Tuesday, November 30, 2010

an adventure in personal hygiene

Pedaling past Notre Dame, I noticed a dusting of snow that covered the small park behind the flying buttresses. The cold air blew a deep freeze over my fingers as I made my way along the Seine towards the public showers. Minutes later, I wrestled the key away from the frozen bike lock and headed inside, my backpack loaded with soap and a change of clothes.
This particular bath house opens at 7AM, so when I strolled in close to 10:30AM, after opening up the bookstore, I could hardly be frustrated at the line that had formed. A collection of men, some cold, others dejected, and still others who smelled as though they could use a good washing stood just inside the entrance patiently waiting for a Frenchman to summon their presence towards the next open stall. I noticed a police officer searching the contents of a plastic bag which looked to belong to a man standing next to the sinks.
As orderly and clean as these public facilities are, there still exists in me an underlying sense of distrust with the men who frequent them. My eyes wandered around the tiled surroundings as I stood waiting. I made brief, unintended eye contact with a man seated on the bench. His shiny bald head was lined on the sides with greasy strips of hair that had been brushed forward from behind his ears. In the millisecond that was traded between our eyes, his mouth curled into a rather creepy smile.

A minute later a frumpy Frenchman in a royal blue one-piece mechanics suit called out the opening of two showers upstairs. Without hesitation I stepped towards the offer and, much to my discomfort, so did smiley. As I walked down the row of shower stalls, barely wide enough for one person, I turned shoulders with a younger looking man, I glanced at him, sensing his stare, and saw a slight smile followed by a quick wink. At which point I by-passed my benefit-of-the-doubt-everyone-is-just-happy-to-be-getting-clean approach to these odd smiles and bolted for the nearest open stall, spun around and flipped the latch of the lock shut as fast as the fastest cowboy in the history of western gunslinging duels.

Stepping back out into the frigid air I felt refreshed and warm from the hot water. When the weather turns, for many men and women who live on the streets (or at a bookshop with no shower), a stop off at the public bath house is the surest way to escape the cold.

1 comment:

Tenshi Rising said...

I can SO picture you in every moment of this story...ha. Be safe, cowboy. ; )

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