Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


If you ever want to luxuriate in the shower for a looooong time, get yourself a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Castile Soap - I prefer the peppermint version - and relax.

It’s not that the soap itself is so wonderful. It is a fine liquid soap, and the peppermint does provide an invigorating tingle, but that is not what will keep you in the shower. It’s trying to read all of the tiny print on the bottle.

Dr. Emanuel Bronner, you see, was no mere soapmaker. He was a religious philosopher who firmly believed in the Unity of Mankind, taking his key philosophical points from a mishmash of Jewish and early Christian sources. For instance, he parsed the first line of the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4, the text that serves as the Jewish declaration of faith and which is commonly rendered in English as “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one”) as “LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE!” And Bronner would always append his own comment: “Exceptions eternally? Absolute none!!!”

There’s oh, so much more. Reading a Dr. Bronner’s soap label in the shower is a little like reading War and Peace with a magnifying glass... while you’re covered in soap and trying to keep from (a) getting that soap in your eyes, and (b) slipping and falling on your ass. It’s a novel-length screed printed mostly in a teeny-tiny typeface that would scare a boilerplate-writing attorney, and in an idiosyncratic style - lots of caps, hyphens, and exclamation marks - that puts me in mind of a manifesto written in microscopic handwriting by a mental patient. (Which, by the bye, Dr. Bronner was, for a while.)

But one thing struck me as I was washing up the other day, and it had to do with one of my favorite topics: connections.

Buried in amongst all that tiny print on the Bronner bottle, there are mentioned the names of all manner of philosophers, scientists, and influential people. Abraham. Israel. Moses. Hillel. Jesus. Buddha. Mohammed. Einstein. Cleopatra. Buddha. Confucius. Lao Tse. Zoroaster. Socrates. Hippocrates. Cicero. Chaucer. Spinoza. Sagan.

Yes, Sagan. Carl Sagan.

Of the people on that list, only two of them had lifetimes that intersected with mine: Einstein and Sagan. Einstein died when I was a toddler, but Sagan walked the planet until 1996... and I actually met him once as we were both checking in for our flights at Washington National Airport.

Thus, at least owing to the mystical thought processes of the now-defunct Dr. Emanuel Bronner, I can claim a vague six-degrees-of-separation connection to all of those luminaries.

And if you really believe in such connections, I have some soap I can sell you.


Anonymous said...

I've been using Bonner's Peppermint Soap since the old Hippy Berkeley days. I still love it and I'm nearly 70 years old. I use to read the label all the time...it is a story in itself. Great post, Mr. E.

heuristicalgorithm said...

Doc Bonner's Peppermint Soap is the absolute most fun you can have in a shower by yourself.