I’m not a very eco-friendly person to begin with. I don’t recycle, I drive with the windows down and the AC on, and I print reams worth of documents. Let the future fend for itself, I say.
But I admit: when I travel, I’m a real pig.
I laugh at the hotel’s request to conserve laundry—SAVE THE PLANET: PLEASE REUSE YOUR TOWEL—Ha! I gleefully chuck my sodden towel on the bathroom floor after a single shower. I leave all the lights on when leaving the room in the morning—sometimes the TV too, real loud. I even let the water run when I’m shaving, or brushing my teeth.
Those in-room coffee packets? I use them all. Even the decaf. At $140 a night, I can be as wasteful as I want.
But I draw the line at soap. When I travel, I use the same bar all week long, until there’s nothing left. No waste here. Sometimes, especially on short trips, I break the unspoken rule, and use the body soap for my face, or the face soap for my body, whichever one smells better. Don’t laugh. It saves a bar.
Thinking about all those half-used bars of soap that go in the landfill every day…well, it drives me a little crazy. All that potential for clean skin, wasted.
But staying at the Comfort Inn and Suites in San Antonio last week, I ran into a problem. Every day, I’d come back to the hotel room and…horrors: two brand new bars of soap on the bathroom counter.
The old ones were just…gone.
It was Esmerelda’s fault. I know it was her fault because she left a note for me on my bed: HELLO, my name is Esmerelda. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to make your stay more enjoyable.
I let her know by making a little tent-shaped sign out of her note, spelling out “NO!” in big black letters and sticking it on my soap bar.
When that didn’t work, I flipped the sign around and wrote it out in Spanish: “NO!”
Maybe I shouldn’t have made such a big deal out of it. But to throw away two barely used bars of soap like that, every day? What a waste.
I know this soapy obsession is one of those hangovers from childhood, like mom’s manic admonishment to clean my plate because of the world’s starving children. But there’s nothing I can do about it. In fact, I can almost hear her now, “There are dirty kids in India, so you’d better use the whole bar of soap.”
And it wasn’t just the waste that bothered me, either; ever try opening one of those vacuum-sealed plastic packages? Forget it. It’s like trying to get into Mary Beth Bassendrake’s shorty jeans after the Sadie Hawkins dance.
As if that isn’t bad enough, your hands are already wet because you didn’t bother looking for the soap before starting to wash your hands, so you end up using your teeth to rip the package open. Even if you manage to avoid chipping a tooth, you’re left with a soapy taste in your mouth all day, like that time in 6th grade when I dropped the F-bomb in gym class and Mrs. Anderson made me suck on a bar of Irish Spring from the teacher’s lounge.
It gets worse. Like everything else in the Great State of Texas, the soap bars here are BIG. They’re the size of a small suitcase, or a fat white cat. A bar of Texan soap is big enough to wash an entire baseball team for a month, including the coach, the umpire, and the bat boy.
One night after a couple of beers, intrigued by the immense size of the Texan soap bars, I carved the middle out of one, floating it in the bathtub like a dugout canoe.
Sadly, it wouldn’t hold my weight. I sank to the bottom, narrowly avoiding having a bar of soap wedged in my ass.
After that, I tried hiding it from Esmerelda (the bar of soap, that is. Not my ass). So she wouldn’t take it.
I hid it in the closet. I hid it in the sock drawer, and under the desk. I even hid it in the coffee maker, until I forgot one morning and my coffee came out with a sudsy white head. Like a soapy latte.
But still, like clockwork, Esmerelda found my old soap and took it away.
Then one morning I saw her in the hall, pushing her big cart around, the one with the all-terrain tires and the crashproof rubber bumpers around the edge. This was my one chance to put a stop to this.
I gestured at the huge stockpile of soap on the bottom of the cart. “Esmerelda, no more.”
She gave me a quizzical look. “Senor?”
I reached down and picked up a bar of soap. “No mas. Room…umm, uno…no. See-en-toe…” I silently counted to ten in Spanish, trying to figure out my room number. Uno, dos, tres…
“Ciento cuarenta y dos?”
How did she know that? “Yes! 142,” I shouted, pointing again to her massive soap supply. “Jabón. No more, okay? Por favor? ”
“Si, si. Jabón. Por supuesto, Señor Kip.”
Of course she misunderstood. When I returned that night, there were four bars of soap on the counter, as well as a small stack of spares in the closet.
I had to do something.
I stomped down to the front desk. The manager there was a huge fat man, with a gleaming bald head, a braided goatee that hung down to his massive belly, and a t-shirt from Sturgis, South Dakota, proclaiming Harley Davidson girls have more fun.
His nametag bore the unlikely name of BILLEE JO.
“You have to help me, Bill.” I was desperate.
He looked up from his newspaper. “I’m sorry?”
“It’s Esmerelda. You have to tell her. Stop putting soap in my room.”
A funny look crossed his face. “Room 142, right?”
I nodded eagerly.
“I can’t help you.”
“Why not,” I wailed.
“Because she’s gone.”
“Yes. Quit this afternoon. Sorry.”
He didn’t seem very sorry. “But…where did she go?”
“You say she left you a bunch of soap?” He looked suspicious.
I nodded my head, suddenly anxious to be back in my room.
“She cleaned out the storeroom, and told one of the other maids she was going back to Mexico. Something about opening a ‘jabón de la tienda.’”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means ‘soap store.’” He glared at me. “You know anything about that?”
Despairing, I shook my head no, and headed back to my room.
With Esmerelda gone, how was I going to get fresh soap every day?