Jewish World Review Dec. 26, 2003 / 1 Teves, 5764

Greg Crosby

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Road Thoughts | The cross-country road trip my wife and I took this autumn brought a harvest of new experiences into our lives. We stopped at dozens of places along the route - everything from inns and B&Bs, to four-star hotels and old roadside motels. Rarely did we stay in a place for more than one night - we had a lot of ground to cover and we needed to keep moving before winter could catch up with us. Throughout our journey assorted musings would come to mind, no great inspirational reflections or earth shattering ideas, just a few minor thoughts that floated between my ears.

One such thought that occurred to me after leaving one of our "one night stand" hotels was what happens to all the practically brand-new bar soap left behind after people like us check out of their rooms? I don't mean the really cheap tiny little soaps from the crummy motels, I'm talking about the fairly good-sized bars of expensive stuff that they give guests at the better hotels. Does it all get thrown out like so much garbage after the guests leave? If so, what a waste! Even the cheap little soaps left at the motels are still good for washing something or somebody.

If you add up all the hotel and motel rooms in the country and multiply that by two or three little bars of soap for each room or suite, you get an indication of a couple of things: one is, you probably don't have anything important to do if you're spending your time adding up soap and motels rooms. But the other thing is, there are a heck of a lot of soaps going to waste in this country. And if you've been out in any crowds lately, you know it's not as if we have more soap than we need or anything. Now, if you're still in the mood for more arithmetic, you can add up all the dirty homeless people in the country and see how that squares with the amount of wasted soap we have.

Think about how many homeless drug addicts all those bars of soap could wash. Remember, while feeding the homeless helps the hungry person, washing the homeless helps ALL of us! Maybe the mentally disturbed homeless would feel a little bit better if they felt a little bit cleaner. They might still be nuts, but at least they would smell nice. If we're to have bums in our cities, at least let's have CLEAN bums. Communities could do a whole lot worse (and many times they have) than opening Community Wash Centers for the dirty homeless. Soap for the needy, what's wrong with that? It sounds good to me.

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When we'd leave a room after only one night, I'd feel guilty about leaving almost a whole bar of soap behind - so I'd take it with me. It's not stealing because I didn't take brand new unwrapped soap; just the one I used which would, in all likelihood, be thrown out anyway. But then I started to think about the little shampoo that I used only once? Those will be tossed after I'm gone, just as the soaps will. So, I took the slightly used shampoos with me, too. And the conditioners. And the body lotions. And if I used the shoe cleaning rag, I'd take that with me also. Might as well. No one is going to use somebody else's shoe rag, are they?

Now after a month and a half on the road, we have more little soaps, little shampoos, little conditioners, little body lotions and cheap shoe rags than we know what to do with. Our bathroom actually looks like a showroom for a motel soap salesman's sample case. On the positive side, people don't have to sit through dozens of photo albums of our trip - we just show them the soaps and lotions from all the places we stayed. If we lived to be one hundred and kept ourselves whistle clean we wouldn't be able to use up all the hotel stuff we've got. I'm half-seriously thinking of wrapping it as gifts for friends and family next Christmas and Chanukah and the Christmas and Chanukah after that. And birthdays. And graduations. And anniversaries.

Or maybe we'll open up a cleaning clinic for the washing impaired. Or better yet, to paraphrase an old saying, "give a man a bath and you've washed him for a day, but teach a man to bathe himself and he'll be clean for life (or words or that effect)." Maybe if we taught people how to wash themselves it just might help clean up the world a little bit. At least things would smell a little better, and there's nothing wrong with that for a start. Happy New Year!

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2004 Greg Crosby