About two months ago, I noticed that my Mennen’s Speed Stick deodorant seemed to be running low.
I use one of those roll-on applicators, the kind with the knob at the bottom. You turn the dial and a waxy amalgam peeks out the top. You roll this stuff into your pit and, in return for the effort, your underarms become largely inoffensive for most of the day.
I bought another one the next time I was at the grocery store, and sat it on the bathroom counter next to the nearly depleted one.
I continued to use the old dispenser, with the anticipation that soon I’d be completely out. But as the days wore on, a startling fact began to emerge along with the green, scented goo.
The old deodorant was not going away. I had stumbled onto the legendary Everlasting Speed Stick.
Prophets for centuries have told of the eventual coming of a deodorant that would never run out. Man — and Woman, and Teens For That Matter — had struggled since time immemorial to suppress the odor that seeped from the tiny sweat glands under their arms.
Once an agrarian economy was in place, the evolutionary adaptation that used perspiration to cool the hollows on either side of our chest had outlived its benefit. (Woolly mammoths and giant sloths were in no position to complain about the smell of the hunter-gatherers who preceded modern humans). Homo sapiens needed inert pits if they were to build an industrial society.
Most historians trace the invention of underarm deodorants to a 9th-century Persian named Ziryab. Little is known about the specifics of his device. Ziryab was a “polymath,” or one who dabbled in many subjects, and served as poet, musician, designer, astronomer and botanist in the court of Cordoba. Considering these interests, it is speculated that the first roll-on was either a collection of herbs, or wads of discarded rubaiyats.
In modern times, the first commercial deodorant came on the market in 1888 under the name “Mum.” By the 1950s, it had evolved into what we know today as Ban Roll-On.
Within ten years, however, the first aerosol antiperspirant was released by Gillette under the name “Right Guard,” which led spray deodorants to an 82% market share by 1970. When scientists discovered that the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in aerosols were depleting the ozone layer, the federal government weighed the benefits of smelly citizens versus widespread death from cosmic radiation and banned CFC propellants.
Today, stick deodorants are by far the most popular type of antiperspirant. They are sold in stores around the world, allowing civilized societies everywhere to thrive without people constantly threatening to beat up their fellow citizens for having BO.
Though cheap and readily available, the modern products that prevent attacks of “not-so-freshness” eventually run out and have to be replaced. This happens with both frequency and startling unpredictability. One morning, you’re slathering on product from what feels like a fully loaded bottle, and the next morning, you’re out. Toothpastes, mouthwashes and hair gels are then pressed into emergency action to serve as inadequate substitutes.
The Biblical Prophet Elijah, in 1 Kings 18:22, wrote of a day that would eventually come where “the pits of the many shall be fragranced by the unguents of the few,” in what many interpret as a prediction that deodorant will one day flow freely throughout the land. The mystic Nostradamus wrote obliquely that “humors and ethers that tend to offend/Will one day be cured by a stick without end.”
So is the magical Mennen’s sitting in my bathroom right now the One We Have Waited For, the salvation for a people weary of paying convenience-store prices for emergency odor suppressant?
The packaging reveals few clues. It claims to offer “powerful odor protection that lasts all day,” a “clean masculine scent” and a “patented comfort guard applicator for comfort and control.” It warns “DO NOT APPLY TO BROKEN SKIN” and “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.” Ingredients include the innocuous-sounding propylene glycol and sodium stearate. There is an 800-number so you can call manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive with questions, but I hesitate to ask a call center employee in India if my deodorant might be magical.
I think I should let the people decide. Like those witnesses to miracles who see Jesus in the rust on their back door, or the Virgin Mary in the smeared ink of their Walmart receipt, I should spread word of my finding. If pilgrims come from near and far to see Everlasting Speed Stick, perhaps that will prove its sanctity.
So I invite both my readers, and those who end up hearing only hints about the existence of such a paranormal phenomenon, to come to my home and witness the stick. See if you can figure out how I can continue to use it morning after morning without it ever running out. Examine the vessel for any trickery or tampering. Help me figure out: Could this be grooming breakthrough that we’ve awaited for centuries?
All I ask is that you don’t apply my deodorant to your underarms. That would be gross.