Mark S. King

Locker 32, Your Room Is Ready: God Help You

Filed By Mark S. King | July 17, 2011 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: crystal meth, gay bathhouse, HIV/AIDS, sexually acting out, step in poop

The last time I went to the gay baths, some years ago, I stepped in poop. Actually, more like a pile of poop, because it crept up between my toes for a horrific second before I realized what my bare feet had stumbled across.

baths 1.jpgI made the grim discovery while standing in the private room of another customer there, making small talk. While I had hopes of more meaningful communication, my plan was cut short when I stepped forward and directly into the offending dung heap.

Lurching back and out of the door, I limped quickly in the direction of the wet area, walking on my heel, dirty toes splayed upwards. As I negotiated the crusty terrain of the carpeted hallways, there occurred to me many questions.

Whose poop was that? How did it get there? Should I go back and tell the guy I stepped in it? Did he know there was poop in his room? Was it his poop? Did he want me to step in it? Was it a poop trap?

The episode spoiled whatever momentum my evening may have had. Later, sitting in the lounge area - same men, same towels, but with smoking and less sex - I began doubting my choice of sexual venue.

In most big cities, there exist two options for the baths: the one your friends will confess visiting and is therefore somewhat acceptable, and "that nasty one" on the other side of town, about which they admit no further knowledge.

The choice was always simple for me. I picked the nasty one faster than you can say "Locker 32, your room is ready."

But sitting there adjusting my towel - it was one of those thin, modestly sized towels made for a kid with a 30-inch waist and the inability to perspire - I realized that, at the very least, bringing flip flops to the place might have been a good idea. It was the kind of planning that escaped me when I responded to such an impulse.

baths 2.jpgThe guys who thoughtfully prepare for their bathhouse visits always impressed me. There they sat in a private room with the door open brazenly, with fake leather sheets on the mattress, a jaunty scarf draped over the light fixture, porn playing on their large screen laptop, and a scented candle flickering seductively from the plywood nightstand.

It made me hate to enter empty-handed, without bringing a Viagra for the host or a covered dish.

And yes, I know the baths can heighten risk for sexually transmitted diseases, having been an AIDS educator for a number of years. Safety and negotiation are key, even if the battle has become a uphill one. The Clap has become so popular again they should call it The Applause.

Back in the lounge area, a man entered and paused in front of me, cocking his head back and forth like he was trying to look up my skirt. I pulled the towel across me more securely.

Even in bathhouses, I never exposed myself unless it was time for "The Big Reveal." I was feeling depressed and a bit surly after my foot incident, so it was most definitely not the time.

"How you doin' tonight, man?" he asked. You had to give him credit for persistence. I'm sure my feet smelled like poop.

I looked up at him with tired and sarcastic eyes. "I used to design public health campaigns for sleazy queers who go to bathhouses and have 'multiple partners.'" I made great big quotation marks in the air for emphasis. "Now I'm sitting here in a shredded towel that barely wraps around me, at what? 3 a.m.?"

He shifted his weight away from me and had an expression like he'd just snorted stale poppers. I was undeterred.

"I've become my target audience. How depressing is that?"

He looked in either direction, a little helplessly, like waiting for a cop after a traffic accident. Finally he met my impertinent stare. "Well--" he offered, "I do think they, uh, have bigger towels at the front desk for a dollar more."

The reasons for my retirement from the baths are many. Let's just say it doesn't mix well with my recovery from crystal meth addiction. That, and I always left with athlete's foot.

For the more adventurous among you, a few final words of advice: should you approach an open room with lighting so dim you can't make out the occupant inside... trust his judgment.

(This originally appeared on My Fabulous Disease in April of 2010. But I'm shameless, obviously, and thought I'd gauge the level of bawdy humor among Bilerico readers.)


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OMG, St Marks in '63. You did not just send me back there.
Oy, such a memory.

Joani

I'm actually a post-St Marks guy; I just love the nostalgia of those ads. I came of age in the Club Baths area, actually. ;]

Having been raised on a dairy farm, I find being exposed to another creature's feces is not as rare, or as disgusting, to me as other people might find it. Admittedly, the health risks are obvious, but a good scrubbing with ordinary soap and water always seems to do the trick. (I remember my Mom's story about doing the milking, how the cow gave its tail a good flick, hit her in the face, and her dentures landed splat in the middle of a fresh cow pie.)

As a child, I remember helping my brothers clean the concrete corral in the barnyard, scooping and scraping a sea of liquid cow feces, about the consistency of a milk shake, wading into it up to our booted ankles. Those sexy leather boots aren't called "shit-kickers" for nothing -- ours we had growing up didn't have lovely bright red cotton laces, at least not for long.

So ... I kinda shrug at your story. Then there is the old saying that every feminist, and every gay man, know to be true: "Men are pigs."

Not every man is a pig, but every man has the capacity to be a pig. Welcome to the world of manhood. I would rather deal with the poop at the baths rather than the utter selfishness one finds anywhere in the sexual marketplace -- hey, guys, it really is possible for us to get off together without being total barbarians. No, you do not have a Constitutional right to fuck my asshole without a condom, or to live in a sexual fantasyland banished of people with HIV. Yes, you do still have the capacity to treat me kindly even though my dick is not as big as the one in your fantasies.

Even at my advanced age, I have not "officially" retired from the baths. Sometimes I do still like to hang around naked with other naked men, it doesn't have to be all about sex -- although for most it usually is and finding more casual socializing partners who are both willing and enjoyable can be difficult some nights. Some visits I am treated like a decent human being and other visits not, not unlike the average busy restaurant.

So ... get over it.

Excuse me now -- I need to clean out my kitty's litter pan.

Thank you Mark for your post on the subject. It does bring back memories, albeit of a different sort. I was a proud card carrying member of the Club Bath Chain (CBC). I say proud because it meant a lot of things to me having that little card in my wallet. First and foremost, the CBC was a gay owned and operated business. The knowledge of that alone, provided me with a comfort zone that I don’t think I could have otherwise found. Entering a CBC made me feel secure and safe; I didn’t have to fear to be gay bashed. In the late 1970’s I was in the Military and to enter a CBC gave me a sense of sexual identity with my fellows. It meant I didn’t have to listen to that endless hetero-goobly-gook hetero-men are so fond of spewing when in each other’s company at the barracks. Finding a CBC in town during my travels also meant having found the cheapest “motel” . For ten dollars I had a “room” all to myself, with clean sheets and pillow I could rest the night; even the cheapest roach infested sleazy motel was at least twice as expensive! I have to admit I also learned a lot! Did I ever! Having been brought up by the catholic nuns, I was very naïve about sexuality. At the CBC I learned how to express myself in a sexual manner and find all the joy and pleasures I was reading about in those “Joy of Sex” books you’d see proudly displayed at every bookstore at the mall! But, that was in the late 70’s, before the age of HIV/AIDS. I was not an alcoholic, nor a drug addict. Just a happy, gay man with a healthy sexual drive, and the CBC had a place in my life. It was clean, welcoming, comfortable, non-threatening club for the pleasure of gay men at a time when the PlayBoy Club was all the rage for heterosexuals. The CBC was nothing out of the ordinary. Bath Houses were nothing out of the ordinary.

I hope to go a gay bathhouse in the US one day, just to see what it's like. American gay men who publicly discuss the baths describe them as such awful places, with drug-fueled scat/piss/fisting orgies around every corner, diseases flying through the air, and mean patrons who you wouldn't want to be caught in a dark alley with, much less naked and shoe-less in a little room.

In Europe, or at least in France, they're seen as little more than cafes with naked gay men where some sex happens upstairs. People joke about what happens there, people talk about life and sex, the guys smile a lot because it's a funny environment, and the sex is always a lot more tame than what one can find at, say, someone's apartment (I have yet to see the sling actually be used by anyone). The guys are usually nice, since who's going to be aggressive if everyone's trying to have a good time?

I don't think the difference can be explained by cultural differences, by American puritanism, which is, frankly, overhyped. I think they actually are different. But the last few times I was in the US I didn't have the opportunity to check it out. Maybe all the nice guys went online in the US?

The reports you cite describing American gay bathhouses as sexual versions of Frankenstein's castle are greatly exaggerated -- usually.

I have been to a few that are truly filthy, and occasionally there is some pretty wild sex in some "public" areas. (Like spotting wildlife in the forest, you have to enjoy it while it's there because in a few minutes everyone will move on.) I've never seen what I would agree were "drug-fueled scat/piss/fisting orgies" but I have indeed encountered "mean patrons" ... don't let the "mean patrons" become your problem; when they tell you to fuck off in an ugly manner (which is usually the worst that happens), just do it.

By the way, as far as physical facilities go, the bathhouses right here in Indy are newer in construction, cleaner and better maintained, far better than average compared to those in other American cities.

If you want more specifics, feel free to drop me an email, Alex.

P.S. You are correct that the coming of the cyber-world has impacted the customer base of the baths, and for the most part not in a good way. Of course, finding Mr. Right Now for free is always better than having to drop twenty to fifty bucks. Luckily, most good places do manage to stay in business, possibly simply because enough men enjoy the group-nudity-group-sex atmosphere. And I've never visited a trick's apartment that had a really good sauna, steamroom, and Olympic-sized swimming pool.