Sweltering Past 50

by Laurie Woolever

Really horrible closeup image of a male Blatta orientalis (common name waterbug) with ghastly spiky long legs and thick toffee-colored wings. Yikes
Image: Dimitǎr Boevski [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

I turned 50 a few weeks ago, on a Sunday. To celebrate, I spent several hours in a subterranean bathhouse. I love these places of communal soaks and steams, and I hadn’t been to one since before Covid. 

It wasn’t the well-known Russian and Turkish Baths on East 10th Street, a 132-year-old institution where you can sweat out your sins, be flogged with oak leaves, drink a liver-cleansing juice and/or eat a plate of beef stroganoff. Maddeningly, on Sundays, the Russian and Turkish Baths is open only to men. 

Several years ago, my then-boss wanted to take his aggressively cool new girlfriend there (not on a Sunday!) He asked me to check it out first, to make sure that it had retained its original grubby charm, and hadn’t been renovated into something too clean and bougie. I paid the fee and settled my feet into the communal plastic shoes. I descended the basement staircase and availed myself of a steam and a sauna and several minutes in the very hot “radiant room,” then took a deep breath and entered the cold plunge pool. I turned around sharply when I felt someone’s fingernails tickling my back; it was the waxy wings of a water bug approximately the size of a garlic knot. “Nothing’s changed,” I reported to my boss. “Your girlfriend will love it.”

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