Flashback Friday: The Bathhouse Beatdown

In the spirit of writing something every day that makes me happy, I think I’m going to institute Flashback Friday. We’ve amassed a fair amount of travel misadventures over the years, and who doesn’t like to read about the humorous calamities that befall others? Truthfully, nothing that bad has ever happened to me. I’ve never been scammed or assaulted, and the recent incident of theft at Newark Airport was the only travel-related crime I’ve encountered. Oh, I’ve been inconvenienced, certainly, but I’ve never experienced a serious threat to my person or property.

I have, however, had the everloving shit beaten out of me by an enormous naked Turkish woman in the company of twenty naked chicks.

In 2004, my parents agreed to send me on a study abroad program. Among its many experiences, this program included stays in five countries in four-star hotels, fine dining, a cruise of the Greek Isles, and enough booze to sink Sinatra. I know. To this day I can’t believe my parents signed that check. It also included four days in Istanbul. I’m not sure how the topic came about, perhaps it was the rainy afternoon spent drinking apple tea on enormous pillows, but it was suggested that we–as a group of 20-24 year olds–go en masse to a Turkish bath house. Specifically, the Cemberlitas Hamam, where the treatment on the site is exactly what you get: you lie on an enormous marble platform on a blanket where you sweat out every last impurity before receiving a scrub, hair wash and a massage.

There really is nothing quite like 20 college girls in a situation that requires total nudity that doesn’t somehow involve booze or “Girls Gone Wild.” I have never seen so many people maintaining such vigilant eye contact in all my life, and that was just us standing around fully clothed in the locker room. Body image neuroses were on parade. Someone had to take charge, so a few of us led the way and stripped down. You see, being childless and spoiled, we had no idea that this was absolutely as good as we were ever going to look.

Fast-forward an hour or two, now that we’re all thoroughly soggy, frizzy, and light-headed. My turn came up, and I was summoned to the stone slab to be worked on. My friends, the word “pendulous” cannot begin to describe the woman before me. This was a woman who easily topped DD status and spent the majority of her working hours free of the bonds of underwire. If she was aware she was being sized up by spoiled American college girls, she didn’t show it or didn’t give a damn.

And then it started. I took karate for five years and have twenty cousins and even when we fought with weapons (in class and at home, for the curious) I have never experienced a working-over like this. Dispassionate and dead-eyed, she began the treatment. First the loofah, which was as rough as industrial grit sandpaper. It tickled, it scraped, it scoured my backside like steel wool on a pot. My body was redder than the faces of those journalists who had to cover Mark Sanford.

I have to believe the massage was an active therapy for having chosen such a profession. It was not a happy rubbing, nor a firm kneading. There were fists. There was pounding. At one point she might have been driving her knee into my spine while drumming the intro from “Longview,” it was so intense. Then a grunt, a bucket of water dumped on my head, and the scalp massage to end all scalp massages before shampooing and another bucket of water. My classmates watched in horror and submitted meekly before our droopy dominatrix. Anything for the authentic experience, I suppose.

But you know, I felt AWESOME at the end. Like I could have run a marathon, or like I had a low electrical current running through me. It was easily the most interesting 15 Euro I spent, if not the best. You want to know how to freak out a group of waspy collegiates? Tell them you loved your Turkish bath so much that you want one installed in your dream home. Shocks the Pottery Barn right out of them.

Tom just reminded me that he has a similar story, except it took place in Budapest and involved some hirsuite Hungarians. He doesn’t want to talk about it. We’ll add it to the therapy list.

And I see now that it’s Saturday. Well, can’t win ’em all.