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By Dear Dirty America
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Zest's Aqua Soap Makes Water 'Wetter', but Could Desiccate A Cockroach: Product Review

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Los Angeles

photo by Adam Michael Luebke, Dear Dirty America –
if you want to use this image, email me and tell me how you will
use it to change the world

(editor’s note: product reviews are not pleasant creatures in the literary world, but sometimes they need to be written. They can be effective, such as when I wrote about Buick’s LaCrosse and its dangerous electric power steering. Not that Buick fixed the problem — that would be too costly. It’s cheaper to risk a few fiery crashes. Lastly, as any good reviewer knows to do, I must claim that I have not received any compensation from any of the reviewed products’ companies — not Zest, not anybody. I’m the real deal here.)

I suppose this soap does what soap is meant to do: make water ‘wetter’. In that way, Zest’s Aqua scented soap is a success. It lathers instantly, and it works to wash away the dirt and the grime and the dried sweat and the dead skin and the less-talked-about areas plagued by accumulated, microscopic fecal matter.

Despite those beneficial qualities, there was something baneful about Zest’s Aqua scent. With some anticipation, I cracked open that first stiff cardboard box from the pack of 8, and stepped into the shower. I slathered the frothy discharge from the pale green bar of soap over my body. My eyes started to feel irritated. But only slightly.

By the time I was out of the shower, I could smell the Zest Aqua wafting off my skin. A distressing cocktail of chemicals. A scent that threatens to dry and strip clean the velvety linings of your nasal passages when you breathe it in. A scent that throws your cells into disarray, and jostles loose your DNA supercoils.

I soon pinned down what exactly the soap smelled like by remembering an encounter with a friend.

I wouldn’t have known, had I not recently been to my friend’s tiny prison cell apartment just off of Wilshire and Western. He’s a writer, too, and a musician. He’d just moved in, and found he had a cockroach infestation. The first day I came to visit, with a piping hot vegetarian lasagna freshly cooked and steaming in a flimsy aluminum tray, he whisked me inside. I carried my house-warming dish to his kitchen and set it on the counter top.

What is that smell? I asked. My eyes began to twitch. My vision wavered. My mouth curled into a snarl. I couldn’t help it. I was under the influence of noxious chemicals wafting into the air.

My friend fidgeted a bit, but he’s never been a shy person. “I’ve got roaches,” he said, “and I just sprayed the bejesus out of the kitchen.”

In 1991, a New York Times article claimed humans had made a real dent in the national roach population, I told him, because the available pesticides had become so effective. Now we’re in 2013, so there should be a lot of hope in solving your situation.

He pointed to the counter top. I saw the glistening walls, just below the cupboards. I noticed the slick wet tiles on the counter. Then, in the corner, that striking black canister with the yellow letters and silhouette of the offending insect on its back, its squiggly legs poking upward.

He’d soaked the place with Raid’s roach killer (shall I review that product, as well, and mention how it smells as fragrant as Zest’s Aqua soap? Maybe that’s a compliment for the Raid people — they’re in the business of ‘cleaning up’ too.)

Days later I needed soap. I went to the local grocery store to get garlic, five Red Delicious apples, two small cartons of blackberries, Quaker Oats cereal with good fiber content, and a pound brown rice (I remember it all specifically because I have a problem forgetting trivial things, which is why I’m almost always at my wits’ end).

I hadn’t come thinking about Zest. It had been more than a decade since I’d used that brand. But fate is a funny thing. I chose the Zest family pack. Not that I possess a family. But eight bars of this Aqua fragrance soap seemed like one hell of a deal at the time. Now I’m stuck with so much of. And there’s so much goddamned soap on the shelves from which to choose.

Like toilet paper. It just doesn’t end. Americans think they live in the greatest nation on earth because there are entire aisles at the grocery store dedicated to soap, or diapers, or chips, or soda, or cereal. But most people don’t realize it’s an illusion. A farce. A trap. A mind game.

It’s all the same shit on the shelves, really. Most of it is cheap and worthless, or without nutrition. Most of it is interchangeable. Much of it is made by the same companies.

However, most of us feel powerful when we finally make that decision on what soap to buy. It’s like we made a huge decision. Right up there with the president, as he decides who to kill overseas, and who to spare. That’s how in control we feel when selecting products at the grocery store.

Sure, it’s not as if you tell yourself this consciously. This is a deep, dark subconscious feeling. The uncoiling expression of power and individuality, springing through your brain. Pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, you feel, as you fill your shopping cart how you want to fill it. Not how the Man wants you to. Not how the bloody corporations want you to. Not how your overbearing mother did it, either.

Shit, you’ll choose the product you want. Fuck the rest. You vote with your dollars. Or your food stamps. The American people are a fierce people. Including you.

You’re in charge. Americans are in charge. Which is what sets us apart from every other country. Americans are the great choosers.

This review has taken a wayward path, but we’ve stumbled to the end. The diagnosis is this: Zest’s Aqua soap certainly makes water ‘wetter’, but its scent could desiccate a cockroach.


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