Turning S___ Into Shinola

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

I just read this morning that the most popular baby names in 2021 was Olivia and Noah. What ever happened to Mahalia and Zebedee?

I was in my porcelain reading room this morning and as is my custom, picked up my copy of The Extraordinary Book of Lists to see if anything had been added whilst I slept. Alas, there was nothing new, but while browsing I chanced upon a page or two of strange beauty products folks have been using over the centuries. I wasn’t exactly surprised by some of the concoctions the alchemist mixed up in their quest for elixirs and potions to make us all beautiful. I am curious though what frame of mind a person must have been in to even think of putting some of this stuff on his or her face and hair, or rub on cellulite-packed buttocks.

For instance the civet, a member of the cat family, has sacs near its anus that creates secretions used in perfume. I don’t know who discovered this substance, but let us assume it was an ancient Egyptian since they were big on that sort of thing.

It is a sunny day in Memphis in the year 1206 BC. The great pharaoh, Ho-lee-Makrel, is sitting with his sage and spiritual advisor, Isotope of Thebes, planning a night on the town. Ho-lee is not doing all that well with the ladies, partly because his head is on sideways (you must have seen the pictures) but also because he smelled bad.

To make matters worse, roll-on deodorants would not be invented for several centuries. Isotope, being a bit of an amateur chemist and a dabbler in the black arts says, “By the way, Your Grace, I’ll bet if we were to look up yonder cat’s bum we might find a secretion that would make you smell better.” (Which makes one wonder just how bad Ho-lee smelled if something found inside the anus of a cat would be an improvement. Obviously Ho-lee wondered too since he had Isotope and all his family e’en unto the third generation flang into a nest of asps.)

Nevertheless, a herd of civets was rounded up that very afternoon and a new industry began. Today you and I no longer need to worry about closeness thanks to Isotope, the father of modern deodorants. Although if one is wandering through Zehrs and someone meows at one, one may want to cut back a roll or two.

Kohl is (or was) another beauty aid that was very big in the Middle East in and around the year zero CE. Made from soot, it was used as jet-black eye make-up for the charmers of the day. Rumour has it that kohl was the cosmetic that lured Julius Caesar into Cleopatra’s bed for an evening of fun and frolic. Although I understand he got up several times to check the sheets for traces of a fire.

What would possess relatively sane people to try this stuff? Admittedly there was no TV advertising to show milady how beautiful she could look for the ridiculously low price of $49.95 a tube. Soap was around at the time but not all that popular since water hadn’t been invented and rubbing a bar or two on one’s body usually resulted in cuts and abrasions.

Perhaps the weirdest discovery of all (not counting ambergris, whale barf, a mainstay of the early perfume industry) has to be Guanine. Someone many centuries ago must have been walking through a cave or along a sandy beach and been splattered with bat or seagull poos — perhaps both if they were having a particularly bad day and on their way to a job interview.

Once he or she finished throwing rocks at the low-flying bomber, the recipient of this heavenly blessing noticed that his or her tresses were much shinier and miraculously tangle-free. Suddenly they were popular and members of the opposite sex by the droves would line up to run their fingers through their shiny locks. Unfortunately the admirers also raised a shower of dandruff since Head and Shoulders was hundreds of years in the future and most romances were cut short when the admirer went looking for a whisk.

Many of these remedies and beauty products are still in use today by the cosmetic industry. So the next time you are at the ballet, ladies, and someone comes up to you and says, “Marie, you look absolutely fantastic. What are you using on your hair?”

Just say, “If you really must know, it’s bat sh–.”

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