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National Editorials & Columns

Hair care full of Scrabble words and menthol

I was trying out my new shampoo this week, because it was free. That’s about the only way I try new things. I’m not too adventurous, but I am cheap. There are things I wouldn’t try for free, but it’s a very short list.

This shampoo was formulated especially for men. Or at least specially marketed to men. I can’t imagine the formula is much different from other shampoos except it might have a different smell-goodie added to it. For those of you untrained in the country vernacular, a smell-goodie is a fragrance. But “fragrance” is one of them five-dollar words, and I’m too cheap to use it.

So, I’m getting ready to use my free shampoo, and I decide to read the label. Not because I care about what’s in the bottle and not because I think it’s fun to try to pronounce the chemical names such as “disodium cocoamphodiacetate” and “tocopheryl acetate.” Although that is fun. Those aren’t even real words.

You know how they get the ingredient names for shampoo? There’s a small group of marketing hacks crowded around a dark, veneered table in a dingy office listening to a country rock station on a 30-year-old boom box and playing Scrabble. There’s always that one cheater who can’t spell worth a durn, so he just makes up words to stretch the tiles out to hit a triple word space. And when the others call him on it, he says, “Um, that’s an ingredient in the shampoo we’re marketing.” And nobody knows any different, so they go along with it, and then the guy is committed to putting that word on the bottle. That’s how it’s done. I know. I’ve seen it happen.

Anyway, no, I wasn’t reading the ingredients for any reason except that it’s boring in the shower and I tend to read whatever is in front of me. If they put flight instructions on the backs of ketchup bottles, I’d be a pilot by now.

So, I’m reading the bottle and I see that my new, free shampoo contains caffeine and menthol. Why? Do I not have enough vices in my life? What – no bourbon? Is this a shampoo or an appetite suppressant?

I did notice later in the day that I was a bit groggy but my hair was wide awake – and craving a cigarette.

These particular ingredients are highlighted at the top of the bottle.

How does something like this happen to shampoo? There’s a small group of marketing hacks crowded around a dark, veneered table in a dingy office listening to a country rock station on a 30-year-old boom box and one of them says, “Hey, we need to come up with ideas for that new men’s shampoo. What are some manly things we could put in it?”

“Maybe we could bottle Jennifer Aniston,” one guy says. “Men would buy that.” And they all laugh.

“C’mon guys,” the first one says. “Let’s get serious. I have to have this turned in by the end of the day.”

There’s a long silence. Finally, one of the guys, who has been staring down at his half-empty Coca-Cola can, says, “How about caffeine?”

Another looks down and notices his pack of Camel cigarettes and says, “Yeah, and menthol.” And they all have a good chuckle. Then they go back to playing Scrabble.

• David Porter can be reached at I’m not sure that I like this shampoo, but I’m addicted to it.

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