The scene: Saturday afternoon in a messy, rundown apartment in a quasi-hip neighborhood in Brooklyn. Two guys, Max and Burt, lie sprawled on a large sectional in front of the TV. A couple of empty beer bottles are on the coffee table, and a baseball game is on. A third guy, Neil, enters the room. He's carrying a shopping bag.
Before I proceed, let me say that this scene is pretty much every weekend day of my life. I live with three friends from college, all of us in our mid-20s. And while the one girl we room with actually does stuff on the weekend, Saturday for the guys means lying comatose on the couch watching sports, or consecutive episodes of HBO's (TWX ) The Wire, or whatever's on. We're not metrosexuals, retrosexuals, hipsters, NASCAR guys, or anything else. We're just, well, average dudes. But this Saturday is a bit different.
So Neil walks in with the bag. Max and I look up. Neil begins to speak. The topic is bath products. Neil confesses he'd run out of soap and used some of my body wash, and that he'd gone to the store to replace it. I thank him for being so considerate. But Neil isn't ready to put the bag down and watch the Mets. Neil is staring at me.
"That brand of body wash you use, Burt.... It was $9.25. Just for this little bottle!" He removes the soap from the bag and places it on the coffee table. The liquid inside is a pleasing chestnut color. The bottle is a slender cylinder. The label reads, in slim, scripty letters, Rainbath. (JNJ ) It stands there, almost haughtily, among several Yuengling empties.
Neil is still looking at me, perplexed. Why such vanity, Burt? What kind of man pampers himself this way? Max looks bemused and a little distrustful.
"Whoa! That's crazy!" I say. "I had no idea it cost so much!"
That wasn't true. I knew exactly how much the stuff had cost. A few weeks before, in the CVS (RAD ) drugstore on Court Street, I had spent 20 minutes staring at the wall of soap in choice-induced paralysis. It was one of those moments when you know the decision you are about to make could determine the rest of your life. If I bought the Rainbath, where would it all lead?
Finally, I plucked it off the shelf and, before I knew it, had picked out a loofah as well. Ever since, I have used the loofah with the Rainbath. Every morning.
Now the question was front and center: Why did I buy it? And, with my roommates eyeballing me, why was I trying to hide the fact that I'd carefully selected it?
Let me try to explain. When I'm in the soap aisle, like a lot of other guys, I'm running an equation in my head: Which brand will do the best job cleaning me, while not sounding completely girly? Soaps with names like Aveeno Positively Radiant (JNJ ), St. Ives Oatmeal & Shea Butter (ACU ), or Pure Cashmere are unquestionably out of the running. On the other end of the spectrum are the "guy" brands, like Axe (UL ) and Adidas (ADDDY ). It's hard for a grown man to take himself seriously using those, unless he's bouncing around nightclubs with a headful of gel or playing a professional sport.
Despite the goofy name, Rainbath struck the right balance for me. And now that I've tried it, it's damn good soap. In the privacy of my shower? I enjoy it. But toweled off and clothed? I'll still plead the Fifth.
By Burt Helm