Tripping Over The Tubs
(This is the story I performed at Tuesday's WYSIWYG)
Monday, March 23, 1998 Oakland, California
Doug and I circled the block for the 20th time. Still no parking. Jesus fucking christ, was every queen in the Oakland hills having an Oscars party? Finally, after getting stuck backing out of the third dead end canyon road in a row, I pulled into a driveway.
"Honey, I don't think we're going to be going to this party."
Doug sighed, "Yeah, this is getting stupid. But they can't be mad at us, we've been trying for almost an hour."
"Well, let's at least not make this a wasted trip over the bridge."
"Oh, come on. You can't be serious. We're wearing tuxes!" Doug said.
Which we were. But twenty minutes later, the front desk clerk at Steamworks, the bathhouse in Berkeley, hardly raised an eyebrow when he checked us in. On the way over, we had called our friend Ken and invited him to join us. Ken had been dying to make his first visit to a bathhouse, but was too chickenshit to do it by himself. A slow Monday night seemed like a good opportunity for him to check the place out without getting completely freaked out, as Ken tended to get completely freaked out by all the little things in life...even like being in unfamiliar Safeway.
"Oh my GOD, look where they have the soda!"
Since the place was basically deserted when we arrived, Doug and I asked for our favorite room, 333. The fact that we HAD a favorite room at the baths may seem a bit silly, but anyone whose ever been to a bathhouse knows that the second most important selling point one has at the baths, after one's body, is one's room location. If your room is in a brightly lit, or very heavily trafficked area...then no one will want to come into your room, not with everybody watching. On the other hand, you don't want to get stuck down at the end of some dead end corridor. Room 333 struck a perfect balance, being on the dark side of a busy hallway.
The first thing Doug wanted to do was sit in the hot tub, something we never did. As Doug put it, the idea of sitting in a boiling tub of bacteria floating off a bunch of men fresh from having sex...well, that idea didn't appeal to our dainty sensiblities. But since it seemed we were pretty much the only ones in the place, he was pretty sure that the hot tub remained sanitary.
Which it was. And then some. There was so much bleach in the water that we started to get dizzy from the fumes the moment we sat down. After 30 seconds, we sprinted to the showers to lose our Eau de Clorox, where we saw the first other customer since we'd arrived.
He was tall, extremely muscular, with an expanse of chest hair that seemed to burst with fury and industry out of the center of his chest, but give up half-heartedly before it quite reached the sides. It sort of looked like a chest murkin.
He appeared to be Eastern European, pale skinned with heavy black eyebrows, and he openly sneered at us as he made quite a production of lathering up his huge, probably formerly Communist, cock. Doug and I agreed on the way back to our room that he was definitely from one of the former Soviet republics that ended in "stan". So that's what we named him.
Less than a minute after we were back in our room, there was a knock at our door. It was Stan.
He sneered at us, again, and growled, "I zee you zee me in da shower....and I know you want for me to geeve you the baby," punctuating his message by groping himself.
I said, "Get OUT of here!" and I pushed the door shut. Doug looked at me in disbelief.
"What?" I asked.
"I kind of did want him to give me the baby," he said.
"Well, go follow him!" I said, opening the door for Doug. And standing outside was Ken, too completely freaked out to knock on door 333, even though we had called to tell him that's where we were. Doug went off to find Stan, and I took Ken on a brief tour around Steamworks.
I walked Ken up and down the empty hallways, pointing out various notable locations....the gym, the steamroom, the maze of extra dark hallways with carpeted walls. As I walked Ken around, I noticed he was becoming increasingly distracted, sometimes stopping to touch the walls.
"Honey, are you on something? Did you have to take an ecstasy just to come here?" I asked, pulling his hand off the wall.
"Oh, no. I didn't. No! I mean yes. Sort of."
"You sort of took something? What did you sort of take?"
"Just a little acid," he said, reaching back to feel the wall.
"You took acid. To come here. Oh, this WILL be interesting."
A couple of minutes later, we finally came upon a couple of other patrons, who were eyeballing us from the far end of a long hallway. They were too far away to tell if they were fuckable, but Ken was uncomfortable with walking right up to them to assess their potential hotness.
"What if I don't like them?"
"Then don't fuck them."
"What if they follow me?"
"Then ignore them."
"What if they try to come into my room?"
I explained to Ken that at the baths, the social code was fairly rigid about starting an encounter and that there'd usually be a least a couple non-verbal messages exchanged before anyone would try anything. A smile, a nod, or grabbing your own crotch was the observed protocol before a guy would dare enter your room. Because, woe, the embarrassment, to be rebuffed at that stage.
"But what if they try to come in anyway?" Ken persisted.
"Then you just say 'I'm resting'. Which means 'Ew, get out of my room, you freak!' But in a nice way."
The other guys were still at the end hall, perhaps having their own discussion about our fuckability. Finally, I nudged Ken and we moved towards them. At the same time, they started walking towards us. Ken and I made silly small talk as the four of us moved down the hundred foot long hallway, each duo only momentarily illuminated by the widely spaced overhead spotlights, then falling back into murky shadows.
Halfway down the hall, Ken stole a glance and murmured, "They look OK."
Then a second later, "OK, I really like the short one. The short one is hot."
I shushed him, but Ken said "Oh, yuck. His friend is skanky. The short one is hot but his friend is totally skanky."
I went to smack Ken to shut him up, but realized we were now standing right in front of the two guys. The two guys who were US, that is, because all this time we'd been staring down the hallway at a huge mirror.
Ken stepped back, "Oh my god. I'm the skank. I'M the SKANKY one! I'm the skanky one!"
I hugged him, "Yeah honey, but you're our skank."
In truth, Ken wasn't skanky in the least, but I guess it was a good thing that he was on acid right then, otherwise that moment of self-assessment might be haunting him to this day. I took him back to my room and got a couple of dollars for him to get a soda, thinking that maybe the sugar might cut back his highness. What do I know from acid? When he didn't return after a few minutes, I left the room and found him staring at the vending machine, trying to decide between six top row buttons that said "Coke" and the six bottom row buttons that said...“Coke".
There was another patron, standing behind him, impatiently waiting for Ken to decide. Just as I walked up, the other customer said "Do you need help with the machine?"
Ken whirled around and hissed "I'm resting!"
The customer stalked off, tossing "Freak!" over his shoulder.
Doug still was off somewhere, presumably with Stan, so Ken and I went out on another walkabout. More customers were arriving and there was now a live DJ spinning in a DJ booth set up near the front door. Maybe Monday wasn’t such a slow night at the baths after all.
Ken and I had spent about half an hour sitting in the TV room, watching through the glass wall as the new arrivals checked in, when he spotted an acquaintance of mine heading down the hall.
"There's your friend Carlos."
"I saw him."
"You're not gonna go say 'Hi' to him?"
"He's mad at me."
"Oh that's right! He told me you got wasted at his sex party and starting doing a Carol Channing impersonation while he was in the sling," Ken laughed.
"THAT NEVER HAPPENED!" I denied. "It was Edith Bunker."
"Why in the world were you imitating Edith Bunker at a sex party?"
"Oh, you had to be there. I was bringing this guy Archie a beer, and all I said was 'Heeeeeeeere's your beer, Archie'....and it came out a little bit like Edith."
"No wonder he's mad."
I did have to give Carlos props though, he was looking even more muscular than ever, and in the next hour or so, Ken and I watched everybody in the place checking him out. At one point, we were standing near the entrance to the sex maze when Carlos strode past us into the darkness. And following Carlos was a black midget.
(And yes, I know the impropriety of using the m-word here, but at the risk of pissing off my vast gay black midget readership, saying Carlos was followed into the sex maze by a 'little person' just isn't as funny.)
Ken almost dropped his soda when the midget passed us. "Did you see that? Did you see that little guy?"
I looked at him, expressionless. "What little guy?"
"You didnt see that tiny little black guy go back there? Seriously?"
"Dude, you are really tripping hard."
"Shut UP! You didn't see him? For real?"
Now, before you think I was being too hard on Ken, I should mention that in addition to him bringing up the Edith Bunker thing, I was also still a bit mad at Ken for ruining a hookup for me just a couple of nights earlier. Ken had stopped by my house before we went out, and when he got there I was in the middle of a hot IM chat with some guy on AOL. A really nice, funny smart guy that I could totally see myself marrying. His name was CastroMuslButt, or something like that. Perfect, right? Ken was pawing through my CDs when I left the computer to go take a leak. When I returned, I found that Ken had added a message on my behalf to the chat window.
"I'm not wearing any panties!"
CastroMuslButt has signed off.
So you see, Ken kinda deserved this thing with the midget. After ten minutes of denying the existence of the black midget, my friend Carlos walked back out of the dark area, resting his hand on the midget's head.
I gave Ken a blase' look, "What?"
We watched Carlos and the midget head down the hallway and into Carlos's room. His door closed and I said "Ken, wouldn't it be really wild if the door opened up and Carlos walked out with that little dude RIDING ON THE HEAD OF HIS COCK? You know, like those statues on the bow of a ship? Wouldnt that be WILD, Ken?"
Ken eyes widened and he said "Shut up! Shut up!" and then he closed his eyes and started touching the wall again.
I couldn't stop the torture, "And the little guy would be going 'WHEEE! WHEEE! WHEEE!"
"Shut up! Shut up! I hate you! I hate you!"
When Ken finally calmed down, I dragged him back to my room. As I approached the door, key in hand, I saw Doug waddling down the hallway towards us, carrying/dragging a large garbage can, which he'd apparently stolen from the vending machine room.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
Doug dropped the can in front of the door, "Just open the door, hurry"
I opened the door and Doug dragged the can into our room. "I need to stand on this to unhook the cable," Doug said, climbing up on the garbage can to reach the TV in our room, which was broadcasting porn on 20 channels.
"What are you DOING?" I repeated.
"I'm disconnecting the porn feed so we can watch the Oscars."
"You have got to be kidding. That is the gayest thing I've ever heard of, watching the Oscars at the baths!" I said, then looked at Ken. "No, I take it back. The gayest thing ever is watching the Oscars at the baths...on ACID."
Doug unscrewed the cable and I fussed with the remote, and bingo-- the 70th Annual Academy Awards were broadcasting live in Room 333. Feeling gracious, we left our door open so that any interested passersby could see what we had done. In 15 minutes, we had 7 new friends watching with us, sitting on our bed, on the floor, leaning in the doorway.
And it was cool, man. We were cool. We were the coolest guys in the entire bathhouse. Oh, and who should drop by during Best Song, but Stan! He paused in the doorway for a moment, then asked "Please to say, Celine Dion is big winner, yes?"
I said, "Not yet, but you're welcome to come in and see if she is."
Stan stepped tentatively into the room and leaned back against the far wall. A few minutes later when Celine took the stage, Stan murmured "Celine is number one prettiest!"
I looked at Doug, then back at Stan, "Oh yeah. I'd really like to give her the baby."
Doug didn't speak to me for the rest of the night.