Oct 2018 19

Looking stunned but refreshed at my first Russian Bathhouse experience.
Instagram @henrysperson

Oct 2018 19

“Can you believe this is only forty-five dollars? What a great deal!”

Since I had no idea what I was in for, I couldn’t agree with my friend C at this point. I mean, what was going to happen in the bathhouse, and what would one normally pay for this experience? Are bathhouse happenings usually at a much higher premium? No clue. But there I was wearing the provided robe and slippers, and exiting the change room area to venture into my first Russian Banya, or bathhouse.

In an effort to try new things during my month-long break from alcohol, I took up C’s offer of treating me to an alcohol-free night out to mark my halfway point. It seemed like a strange celebratory offer when I got his first text:

Like a lot of people, who are idiots, the only bathhouses I knew of were the kind that my mom told me never to go to or the guys in the high school locker room hate-mongered as ‘gay’. So, I honestly didn’t know what my friend was asking me to. Hey, love is love (and lust is lust!), but I thought I better be pretty sure I want to experiment if that’s what he was inviting me to.

“No, it’s not gay. I mean, maybe gay people go there, like anywhere if that’s your thing, but we’ll go for a steam and some Russian dinner. It’s amazing. You’ll love it.”

Okay, I was curious and into that kind of new-experience experimenting.

A look on the website revealed a place where time seems to have frozen at around 1952 Russia. Thoughts of Dr Zhivago, big fur hats, struggle struggle struggle, and order and restraint – “Svetlana, I love you so much but I must drown myself in the Volga River just to be free of it. We are not allowed happiness in this life. I must prove my worth to Mother Russia.” – washed through my head.

“I’m in.”

So there I was exiting the change room and all I hear is Russian. Everyone is speaking Russian. It was men’s night Thursday (they have family nights, all ‘gender’ nights, and dedicated women or men only nights), so the place is full of large, strong Russian men (in swimsuits for you people wondering) talking to each other in Russian. And there’s us – C, from Guatemala, and me – the little half-Japanese guy. There would be no ‘blending in’ here.

So ya, maybe I watched Eastern Promises too many times where Viggo Mortensen is the Russian Gangster and he kills that dude in the sauna in a brutal naked fight scene – but I’m immediately a bit intimidated. I mean, look at the map and see the size of Russia, and fittingly now look at the size of Japan. That gives you an idea of what I’m saying here.

But no strange looks from Alexei, Bogdan, or Vladimir. A couple of friendly nods as we walked in to see men going in and out of sauna rooms with serious looks. This place was all business.

And the business was: We’re all here to fuckin torture our bodies.

So here’s what happens… Basically through various methods, you get your body super super hot like you’re standing in front of the open door of a furnace and shovelling coal to keep the Kremlin warm, and then immediately, and I mean instant and shockingly – Siberian cold. You repeat the cycle as many times as you want. It’s supposed to draw out toxins, help clear your head, be a bit social, and also wear you out like a cardio workout.

How you get hot – There’s a traditional Russian Banya room – a wooden dry sauna room with a brick oven. And a couple of Turkish Hammams – wet saunas with steam clouds so thick you could be walking into a big hand job party and not even see it going on, actually. Meh. Kind of kinky.

How you get cold – The dunk tank – a round in-ground pool that only fits one, filled with 5 degree celsius water that you, yes, jump into right after exiting any sauna. Or, optionally, stand under a large wooden barrel type shower, pull a chain and get doused.

Your body has no fucking clue what is going on.

One moment I’m sweating out of every pore like I’m a dog locked in a black car on a July day with the windows rolled up and about to pass out, and then all of a sudden my whole body is shocked into alertness like you’re making a snow angel naked in February while at the same time, Vadim whips you with a thousand Mr. Freezies.

I have to say, I liked it.

Okay, the naked guy with the full Russian body tattoos, including on his face and skull, kind of freaked me out at first when we walked into the Banya but he turned out to be super nice.

Like kids who get to the bottom of the waterslide and immediately want to go back up to the top, we did about 6 cycles of this.

Anyhow… we’re not done. They encourage you to take a break between cycles, so in our robes, we went to the dining room which is decorated with a VERY large Stalin poster overlooking red vinyl booths, and a lot of Russian artwork and commemorative plates and glasses on display.  There, shaking from what we had just endured – I had trouble pouring myself some tea – we enjoyed a Russian meal, complete with homemade Kombucha. Dumplings, Beef Stew, Cabbage Rolls, and just to keep it kind of miserable so we don’t start loving Communism too much – some sad rye bread.

I have to restate, I ate in a robe.

There’s also a relaxation room with leather couches (and the best wood panelling I’ve seen since 1980s Rexdale) that seated about 20 and tonight’s feature was some Russian nature documentary.

I left feeling high. Giddy. Better than getting drunk. Better than getting stoned. I feel switched on and alive. I’m exhausted but it’s a happy exhaustion. And strangely, I feel like I got a nice smothering and nurturing hug from a really hard-as-nails and fierce-in-her-love Russian Mom that I’ve never known.

“Can you believe this is only forty-five dollars?”

Nyet, C, I can’t. What a deal. 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 2018 17

An ongoing journal of a writer attempting 31 days with alcohol. #SoberOctober

I’ve decided I’m going to stop writing about this for awhile. After this post.

For the 3 readers I get here regularly (Hello 3 readers!), yes, I am still alcohol-free. I admit I did open the Jameson bottle the other night just to take a long whiff. And then, as planned, put the cap back on and kept making toast or whatever I was doing in the kitchen.

I guess I’m going to stop writing about it cause first of all, it just makes me think about drinking. But more than that, I was reminded by some women I know that “A month without alcohol is to laugh, Andrew – try 9 months, motherfucker. And your hormones are all over the place and you’re losing your body.” So, point taken. A month? Big fucking deal.

When I make it two more weeks, I’ll follow-up about how I feel, but before I quit this alcohol topic, here’s what I’ve learned so far…

1_ Drunk People Smell. Yes, I am usually one of them. However, I am amazed at the vaporous wall of booze smell that hits me when I talk to people in the bar. I was on the subway the other night and could practically see the fumes coming off of one rider.

2_ Drunk People are Loud. Am I that loud when I drink? I said AM I THAT LOUD WHEN I DRINK?

3_ I am not funny. Apparently, the people that found me quite hilarious when I’ve had a few now don’t get my so-called ‘jokes’ at all. Even after they ask me to repeat what I just said.

4_ I’m not old. Getting up in the morning is a lot faster these days than mornings after I’d had even just a couple of drinks the night before. My brain and body are ready to go like a newer older model car instead of an older older model car.

5_ The week has more than 7 days all of a sudden. Those couple of nights I was losing to booze, and the mornings where I was slower to get going are now time blocks that I have back to be productive and I have to fill them with other activities. It’s like finding hours in the day. Even the time I’m spending in bars with friends are more ‘productive’ hours. I’m writing more, reading more (this one could be cause it’s a bit cold to bike lately and I’m on the TTC) and my bass playing seems better lately – quicker to learn things.

6_ Drinking is everywhere. Every commercial break. Billboards everywhere. Pictures of people on FB and Instagram. This is a drinking culture. Maybe I’m just noticing it. Recovering alcoholics must have a tough time at first since it’s so pervasive in our culture.

7_ Drinking water makes you pee. A lot.

8_ Every non-alcoholic beer tastes shitty.

9_ Candy is delicious. I seem to have replaced booze with shots of chocolate, tootsie pops, jelly bellys, and anything I can get my hands on.

10_ So far it hasn’t been that tough.

11_ It will get tougher. I seem to really like drinking.

 

 

Oct 2018 16

 

When dropping off a pet’s urine sample at the vet, it’s always fun to ask: “Umm… Would traces of human saliva mixed in with this alter the test results very much?”

 

 

 

 

Oct 2018 15

Day 15

Posted In Blog,The world

Spending October, Sober. A writer’s ongoing journal of 31 days without alcohol. An on-topic WIP short story…

Sip

 

‘Cause time is short and life is cruel
But it’s up to us to change
this Town called Malice’

 

The bass riff of The Jam was my ear worm that late winter. But I kept this information to myself. My friends were listening to Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, KISS, and Van Halen. Y’know, cool stuff. The kind of bands you could get on a t-shirt at the kiosk in the local mall. There, for the bargain of a couple weeks’ allowance, they used a giant hot iron press to help you proudly advertise your allegiance to the cool army. A black short sleeve tee was wicked, but a black concert-style number with ¾ length white sleeves, even better. That would certainly move you a few notches further from the nerd end of the scale.

Who was this band I couldn’t shake from my head, ‘The Jam’? And why did they sound so different? No wailing guitar solo. No flourishing Rock cymbal-crashing finish. Hearing them on the radio for the first time was like seeing a beacon of plaid paint shining out from a primary palette. They were not in the iron-on transfer catalogue at the kiosk. I had checked.

So I kept this ear worm infection a secret.

One weekend, I was off to my friend J’s house for a sleepover. J and I became best friends in Grade 1. We had shoplifted together, burnt stuff together, and went on long missions seeking out empty pop bottles to return for money to fund our arcade habit. Bonding stuff. Until he had moved a year before this, that is. “Ever heard of ‘Divorce’ ?” J said to me when I asked why they suddenly had to sell their house and move miles away, and also why his mom didn’t live with them anymore. Anyhow, it didn’t matter. Despite the months that had gone by between our visits, burning stuff was an unbreakable bond (I can still smell the bouquet an ant gives off as it bursts into flames from a well-positioned magnifying glass), and surely I could talk to J about ‘The Jam’. He’d get it.

My dad drove me to J’s on a Friday, right after school. It would be two days of goofing around.

 

‘Hanging out their old love letters on the line to dry
It’s enough to make you stop believing
when tears come fast and furious.
In a town called Malice.’

 

“Who’s this B guy, and why are we going to his place?”

I had barely dropped my stuff at J’s house, and we were already on the move, out the door, on foot. No time to make a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches like we used to, or engage in a snowball fight with one of his three brothers. Or talk about The Jam.

“A buddy I hang out with. His parents are away so we’re gonna go there for awhile.”

“Cool.”

Cigarettes. Maybe I’d finally get to try a cigarette.

B and his evidently globe-trotting parents lived in an apartment building. A nice one. It was the first time I saw a doorman and concierge in my life. Whatever floor we went to, there were a lot of elevator buttons lower than B’s.

We materialized into a small party. Cigarette smoke, beer cans, full ashtrays. Loud music. ¾ length sleeve concert t-shirts abounded on the half-dozen kids I was being introduced to by J.

They were just hanging out. Teens, hanging out in a large apartment with a balcony view, matching couches, and well-cared for 6-ft tall palm plants. Even the wallpaper looked expensive.

I accepted a beer from B like it was no big deal, but it was. My first hang out beer. J had gone to talk to some of the group and I sat on the couch to try to let my adolescence catch up to my reality. The lone girl of the group sat down on the coffee table in front of me. She looked like she had stepped out of one of my sister’s magazines. Easily the most beautiful girl I had ever met to that point in my life. Long dark hair, slate blue eyes that were so huge she looked like an animated Disney character come to life, and long, slender legs that stretched through the floor into the apartment below. She already moved with the confidence of women I would only meet much later in life.

“Don’t mind the stitches on my chin,” she said.

“Huh?” I hadn’t noticed.

“I got a mole removed. My mom said it would be bad for my future modelling career. I get them out in a few days.”

Only now did I register a couple of black hair-like threads jutting out from a spot on the left side of her chin. There were so many beautiful things to take in about her face, that her chin was really far down the list of places you’d gaze. You’d eventually get there to admire it, but it was a secondary destination. To this day, I wonder if she regrets removing that mole. It would have made her perfectly imperfect.

I could see J in the corner, talking to his friends about me. They all looked at me like they knew I was ‘The Jam’ curious.

But when J finally joined me, he was his friendly self. Still the best friend who had put me up to my first kissing tag with a girl many years ago. Gail. Her name was Gail. And I kissed her under the jungle gym. I can still see her wispy blonde hair and her sundress as she looked at me, expecting me to kiss her. She hadn’t even tried to run for some reason. It was tag for crying out loud.

“It’s all good, right? J said. “Later, we’re going to hang out at the plaza and meet some other people.”

I sipped my beer. It was cold. Not like the warm swill I had salvaged from the bottom of one of my Uncle’s empties left on a coffee table once when everyone had left the room.

Some time later, one beer down, a few puffs of a cigarette tried (head rush!), and J telling me that the freshly non-moled girl would sometimes go into the woods with one of them and make out, we were again on the move.

Dark now, mid-March in Canada. And we were all underdressed with the anticipation of spring starting at any moment. I didn’t have mitts and I trudged along with my hands crammed deep into the pockets of my jeans as I followed the jovial convoy of J and his friends to the plaza where we met a few others who I was unable to distinguish from those I had just met. We were now an even larger group of denim and leather jackets and white Nike sneakers. How many parents were out of town, I did not know.

Your standard suburban strip plaza of the era, there was a convenience store, a supermarket, some various other shops closed for the night – I imagine a bakery, hair salon, and pet supplies place – and, a McDonald’s.

“Your turn, G” someone said.

G disappeared into the McDonald’s as the rest of us conspicuously hung out under some bright lights in the sparsely occupied parking lot. A lit cigarette was being passed around. With the bravado of being miles from home, I took a puff, but didn’t these kids actually live around here?

And then G emerged clutching two large McDonald’s drinks with straws stabbed into the top. No sacks of cheeseburgers. No fries. Not even a damn Apple Pie. Just two drinks.

 

‘The ghost of a steam train echoes down my track
It’s at the moment bound for nowhere
Just going round and round, oh’

 

BULURRRUBUBUBUBUBUBUUUURRRRR….

BULURRRRBULURRRRBBBB….

Things I didn’t even remember eating were being puked up by me into J’s house toilet in a heaving splatter.

“I dunno know, Dad.”

I could hear J being interrogated by his father outside the bathroom door. The voices were echoing in the toilet bowl as my head was buried deep in it. Still wearing shoes, and my jacket, I was on my knees on the tiled floor and probably wrecking my new jeans in the process. But I didn’t care. My body was more interested in projectile vomiting all its contents in a fury.

“Sip! Sip! Sip! Sip!” they had all chanted, cheering me on as I sucked furiously on a McDonald’s straw. We were now in a wooded area behind the plaza and Whoops and Hollers greeted me as I finished my turn and passed the waxed cup to the next person. McDonalds orange drink and … something else. Something I’d never tasted before.

But I was now tasting it again as it exited my body. Despite never wanting that new and bitter flavour mixed with Orange Drink in my mouth again, I was desperate to evacuate my own stomach lining.

I don’t know if I kissed that girl in the woods. I don’t know if anyone said “Kid, you’re cool! No wonder J says you’re his best friend!”. I don’t know how J got me back to his house, or how I got upstairs to the bathroom. I don’t know if we discussed the musical prowess of the ones who called themselves ‘The Jam’.

The room was spinning. Or I was. Probably both. There I was on my knees, hugging that porcelain bowl, gripping it like I would fall out of the ride if I didn’t. A premium 6 ticket midway ride, for sure.

Now the sound of my own dry heaves echoed in the bowl over and over. And finally, spent, I slumped off to the side and welcomed the cool tile floor pressing against my face. My ear worm turned up the volume and I focused on the bass riff of The Jam, now on repeat, and decided to get lost in it.

Cold tile was replaced by soft upholstery against my face as I stared into a bucket planted on the floor in the unmistakeable backseat of my dad’s car. It was now early morning, and instead of McDonald’s-Orange-Drink-inspired spinning, I knew the movement I felt was the car in motion. My dad, called early by J’s dad to come and get me, at the wheel. For my own good, I stayed in fetal position all the way home.

Home. Screw the inevitable coming repercussions, the last place I ever wanted to be was suddenly the only place I wanted to be.

“What’s wrong with him?” my mom asked as my dad helped me into the lobby. Even our dog looked at me like he knew I’d puked up both kidneys back at J’s house.

I would be grounded til I was legal drinking age, I figured.

“It’s okay,” my dad said. “He’s got the flu.”

Supported by the walls, I shuffled upstairs to my room. There, I peeled off my puke streamed jacket, my shoes and jeans, and my cool black mall-kiosk iron-pressed Corvette t-shirt. I was never so happy to see my own bed. I flopped on it, shivering, dragged the covers across me, and something resembling sleep closed in.

Even now, I can not smell Canadian Club Whisky without getting the mouth sweats.

I was barely three months past my 12th birthday.

 

‘Playground kids and creaking swings
Lost laughter in the breeze
I could go on for hours and I probably will
But I’d sooner put some joy back
In this town called Malice’
 

 

Town Called Malice – lyrics, Paul Weller

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