As many of you loyal so-and-sos are already aware, I live in a land-locked Midwestern city characterized by frigid winters, infernal summers, and a transcendent amount of big-box retail. To add insult to injury, my town is populated primarily by:
- Basic bitches;
- Mediocre indie rock musicians; and
- Fanatical weirdos with a primal and disturbing devotion to college football.
Still, in spite of all its flaws, I do love my city. It’s affordable. It’s easy to get around. Every place I could ever possibly want to shop lies within a 5-mile radius of my house. There’s culture if you know where to look for it. The schools are good. The people are nice. I have loads of friends and family nearby.
I’m happy here.
Nevertheless, there are times when my family and I need a break from this wasteland of fast food, strip malls, and aluminum siding. And there’s not a doubt in my mind that of the three of us, my husband feels the urge to get away most strongly. After living half of his life near the ocean, every day he spends away from the sea kills off a small part of him and his hot, tight body-boarding butt cheeks.
So we save our pennies, and journey to the West Coast whenever we can.
We spend the majority of our vacation time in San Francisco, as that’s the city my sister Cheeks calls home. It works out well. The menfolk spend their time doing outdoorsy stuff, and the womenfolk spend their time crabbing about having to do outdoorsy stuff.
As many of you know, San Francisco is a very unique and diverse place, and in many ways it is the antithesis of where I live. Because of this, whenever my family and I go there, we try and do things that we can’t do at home. We visit Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park, Sausalito and Angel Island, Haight-Ashbury and the Mission District.
And of course, the naked bathhouses.
Let me explain.
A few years back, when my son was four and AWFUL, my family was planning a trip to San Francisco when Cheeks assessed—quite correctly—that I needed some girl time.
“I’d like to take you to a spa,” she said.
“Omg. That sounds awesome,” I replied.
“I need to warn you. It’s a … different kind of spa.”
“What do you mean?” I asked warily.
“Well,” said Cheeks. “I haven’t been there yet, so I don’t know the exact details. But it’s a Japanese bathhouse. And you have to be naked.”
“HAHAHAHAHAHAhahahaha” I laughed.
But she wasn’t kidding.
Cheeks sent me a link so that I could read about the place. We looked over the web site together, spending about .000001 seconds reading about the spa’s actual services, and close to three hours laughing our way through the image gallery, which included pictures of:
- A dude with a meticulously waxed chest, super hard nipples, and fresh cucumber slices on his eyeballs;
- The same dude, but with what is clearly the reincarnation of Jesus standing next to him;
- Two hilariously stereotypical ladies sitting around butt nekkid with chopsticks in their hair (NSFW); and
- Various pictures of what I soon learned were the communal baths.
“So you just sit in these baths, naked, in front of God and everybody?” I asked Cheeks.
“I guess,” she said. “There’s a whole bathing ritual you’re supposed to follow. I thought it could be fun.”
“Will there be dudes there?”
“No. The men go on different days than the women.”
“Huh,” I remarked.
“So what do you say?” asked my sister. “Do you want to try it?”
I hesitated for a second. Then I realized I was 37 years old and didn’t really give a fuck. “Sure.”
My family landed in San Francisco a week or so later. My sister picked me up at the hotel and took me straight to the spa, which meant I was filthy with travel grime, and badly in need of a shower. (After all, it’s only polite to rinse off before getting into a public bath with a bunch of naked weirdos.)
Fortunately, shower stalls were available at the bathhouse, so I stripped down and got into one. In the meantime, my sister also stripped down, parked herself on a nearby wooden bench, and began rinsing off with a pull-out faucet. The scene looked something like this:
Now at this point I feel I should mention that one of the rules of the communal baths is that everyone bathing must be as quiet as possible. Silence is preferred, but you can whisper to someone if absolutely necessary, as long as you do so at the following volume:
There is even a mechanism for regulating the noise level in the communal baths—a small gong that bathers can ring to alert rude assholes that they are being too loud.
Yes, you heard me right.
To hit with a mallet.
To keep the room quiet.
I’ll just let that sink in for a second.
Okay, back to the story. My sister and I were completely naked, in front of a bunch of completely naked strangers, and we hadn’t seen each other in a really long time. So naturally we were a little bit giggly and slap-happy. Don’t get me wrong—we were whispering—but apparently we were doing so at a volume above the acceptable level of “a single Kleenex landing on a marshmallow.”
We had barely been in the spa for 5 minutes when:
At which point we were immediately confronted by the angriest naked lady in the history of angry naked ladies.
“EXCUSE ME,” she hissed, at a volume MUCH louder than the acceptable level of a single air molecule drifting over a cotton ball, “YOU TWO ARE BEING EXTREMELY LOUD. YOU ARE DISTURBING THE ENTIRE GROUP. I RANG THE GONG AND YOU COMPLETELY IGNORED IT. YOU NEED TO BE MORE CONSIDERATE. I HAVE A CONDITION WHERE EVERY SOUND I HEAR IS INCREDIBLY LOUD.”
Managing not to say “do you also have a condition where every sound you MAKE is incredibly loud?”, my sister and I quickly apologized to the insane naked woman who was trying to achieve peace and serenity by bashing on a gong and yelling at strangers.
We didn’t say anything to each other from that point forward. We didn’t want any more encounters with hostile ladies of the naked variety. In cowering silence and abject nudity, we began the following bathhouse ritual:
- The steam room (120 degrees): This was nothing special. It was just a run-of-the-mill steam room—hot and humid and sweaty and boring. However, my sister did have a funny experience while in there, which she texted me later:
- The dry sauna (140 degrees): This was lovely for about 15 seconds. Then I became a desiccated mummy that had to gulp down 900 glasses of cucumber water just to stay alive.
- The cold pool (55 degrees): I’ve been swimming off the coast of Maine in 55-degree water, so I thought I had this. But I was wrong. So, so wrong. The minute I submerged my nether parts, my naked labia cracked into a million tiny pieces, and with no bathing suit and accompanying mesh gusset to contain them, they fell off, floated away, and were never heard from again.
- The hot pool (104 degrees): This was essentially a heated swimming pool, which after the cold bath, was just fine by me. Cheeks and I hung out here for some time, despite the elderly Asian lady who kept following us around the pool and STANDING REALLY UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE TO US. Still, incredibly old naked women with no concept of personal space aside, the hot pool was by far the best part of the ritual.
While we were sitting in the hot baths, Cheeks and I took notice of a woman walking slowly back and forth between the steam room and the dry sauna. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Like a slow naked tennis ball.
We watched her FOREVER. She was completely fascinating. She was just doing what she was doing, being naked, giving no fucks, pacing slowly between two rooms, but never actually going INTO either one of them.
Then, suddenly, she had a turban.
Cheeks and I blinked. And looked at each other. And looked back at the turban. Where did it come from? When did she have time to put it on? Were the spa’s towels made of magic? Could they simply be willed into turban form? Or was the whole thing like a video game Easter egg, where if you walked back and forth over a specific area a certain number of times, you would unlock a turban?
After a while, it was time for Cheeks and I to go home. And the minute we set foot outside of the spa and were finally at liberty to laugh our asses off without being gonged into oblivion, that is exactly what we did. It had been such a weird experience that we couldn’t help it. But after a lengthy assessment, we both agreed that we had enjoyed ourselves.
10/10. A++++. Would bathe naked in front of people again.