Adventure in the Deoderant Aisle

Adventure in the Deoderant AisleI'm shopping with my neighbor, coupons in hand, trying to find deodorant.

We have come to an imposing wall, bricked with an astonishing and confusing array of little plastic objects. We need to find the one that matches the picture on the coupon.

As she is deeply absorbed in this task, I step back a moment to take in the scene. I wonder how this would look, 1000 years from now, to future archaeologists. They keep finding all these containers. Boxes and bottles and tubes and plastic shells of every size and color and shape, for soft soap, toothpaste, cat food, yogurt, granola bars, batteries, olive oil, paint thinner, applesauce, weed killer, coffee creamer, shampoo, cough syrup, catsup, bbq sauce, screw drivers, dishwasher soap, toothpaste, deodorant...containers for every imaginable substance.

And they are everywhere.

It will be obvious that an enormous amount of effort, technology and inventiveness went into the design of these containers. Each one is a little piece of artwork emblazoned with logos and clever captions on colorful labels that cling to the container with ferocious tenacity. And the materials - artfully folded cardboard, sturdy cans, gracefully molded cups and shells and bottles from glass and clear thin plastic that is incredibly strong and practically indestructible.

Think of the deodorant container. What was involved in bringing this object to life? It didn't just fall off a tree - it's substance began as crude oil deep in the earth and through some magical transformation became this pale blue rounded cylinder covered with flowers and words and containing a little dab of aromatic wax.

How many people and industries were were involved in this project? I can speculate about an oil well, a refinery, a plastic manufacturing plant, a cosmetics laboratory, an office building housing advertising and marketing departments, a warehouse, a shipping company, a truck driver, and finally a store employee moving each one from a large cardboard box to take its place in a perfect little row on the grocery store shelf.

All these containers have very brief lives. The little dab of aromatic wax only lasts a short while, and then it is supposed to be Thrown Away. Disposed of. Hauled off to the landfill.

Like the historian confronted with piles of skulls from Aztec sacrifices, these folks from the future will scratch their heads and try to figure out what crazy logic was behind this bizarre activity.

They might wonder, what exactly is deodorant, anyway, that it deserves this vast industry?

I mentally removed the entire collection of containers and replaced it with a bin of baking soda, since that's what I use instead. Suddenly, a million people are out of work. Whatever would we do without this completely fictitious industry? I snap out of my reverie because my neighbor has found her deodorant. Now it's on to the Great Wall of Toothpaste.