The girl before me finishes her story, and the applause of the crowd follows her off the stage. I take a breath, hold it. Release. The sound dies down, slowly. Someone just has to get that last clap. I let them do it, then walk up to the podium. I wish they had left some water or something up here.
“Hi, I’m Sam, and I’ve recently discovered the wonders of baking soda.”
They raise their eyes from their phones momentarily, then return to the glow of the screen. I get it. It’s been a long day of…well, the pamphlet called it a “Self-Improvement Seminar.” One kid in the front row rocks back and forth on his folding chair, the old metal creaking faintly. It’s distracting.
“You know,” I begin, “it started relatively tamely. I love to bake. Cookies, cakes, sachertortes… You name it. Anyway. Lots of recipes call for baking soda. It’s a leavening agent. Reacts with acids to release carbon dioxide. Simple stuff.
“But then one day, I spilled a bunch of it all over. My hands were covered in it, like, totally white.” It’s kinda funny how vividly I recall all of this stuff now. I really should have written a script or something, but winging it seemed appropriate in this venue. “So, just like anyone would, I went to the sink, pumped some soap out, and started to wash it off. But something happened. The stuff mixed with the soap, made a paste, ya know? Real bubbly. By the time I was done, my hands were soft. Like, soft soft. I couldn’t stop touching them. I’ve always had a thing for textures and the like. So I did it again.
“Maybe once a day to start, I’d grab a bit of the stuff out the pantry and just make a big bowl of paste with it and some soap, and just scrub. My hands felt so good. After a while, I thought, ‘What if there’s more?’. But it didn’t come to me until a few days later in the shower. As I was massaging a bit of my regular drugstore exfoliator over my face, I stopped, and it was just like… yeah. I could totally use baking soda for this!”
I wet my lips. A girl in the front row smiles, encouragingly. “So the next morning, I hustled some of the white powder up to my room and hopped in the shower. I got under the water, scooped a good-sized dollop of cream cleanser out of the pot, and eagerly lathered it up with about a tablespoon of baking soda. My hands shook, I was so excited, ya know? Like, that kind of excited when you’ve just stumbled across something that’s just so… revolutionary? I gently rubbed the mixture over my skin in small circular motions, just with the tips of my fingers. It stung, but also felt kinda good. A bit of it dripped into my eye, and boy did that kill. Well, when I’d rinsed and gotten all dried off, I stepped over to the mirror, and my face was red. Like, red red. And it hurt like… Well, it hurt real bad. I tried putting a bit of moisturizer on to see if it would soothe it, but it prickled so much I had to wash it off. It looked like I’d been out in the sun for way too long without any sunscreen.
“I knew I’d overdone it. Big time. So I waited a week or so for my skin to calm down. It was a long week. But then I finally decided to try again. This time, I just barely dusted my hands in the powder, and it didn’t really thicken the cleanser at all. Cautiously, I raised my hands to my face, and massaged it over my still barely-tender skin. Circular motions. I made sure to avoid my eye area this time, the skin there being so tender, ya know? The whole time, my skin tingled, but this time it wasn’t nearly as bad, and not at all painful. Kinda… funny. I did this for about a minute, and then washed off. This time, when I looked in the mirror, my skin looked… brighter. It was glowing, I guess. Pretty awesome. Oh, and it felt ridiculously smooth. I could stop touching it — with the backs of my hands, of course.
“I was careful now, though. I knew doing this more than once a week at first could be dangerous. So I kept it to that. And my skin kept getting smoother and brighter. My acne scars — the hyperpigmentation kind — started to fade. I loved it. Over time, I upped my usage to twice a week, monitoring my progress. After a while, I tried to do three times a week, but my skin started to feel raw again, so I settled on two.
“Even though I’d found out that I should concentrate my efforts around the creases of my nose and mouth, and anywhere else that tended to get flaky or rough, I felt that I’d experienced all I could by using this on my face. And then, again, it came to me. My hair was feeling pretty weighed down and rough after a bad experience with some styling products…”
I nod to myself, collect my thoughts, and continue. I stumble a bit over my first few words, but get back into it pretty easily. “My next shower, I squirted some shampoo into my hand, poured a bit more baking soda than I woulda used on my face into my palm, and mixed the two together. I worked this through my hair, massaging it across my scalp. I got every last strand of hair. It only took two to three minutes, but it felt like an hour. The feeling was amazing. I rinsed it out with some cold water, slapped on some conditioner, and rinsed that out too. Then I let my hair air dry, and waited impatiently for the results.
Oh, my god! Fantastic. My hair was smooth and shiny, and had…life. It moved and felt incredible. It was like the cuticle of each strand had been polished and smoothed to perfection. I only do this about once every three weeks because I also use a clarifying shampoo weekly. And, well, that’s it. The end.”
I laugh kind of nervously, embarrassed at my weak ending, and think, I really should have written a script.
Everyone claps enthusiastically, even though I’m pretty sure a good few of them were busy using their phones.