February 3, 2005
A much-deserved morning off was spent naked and sweating with friends at a low-rent Korean sauna while sketchy, oversized Russians lurked in the corners of the room's dense fog. It was glorious.
I started going to this sauna years ago when I moved into the immigrant neighborhood it's in. The first time I went was with friends from what feels like a different lifetime, all of us giggling nervously as we slowly undressed and made our way into the humid, sticky room. It was uncomfortable and weird at first, and every high-school locker-room nightmare quickly replayed in my head, but eventually, as the heat of the whirlpool and the thick oils in the air of the dry sauna seeped into my muscles and I was able to relax, I knew I was hooked.
We began going to what we refered to simply and reverently as "the schvitz" about once a month for a good two years. But, as I'm sure you know, things change over time and moving on from that circle of friends coupled with moving out of the neighborhood meant that trips to the schvitz became less frequent. As the years went by, the visits became rarer and rarer still.
I hadn't been there in probably 10 months before today's visit--10 months of working at a breakneck pace; 10 months of my muscles and bones slowly feeling more and more twisted and sore. The place hadn't changed much in the time I'd been gone. Sure, they fixed the sinkhole in the lounge and seemed to have slapped a new coat of paint on everything, and the handwritten sign on the door of the sauna that said simply "we have a MAN who can help" had been replaced by equally cryptic inkjet prints, but the clientele was the same odd mix of ancient, wizened Asian men and hulking eastern Europeans--their speedo tan-lines reflected in their massive pinky rings--and the familiar musty, chlorinated odor that filled my nose as I walked in let me know I was in the right place.
And as I lay in the sauna feeling the pain I've been carrying between my shoulder blades slowly melt away and the dull ache of my right knee finally easing for the first time in months, I knew that it had been far too long.