On Bathing - Dirty Water Dogs
There’s a reason they have those dividers between urinals, these days.
There’s also a reason they now have windows into steam rooms.
Amie took the red-eye from Seattle; I was up at 4 to catch the 6 AM US Airways flight from Kansas City. We met at the baggage terminal at LaGuardia. I was expecting that we would go straight to our hotel and, well.
“Let’s go to Spa Castle,” Amie said. “It’s like five minutes from here.”
“That sounds like fun,” I said.
Amie ignores sarcasm so long as she’s told what she wants to hear. At Spa Castle, a five-story pink building in Queens that does indeed look like a castle—as conceived by a drunk Korean contractor on a very tight budget—there was a line of people, mostly women, waiting to get into the building.
“Let’s go to the hotel,” I said.
“We’re already here.”
The men are divided from the women. One more strike against Spa Castle, I thought. If I am going to have to spend my afternoon—first time I’ve seen my lover in ten days—at a spa, the least they could do is let us hang out together. Inside the men’s room, the signs are clearly displayed: You Must Be Naked To Enter The Spa (Korean characters below). Amie had signed me up for a scrub, and two large muscular handsome young Hispanic attendants addressed me: “You gotta strip down, man. There’s your locker. Take a shower. Then you get your scrub.”
I didn’t want these men or, to be frank, any other men to see me naked. I don’t want to look at naked men. I thought this whole thing was a swimsuit affair. I don’t even like changing at the gym. Naked men hanging out together went out of style ‘round about World War II, was my understanding. Or at latest in the 70s. And these two would take one look at me and try not to snicker. I noticed they weren’t naked. Which was a blessing or a curse, hard to say.
I stripped down. I went boldly into the spa, where there are black stone walls, seven baths of different sizes and temperatures (ranging from 60 degrees to 110 degrees), showers, a sauna, and a steam room. There were about ten men visible in the spa. They all inspected my penis. I inspected two or three of theirs, sneakily.
Here’s the good news, fellas: you’re packing more than you think you are. It’s like when Zelda told Scott he had a small cock, and Hemingway took him into the bathroom to confirm what he already knew, and then took Fitzgerald to a gallery to look at Greek statues. Women control us—or we neurotically victimize ourselves—by obsessing over the size of our cocks, when in fact you really don’t have anything to worry about.
Here’s the bad news: if your partner’s told you that you have the biggest or best cock she or he has ever enjoyed, s/he’s lying. To be fair, it’s what Plato called a gennaios pseudos, a noble lie. And I suppose there must be someone out there with the largest cock in the world (though you’ll recall that a similar argument was used to prove the existence of God), and maybe it really is you. But probably the truth is there are plenty of guys out there who have cocks twice as big as yours. In my own case, one of them was lying disconcertingly beside me as I was scrubbed by the chubby Korean man who came to get me out of the shower.
About my scrubber. I didn’t get his name—I asked, he didn’t understand the question (most of the Korean employees in the spa at Spa Castle, the experts who actually perform the real treatments, do not speak much English)—but if you go to Spa Castle, sign up for a scrub, and get a guy who’s about five foot six and built like a sumo wrestler who’s been on a short fast, ask for someone else.
First, when he met me he said: “You! Scrub!” and started laughing and grunting. I still don’t know what he meant but it did not inspire confidence. He laid me down on a red leather bench and then began to scrub me ferociously with bright orange industrial-fiber exfoliating gloves that, well, remove skin. You can see it roll off in gray strips. In between he’d douse me with buckets of water. I was naked and he spared no area (in fact he paid too much attention to some areas—I guess I was especially dirty there?) He had on black shorts: a fact I was grateful for when, later, he massaged my back, with his balls resting, just like a Sam Lipsyte novel, square on my head. Then he started kneeing me in the back. He punched my ass with his fists. I was being manly about all this and suppressing my whimpers of pain. I mean, this was a very manly place I’d found myself in. But it was the most painful massage I’d ever had—and I wasn’t even getting a massage, just the scrub. Then I remembered Amie’s rule about spas (like the one about exercise): If it doesn’t hurt at some point, you aren’t getting your money’s worth. But this was worse than being whipped with fiery hot oak branches by a Russian weightlifter in a 200-degree sauna (another brilliant Amie idea I’d suffered a couple of weeks before).
Flipside, for the record: I had never been clean before. Women are right about this spa thing, and we are wrong. All my friends think spa treatments are absurdly expensive, a complete con, and at least a bit disturbing (if you’re gonna pay someone to do a bunch of things to you while you’re naked, there are much better ways to spend a buck). But he cleaned between my toes. He scrubbed my neck. My ears, the backs of my knees, as I say, everywhere: scrubbed, soaped, scrubbed again, rinsed, soaped, scrubbed, rinsed again. I felt like a diamond must feel fresh from the cutting wheel (super sparkly, very sore, highly annoyed). When I left his red bed to walk into the baths I felt oddly ubermenschlich, as though he’d done something to my insides as well. I was no longer bashful strutting about with the other cocks in the yard. In fact I felt superior to the one or two shy men who kept a small green towel—they have them available, about the size of a handtowel—in front of their “privates.” Privates! Have some self-respect, I thought, where’s your pride?
In the hot pools our penises floated in the water and we compared ourselves with one another and I thought about how the water went from one man’s dick to the next, and wished that the other men were as clean as me. I knew where those things had been.
Spa Castle had other surprises. When I entered the steam bath for the second time I walked in on some poor guy jacking off. He got in about two full strokes before he realized I was there and then he stopped and tried to cover himself with an arm. He was seated where he could look out the window but not be seen, which however put him in a position not to see the door. He looked up at me; I stared into space; after a minute, he left.
I acquired a stalker. At first I thought I was flattering myself. He was 30-something, with a shaved head. He was muscular, and he had tattoos (one was a tramp stamp). But no, I went under the cold showers, and he went under the cold showers. I went into the medium-hot bubbles, Baldy followed along. I went into the underwater massage chairs, here came my new friend. He didn’t look at me until I looked at him: then he didn’t stop looking. At another point a man relaxing in a lounger smiled at me and patted the lounger next to his. Upstairs at the buffet, a young Korean girl gave me a series of shy glances. I smiled at her once—out of journalistic duty—and she beamed. I realized, Spa Castle is an excellent pick-up spot. (Amie resentfully noted that she had not had any stalkers at all.) But it was not just my animal appeal. Later, on the second floor—where there is a common area with five different saunas, one lined with gold, another with jade, another salt, another ice—I caught two men having sex in the men’s room, and I thought: the tradition of the Turkish Bath is alive and well, in Queens, in the creative hands of Korean entrepreneurs. The owner of this one is about to open his latest in Dallas: Spa Rodeo, I suppose. (Amie, N O spells “no.”)