internet exposure for this soap—I searched by name, looked at images, found one, looks just like the one I have, and that's because it's my photo! It's under #newsoapsunday, which is now a world-wide, albeit infrequently exploited, destination. I'm happy to help out, Internet—but when are you going to kneel down and kiss my ass? This soap is from New Zealand, which is about as far away as you can get without, you know, going into space. I'm looking at my globe, and it looks to be about the same size and shape as California. Can that be right? Maybe it's like the the anti-matter California, like if you're a worthless shit, you could go to New Zealand and find someone who looks almost exactly like you who's a good person. Technically, you could launch a one-person sailboat off from the California coast somewhere and just take a straight shot across the Pacific and land in New Zealand in a few—what? I have no idea how long it takes! Make sure you take plenty of energy bars and some fresh water. So how does this soap, made down there, get back up here anyway—and end up being affordable? I suppose by some kind of container ship, packed in with a lot of other crap.

The rather hefty bar came simply wrapped in kind of loose plastic with a wraparound paper label with all your pertinent information and virtually no graphics. Really, this is one of most minimally packaged soaps I've seen. The name is so innocuous as to suggest a parody. The ingredients do include some chemical-y crap, but also walnut grounds, sandalwood oil, glycerin, and fragrance—yet the fragrance is so subtle I'm not even going to try to describe it. The good thing, I suppose, is that it doesn't have an off-putting, lingering presence like that other nut soap, the pistachio one, did. The rectangular bar is a very uniform, pale beige color, but once you start to use it, walnut fragments reveal themselves and give you this pleasant, kind of fun texture—though I don't know if it has, really, an exfoliating function. You'll find a lot of cheerleading for the health claims of walnut, when eaten, and you know, they just feel healthy, if a little boring. Though, at one point, way back, I bought a huge bag of shelled walnuts very cheaply, and one afternoon ate way too many. I mean, I think it was too many, because later I hurled—though I can't say for sure if that was the walnuts' fault. But since then, I've been a little frosty toward them. I can't really say if they add to the fragrance in this situation, and honestly I do not smell sandalwood at all, which doesn't mean it's not there. Overall, this is a really pleasant, long-lasting, inoffensive, healthy feeling, nice bar of soap. I guess you don't always need to be jumping up and down about something, right?

Soap Review No. 67

African Black Soap

“Clean Room”

This particular African Black Soap isn't black at all, but kind of marbled, textured, multi-shade brown—looking like nothing so much as a hippie bread you'd by at a farmer's market, which contains lots of oats, nuts, seeds, dates, maybe other dried fruits, and is probably pretty sweet and tasty. I did not, however, stick it my mouth just to see. It came in a little ziplock plastic bag, no label, nothing official. I did not, however, attempt to smoke it. I was pretty confident that what I had on my hands was not nut bread, and not drugs, because it was given to me by friends, handed to me by people I trust, and who in turn most likely received it the same way. I am pretty sure they said it was from Ghana. I wonder what the rules are for packing Ghanaian African Black Soap in your suitcase, or otherwise shipping it? I know you can buy it online, in unmarked, unlabeled quantities, and it looks, in pictures, exactly like this one I received. This internet says this soap is made with maybe plantain skins, or leaves, or pods, dried, and burned to create ash, then mixed with maybe palm oil or shea butter, in the soap making process. Why it ends up so uneven and textured, I don't know. Also, that's kind of general. I guess this particular bar is a mystery.

People say that African Black Soap is good for your skin. I use so many different soaps at one time, it's hard for me to really do a controlled experiment, but I found it pleasant on my skin—it's got a nice lather, very soapy and soft. The most interesting thing, though, was my reaction to its subtle presentation of fragrance. There almost is none—definitely no perfumes or added fragrance—but of course, there is a smell. My initial reaction—the first word that came to me, when trying to take in its olfactory essence was: “natatorium.” And it's not nearly that harsh—it's very subtle, but not particularly pleasant, either. (Time passes.) I've lived comfortably with this soap and now it's sometime later, so I'll focus on one more impression of the smell: Can't put my finger on it—it definitely has a smell, but I just don't know what it reminds me of —just some far-off smell of maybe a cleaner, or a clean room, or a swimming pool. I'm just not sure. The funny thing is that it always fools me—I look at it, and it looks like a piece of delicious fruit and nut bread, but I know it's not. Why are there these things that you know intellectually is one thing, but because of some strength of appearance, or a repeated reliving of the initial impression, you just ever get over that tragically mistaken impression. It fools you and just keeps fooling you. Never mind the haunting, almost non-fragrance, or the lush, comforting, soapy lather—you just keep getting fooled. But then, we're nothing if not fools.

Soap Review No. 66

Castelbel Porto – Joy! – Elderflower & Prosecco Scented Soap


This is one giant bar of bath soap, 10.5 oz., which seems to be the hurt-yourself in the shower size, if you're not careful, or maybe just sit-unmolested in the McMansion powder-room size. It comes wrapped in off-white paper with large, gold polkadots, and a golden string—so of course I couldn't resist. Internet search first finds this on Amazon, where you might be able to buy it—or if it's anything like buying their iPhone charger, you could possibly end up with a dog-turd wrapped in a toxic cape. I picked up mine, I think, at TJ Maxx. Like I said, it was the polkadots—I have no sense of Elderflower, and I thought Prosecco was a kind of cheese. If there was anyone who could be remotely excited about a cheese soap (though, without researching it further, we'll just kind of hope none exists) it is me.

Anyway, I was immediately, and have been subsequently, so charmed by the fragrance of this soap, I eventually looked it up. Prosecco is an Italian wine, I think often presented in a version similar to Champagne—anyway, it's a delicious fermented drink made from grapes, and it perhaps translates as a soap fragrance in its somewhat sweet, deep, earthy and complex essence. Of course, I might be getting more a sense of the Elderflower—the flower from the Elder tree—which, if this soap is any indication, smells quite lovely. Elderflower is also used to flavor certain drinks, such as gin. I'll pretend I didn't see that gin part—it's the kind of thing that could lead to the slippery-est of slopes. Anyway, so it's Elderflower on top and Prosecco on bottom (except for maybe on Sandwich Nite, when they mix it up with a little mild roleplaying). Okay, I've run out of ways to try to describe the luscious fragrance, and even though this soap has an ingredients list that you wish was even smaller print, this is a real-life top-ten buy-again soap.

Soap Review No. 65

La Saponeria Firenze – White Roses

“Rose Covered Coffin”

This is a fine Italian soap from Tuscany, according to the fancy box (which probably costs more to make than the soap) and is big enough to keep and use for something, like maybe a coffin for your pet rat, or a place to keep jewelry or old keys. It's a big soap—10.5 ounces, which is a little impractical, honestly, for even me, a large man, and certainly for someone who is small, old, or doesn't have superior arm or leg strength. I imagine it as a bath soap, but you'd have to be very careful not to drop it on your foot in the shower. It should maybe come with a warning. This long bar of soap—it's a tasteful off-white—has got an intricate design sculpted on the top on it——there are flower patterns, and a building of some kind, and the name of the company, and “Italy.” I imagine some people might put this in their fancy downstairs half bathroom—the kind of soap you just politely brush your hand against when you're visiting and ask to use “the powder room”—and of course are then impressed with the giant bar of Italian soap with the beautiful designs carved in it that's too large to pick up, or really lather up, which would almost feel like vandalism. Or it might be a soap you buy for someone as a gift (who more than likely never removes it from the box) in which you impress them with your deep pockets—that is, as long as they don't shop at TJ Maxx and see countless boxes of this for $3.99.

To me, the actual bar of soap resembles a boat—or maybe more a coffin, because it has a definite top and a definite bottom—and there is a little ridge around the outside of the top so it actually looks like it has a lid you could open. And because of the dimensions—how it's disproportionately longer than wide—it's more of a coffin shape than anything. The somewhat dated, floral fragrance fits the shape and look of this soap perfectly—it does conjure up roses, or maybe an elderly lady's perfume—but a wealthy, reserved woman, very tasteful, and subtle, not overdoing it. Just a pleasant, all around wholesome rose smelling soap—but maybe lacking passion to some degree. It reminds me of the scene of the two funerals in My Own Private Idaho (1991)—this soap would be the smell of the staid, dignified funeral for Scott's father, the mayor, while the funeral for Bob would be something else entirely—maybe patchouli, weed, and gunpowder.

Soap Review No. 64

Cinthol – Confidence+

“Door to Door Salesman”

I'm guessing this is a “deodorant soap”—by the name, packaging, and especially by the smell, which reminds me of that old-fashioned kind of canned aerosol deodorant that might be used by an overly nervous, sweaty, balding, middle-aged aged car salesman. While the regular Cinthol is green and comes in a red package, which evokes, I don't know, Talking Heads: 77?—this white bar of soap comes in a sleek black package which I think is supposed to say: wealth, success, plain-speaking (“give it to me in black & white”), no-nonsense manliness. I like the name, Confidence+, with the plus-sign, that feels, I don't know, like, “I can do math, I'm not intimidated by math!” It says that in gold letters, which means wealth, obviously. Then, in smaller blue letters (the only blue in the packaging) it says: “Germ protection + Deo soap.” I'm assuming “Deo” means deodorant—but I've never seen that before. Is that a young people thing? Are they trying to get in with the under 55 crowd that this soap might not otherwise be reaching? By the way, I am overly nervous, sweaty, balding, and middle-aged—I'm not trying to make fun of a particular guy or type. And seeing how people have their mid-life crisis in their thirties now, I might be getting too old to call myself middle-aged. And balding might just be wishful thinking. The sweating is no exaggeration—I often look like a character in a less than subtle classic film noir who's on the verge of being at one end or another of a bludgeoning.

And do people even know what a door to door salesman is, anymore?—I mean younger people? Do those jobs exist? I would, at this point, kind of welcome one, if they came by—well, at least the idea. Not really. I mean, do NOT come to my door. Contact the concierge and set up a meeting downstairs in the Armada Room and I'll join you in my gold button blazer and tasseled loafers to see what kind of financing you can offer on that Kirby. If you smell like this soap, I might get out my checkbook. I kind of like it. I mean, there's sometimes a fine line between migraine-inducing and I'll buy two. You never know which way that crazy nostalgia-factor is going to swing. I mean, I don't necessarily recommend using the cologne that comes out of the machine next to the condom vendor in the Kocolene filling station men's room, but once in awhile, seeing how I was apparently never molested as a child by someone who smelled like this, the firm handshake of a chemical-y bullshit Godrej slick guy soap can warm your heart. Of course, sometimes there's a fine line between a fine line and a fine line, so watch out for that fast talkin'!

Soap Review No. 63

Vatika DermoViva – Aloe Vera Soap


This may be the most boring soap I've bought (that's not, you know, the usual grocery store brands)—it was very inexpensive, at an Indian grocery, and you can find it online—this company has a million different skin care and beauty products. I liked using it—it felt very clean and fresh and light, and I didn't feel like I was going to get a weird rash—but there is nothing remarkable about it either. The bar is white, and shaped in that familiar “Dove” soap bar shape that always reminds me of a certain automobile design (not Toyota Camry, but that name makes me think of soap), or a wireless computer mouse. The picture on the box is of an aloe plant with a little magnified section so you can see the tiny moisture droplets emphasized (I find this charming). Info on the box is in six languages—the English version says nothing too interesting—and the ingredients list a lot of chemical-y bullshit, which shouldn't surprise me. The “natural” quality is an illusion—the only good thing there, besides aqua and glycerin is Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract (and I'm not really sure about that—but I'm definitely going to name a band “Barbadensis”). Nevertheless, this soap, though not riveting or deeply stirring, was a pleasure to use.

Soap Review No. 62


“Secret Goldfish”

This is a kind of novelty soap, I guess, or craft item that can be made at home—or maybe it's something made in a hippie shop somewhere and sold as a gift. To tell the truth, I'm not sure where it's from—it was a gift from some dear friends—but where the gift came from, I mean before it came into the possession of the gift giver, is not something you ask a gift giver, friend or otherwise, dear or not. It's a clear glycerin soap (I'm assuming) with a little goldfish centered inside of it, and it's shaped in a plastic bag with a little tie at the top, so it looks like you have bought a goldfish at a pet store and are carrying it in a bag of water. It is very clever. I'm not sure, at this point, if the goldfish inside is a little plastic toy goldfish or a real goldfish. I guess I'll find out! And viola... (much later) the soap is finished—and it was a clear, odorless, glycerin soap—nothing wrong with that, just no fragrance—which I suppose is preferred by some people (though personally, I just don't get that). I guess it's nice that it's made less boring by the fish inside. It turned out to be a plastic fish and, I guess, one ultimately has to be relieved that the fish inside was a plastic fish, and not a real fish, which would not be odorless, had it been, but fishy, or worse, possibly horrifying, or if nothing else, just plain gross. As it is, though, I have a little plastic goldfish to remember this soap by, not to mention the dear, dear gift givers.

Soap Review No. 61

Caswell-Massey – Newport

“Gay Langland”

I just love this soap so much I'm almost prepared to just settle down with it for eternity and give up this life of fooling around. I said almost. If I ever do a soap ranking, though, this one will make the top ten—though, of course, as time goes on—ten becomes 100, Citizen Kane (1941) doesn't even make the list. This does smell like the soap Charles Foster Kane would use, though—it's a rich guy, manly soap. Please never tell me certain rich guys who shall remain nameless scum use it and ruin it for me, thank you. It reminds me of the cologne this older guy I used to work with would wear, though some days (or maybe too close) he smelled like Old Spice (which I used to wear, I admit) and sometimes that smells pukey. I just watched Hard Eight (Sydney) (1996) on TV (they replaced all the “fucks” with “freaks”—really weird, and so dumb!—maybe in the future, whenever you have to remove a “bad” word in a movie on TV, replace it with one of the advertisers' (“I'm going to Chevy Truck you up!”)—that would work, right?—and be funny, and maybe then they could not have so many commercials otherwise. Right. Anyway, the Philip Baker Hall character in that movie, that guy just totally smells like this soap. It's Masculine with a capital “M”—not always a good thing, but when we're talking soap, why not. It reminds me of my Dad, or an uncle (I had and have some good ones!)—I was lucky to grow up with some very classic 1930s, 1940s, good-smelling, nice guy, positive-influence men in my childhood, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I do believe the fragrance here is somewhat dated, and they have a cologne by the same name, and it's all going back to like the 1800s, so it's beyond dated. Named after Newport, Rhode Island—meaning it's got a nautical theme going on (which just made me remember, did I have some cologne, as a kid, with a sailing ship on the bottle?)—sailors are a definite reference here. It reminds me, maybe, of some soap-on-a-rope I had as a kid, or maybe my dad had—maybe it was this one! This does come in a soap-on-a-rope version, I believe (and I have a birthday coming up, hint, hint). So the nostalgia factor here is out of control. I'll admit that—but as far as nostalgia goes, when it's this strong and intense, then, yeah, bring it on! (I just said that because that expression seems appropriate, somehow, in this case). The soap comes in one of those big oval or egg-shaped Caswell-Massey bar soap sizes, which retains its shape as it diminishes, just smaller and smaller. I'm as sorry to see it go as anything. It's a really lovely but intense, aggressive, dark green or blue color, depending on your gender (like the green or blue light on the top of the Seattle Space Needle)—it was brought to my attention that there's a certain in-between blue and green color that women see as one, and men see as the other, (and Mark Twain sees as indicative of something). I'm not sure which is which, but does it really matter? It might, in this case, since I would say this is a 100% manly man's soap—which isn't to say a woman couldn't use it—and in fact, if I met a woman who smelled like this soap, I'd ask her to marry me right then and there, even though I don't believe in marriage any more than I believe in the Easter Bunny—speaking of whom, if you're reading this today, you can skip the jelly beans, peeps, and dyed hardboiled eggs, and just put an egg of this soap in my Easter basket—and I'll leave you a complimentary pint of JTS Brown whiskey.

Soap Review No. 60

Ivory – Ivory


I can't remember what all soaps we had when I was a kid, but Ivory was the most prominent, most common, probably my favorite, if I had a favorite. As I got older I saw no need to ever use any other soap; Ivory was good enough for me—for life! My life is much better now—look at my soap list! It gets me thinking, are there other things that I'm kind of in a rut about, that I don't question, but if I'd decide to branch out I could enrich my life? Traveling is a good example; there's nothing I like more than staying at home, yet whenever I go somewhere new I think: how am I not doing this all the time? Maybe I need to see more bands, go to plays once in awhile, and shop at a different grocery store. It reminds me of when I was in high school—I used to only wear Levi's, t-shirts, tube-socks, and white Jockey underwear. Then one day, in my Senior year, I went nuts and got a pair of tan corduroys, and it opened the floodgates. The next thing you know, I'm wearing boxer shorts with hearts on them, a wide brimmed felt hat from LL Bean, sporting belt buckles with my favorite beer brands, dropping acid for 28 days straight, and having sex with scarf-wearing elderly gentlemen in the men's room of the Olde Dutch Tavern.

Some of that is actually true. A bar of Ivory soap brings it all back with the force of nostalgia. Of course, sometimes nostalgic and sad are two sides of the same coin—as memories are rarely only good or bad if you remember deeply enough. The first thing I thought of with the smell of this unwrapped bar of Ivory soap was my memory of it floating in the bathtub, and the discussion about how it floats while other soap does not. Legend says they came upon this by accident, like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups—but you know as well as I do that's bullshit. The company wisely chose to play up the novelty of floating soap rather than its cheapness. You won't lose it in the bathtub, and you can carve a boat out of it! In fact, one could make freighters and warships out of this soap, and leaks would be no big deal—of course it might not be environmentally sound—though seeing how corporations and governments care little about the environment, I strongly suspect that the reason ships aren't made from Ivory soap is that they would melt before reaching distant ports. Another interesting fact about Ivory is that when you scramble the letters, you can make exactly one other word: Vroiy. That's not a word; you can't make any.

The smell strikes me as rather harsh, even acrid (unless I'm not sure what that word means). It reminds me of grade school, I guess, though not as strongly as the disgusting odor of tomato based meat sauce flavored with the official spices of Ohio (salt, pepper). You'll notice that all the super-common soaps by the super-gigantic corporations usually come in 10 or 20 packs and are dirt cheap. That's because they know if any sane person ever decides to give something like Chandrika a try, they're never going back.

Soap Review No. 59

Stoney River – Patchouli

“Hippie Creek”

This is maybe the most hippie-ish soap I've bought, and I mean that in all the best ways. Sometimes I think I should give up this quest to try—and try to write about—soap after crazy-ass soap—some which are probably not all that environmentally sound or ethically good or healthy or pleasant. Though, honestly, I rarely come across a soap that gives me a headache or rash. But anyway, sometimes I think I should just settle on this kind of good hippie soap made by local soap-makers. This one comes from Oxford, Wisconsin, which isn't that close to where I live, but if you got a lot of these shitty cars and trucks off the road, I could safely and enjoyably bike there. It's one of those small towns where you had better stay on good terms, if you live there, with the one cafe—you know, the one that probably has gingham curtains and a hand-painted sign of a stack of pancakes.

I bought this at a local store, moderately priced, in minimal packaging (a band of paper with the name, ingredients, and a crude drawing of some hippies). It has a modest beige color, and I feel like I detect a very slight green tinge, but that may be my imagination. There is no chemical-y bullshit in this one, it's: olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, lye, water, patchouli, cedarwood, and ylang ylang (essential oils, those last three). At first it had that, what I've come to love, natural olive oil smell, with patchouli, definitely there. As I've used it, the fragrance has mellowed out, but is still evident. They don't hit you over the head with the patchouli (not that I'd mind that, I love patchouli). It is a really nice lathering and healthy feeling soap. I admit I'm wishing right now there was more bold fragrance—though I suppose it was stronger when it was new. Sometimes I really appreciate the subtle, and other times I want more. Can people change? Yes, they can, and do, and will—day to day. Anyway, you can send me a gallon of patchouli oil for my birthday, that wouldn't be weird.

Soap Review No. 58

Mystery soap from URSA

“Goodbye Austin”

Last summer, I think it was, I stopped by this charming “lifestyle boutique”—in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood—called URSA—I looked for a FAQ (Further Asinine Queries) page to see what their name means, no dice, but it's all caps, so I'll take a stab at it. How about, Utmost Rad Stuff Around? (Though it could have something to do with a constellation or a bear.) It's the kind of store I normally ignore because it's not cluttered, which makes me nervous—even though, looking at their products—everything from accessories to plants to fragrances and soap—I realize that it's curated in such a way that I probably would enjoy everything there, especially the health and beauty products—that is, if my wages were in line with my tastes. But anyway, on this day they were having some kind of garage or yard sale event, outside of the shop, selling both personal items (I presumed of the owners, or employees, but I'm not sure) and, I guess, shop overstock and maybe discontinued items. There was some good stuff... affordable, too. A nice, vintage motorcycle and some older stereo equipment caught my eye—but as much as I like clutter, I'm struggling to live in mine. I picked out this bar of soap that had neither packaging nor logo engraved, asked how much it was, and this nice guy with a large beard (owner, maybe) said free. My kind of price. The bar of soap itself was medium-sized and rectangular, with a really pretty marbled green color. It was a fine bath and hand soap while it lasted, very natural smelling, kind of herbal, and with what I interpreted as a scent of possibly fennel or anise. At the time he gave it to me, he was busy with the sale, but I asked where it was from—and either he couldn't remember the name, or he told me and I can't remember. I think he said it was from Austin, and I'm presuming Texas, so that's my only clue. But it's mystery soap, at this point, and I think it's going to remain mystery soap.

Soap Review No. 57

Pré de Provence – Cashmere Woods

“Kashmir Words”

I picked up this soap, attracted to its deep, clay-like, red-brown color, and I'm always a fan of the Pré de Provence soap—I can't figure out if they're becoming more ubiquitous or more scarce as time goes on—I guess that's part of the inscrutability of the French. I've never known Pré de Provence to have a website at all (maybe it was exclusive to the French Internet?), but now I see one!— and there are about 37 varieties of bar soap pictured—is that too many?—or should they just go for it? I'm seeing for the first time: White Gardenia, Ocean Air, and Angel's Trumpet. I want to try those! With this one, even more than the color, the name intrigued me: “Cashmere Woods”—what? I'd never heard of that place, or that term, or those two words used together. It turns out that “Cashmere Wood” is a general fragrance—usually a woodsy, earthy scent with sandalwood, amber, musk, vanilla, etc. (according to the briefest search)—and I'm not sure if this French soap company adds an “s” to wood to make it stand out, or imply a place, or because they just don't give a fuck (about English—they're French!)

I like the idea that it's a mythical place, like maybe in The Lord of the Rings or the English Countryside, or the South of France, or a wee faerie place in The Song Remains the Same (1976). Searching a little further, I see that there is an air freshener called “Cashmere Woods” and it has a little circled “R” next to it—so what's that mean? It's made by Glade, the air freshener company—I was shocked they still exist—I thought they went out of business after the Fifties. I looked at their website (which made me want to drink gasoline) and it said “Cashmere Woods smells like coziness.” I'm guessing the Glade version smells like that stuff they sprinkled on vomit in grade school, but it seems they want to make the name their own. If this is the thing that leads to a war between the USA and France, can I suggest that we limit battle to swords, daggers, and battle axes?

Anyway, I loved this soap immediately—sometimes you're in the mood for one of these earthy, manly smelling soaps. The first thing that comes to mind is a guy in a huge, baggy sweater, that is if he doesn't smell like BO and a wet dog. Maybe a fictional version of a guy in a hole-ridden sweater, plaid shirt, and work boots who can fix anything, and also happens to be interested in poetry, which he recites while fixing things—rather than carrying on with some racist or woman-hating bullshit. If he smokes, it's those French cigarettes, held between the third and fourth finger with the hand held upright at the mouth, as in an expression of wonder or terror. And the “outdoors” is more of a concept, one for the pages of a longish novel, and the flesh and blood version is—not necessary reviled and feared—but kept at a respectful distance. And maybe there is some “making love”—either on the horizon, or in a rosy past we all agree was both better and worse, but for the most part non-traumatic.

Soap Review No. 56

Al Wazir – Soap-on-a-Rope

“Hangin' 'Round”

The only English on the box (I believe the rest is Arabic) is the “AlWazir” logo, then inside “AL Wazir 100%,” an oval that says “High Quality, Natural, and 100%,” “Recommended by Dermatologists” and “Recommended for Hajj and Umrah” and “This product is free of fragrances.” It's an earthy green colored soap with a loop of twine emerging from one end—soap-on-a-rope! It's the first soap-on-a-rope I've had since I can remember, possibly as a little kid. That's something we'd get for birthdays or Christmas once in awhile, but I have absolutely no memory of what kind of soap that was, except that it usually smelled like a used car salesman's cologne. This soap has no fragrance whatsoever—it does have a mild, pleasant smell, and I'm guessing that it's the olive oil soap smell, but since there are no ingredients in English, I'm just guessing. There is a drawing of a plant on the package, with what looks like olives, so maybe that's it. The internet tells me that Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca (that Muslims might do once in a lifetime) while Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca that may be any time of year. I am assuming, then, that this soap and its ingredients are deemed okay with Muslims—is a Halal soap. There is also a website address on the package in English (tiny print), but I can't reach it. Anyway, I love the box—it's got a little jagged oval window cut in it so you can see the soap. I'm going to keep this box. After looking for an hour, I just cannot find this soap on the internet, so I'm giving up. I found other Al Wazir soap, which is from Lebanon, so I'm going to guess that's where this if from, though I may be wrong. And even though I'm a fan of fragrance, generally, I did like this soap a lot. It lasted a long time, too, though partly that's because I had it hanging from my shower head, and I mostly take baths. I wish I could remember where I bought it—some small store in Milwaukee. I'm going to buy this soap again if I can find it.

Soap Review No. 55

Pacha – Pipe Tobacco & Coffee

“Early Shift”

I saw this Pacha soap, Pipe Tobacco & Coffee, at Whole Foods and probably did a theatrical double-take, unable, for a moment, to believe someone would make a soap called Pipe Tobacco & Coffee—well, if it was indeed scented as pipe tobacco, then, why not—it's not like it's cigar and Scotch soap (which... I could see considering that one, actually) or like 7-Eleven Coffee & Merit Menthol soap. I love pipe tobacco, and I smoked a pipe since I was a youth (though have totally given it up now). My friend Peter and I had the idea that we would smoke pipes (occasionally), but only in autumn, which seemed like a good rule. But the last time I tried it, several years back now, it gave me a migraine, so I've totally given it up. Now I'm down to going to the tobacco shop and smelling the tobacco. Milwaukee has a great old smoke shop, downtown, called Uhle's—which you'd better appreciate now because they may be gone soon, like the drug store lunch counter. So I love the smell of pipe tobacco, anyway—I'll follow an old guy smoking a pipe down the street until it gets uncomfortable. This soap does capture the smell of tobacco—which is kind of amazing.

My initial reaction: it has an immediate deep, strong smell, kind of sharp, and also sweet. I'm attracted to it, but I can imagine a lot of people wouldn't be. But a lot of people are just really sensitive about scents—and I guess I'm lucky that I enjoy such a wide variety, and unusual things. Then I think: why not a catchy name, like “Bus Station Ashtray”—though actually, it really does remind me of a public restroom, men's room, where the urinal doesn't flush properly and dudes are always dropping their cigarette butts in (which will be there until some poor bastard, whose job it is, fishes them out). It's that smell exactly—well, not exactly—but it reminds me of that—which sounds really unpleasant, I know, but to me there is a nostalgia thing there. Also, it's got a granular quality, and leaves a lot of residue where it's sitting, so it's like coffee grounds, maybe actual coffee grounds. I wonder if there is real tobacco in it? The Pacha website says: “with exfoliating coffee grounds and swirls of activated charcoal.” Which I can totally see, but sounds a little dangerous—but it's probably safe, right? If I don't totally trust the FDA, I do trust Pacha.

I got a second bar of this because I liked it so much, I guess! Something compelled me to. I quite enjoy this one. Thinking about the smell some more—you know how sometimes, when you're making good coffee, you smell chocolate in there, and it reminds you of tobacco, too—or at least pipe tobacco. There's pipe tobacco that reminds you of coffee, and chocolate, and other things—but overall there is this elusive smell that is so attractive, I guess, because you can't totally put your finger on it. This soap has that quality. And it's big and bold, too, not subtle. Sometimes I appreciate subtle things, but other times I really like things to be forceful, in your face, and undeniable, and this soap is that.

Soap Review No. 54