Friday, April 09, 2004

Getting Sweaty

There are some gay men who insist that they go to gay saunas "just for the sauna".

I don't believe them. It's like saying you go to a lap dancing bar for the wine list.

Gay saunas are for having sex. Preferably lots of it. With interesting people. And they're also good for the skin.

On Friday I skulked off to one, partly to see if I could revive my dead libido by surrounding it with hordes of men in towels. But partly because I just thought getting laid would be fun.

It turned out to be pretty much a failure, which is naturally a shiver disappointing (and will make this entry much less exciting than if I'd got some hot loving in the steam room). But I have at least learned that you should never go to a sauna if you're feeling crap about yourself.

I'm not at my most skippy at the moment, I feel out of condition, and I had terrible hair (it's gone all bouffant, and despite frantic efforts at styling it with sauna soap, it kept on doing hateful things). So, I stomped around like a dejected member of the Jackson Five, scowling at potential suitors, feeling miserably left out of the fun and oddly like talking to the Weird Old Fat Men who potter aimiably around these places like whistful Satyrs at a shabby bacchante.

For that afternoon I felt like a Weird Old Fat Man. Not all of the Weird Old Fat Men were Fat of course. Some of them are Hairy. And one old man, for example, was well into his twilight years, yet weirdly buff. On the other hand, that didn't really make the sight of him standing there, fiddling with himself in the shower any more appealing.

So, rather than regale you with a sad afternoon's musings on Near Misses I'll share with you a few Sauna Notes...

1) There was a note up warning us to tread carefully as someone had poured lube in the Dark Room, creating a lethal lube slick that, despite the best efforts of management to clear it up still left innocent men flying around in the gloom, their heads ending up god knows where. Dear Terrorists - new plan: chemical agents are boring - flood the tube with lube.

2) The whole idea of Dark Rooms still puzzles me. Gay men are fussy about appearance and picky, picky, picky. And yet, an alarming number seem happy to slide off into a twilight world, grabbing jollies from complete unknowns. Why?

3) Gay men are contrary beasts. I spent some time being eyed up by a frankly lovely skinhead. After a while, I wandered over to say hello. He smiled, and then bolted. Later, I wandered past a cubicle to discover him having sex with two fat Italians while three WOFM stood outside, rubbing themselves contentedly.

4) Steam Rooms have a special tactical nature to them. I'll explain. If you're aware of Urinal Rules (you know - for some reason men always pick pissoirs as far apart from each other as possible) you won't be surprised to discover that there's a special variation in a steam room. Steam Rooms, for the unitiated, are big rooms, with three long benches running round the walls.
The steam makes it quite hard to work out what's going on. On the other hand, you can work out *exactly* what's going on. The shifting shapes, the wet slapping noises and the jingling of locker keys around flying wrists ... well, they're not wrapping Easter Eggs.
For distrait souls like me, I'm happy to just sit there waiting for fantastic sex to just turn up like a No.78 bus. It rarely happens, but I prefer it to having to peer through the gloom, work out whether the man next to me is in any way attractive, intuit whether they think me attractive, and then find a way into their personal space. It's just weird. Most of the time people sit there, blissfully unaware of the people next to them, and yet absolutely aware of the people next to them.
It's made more complex by the tactical moves that go on. It's somewhat like Othello, or Go, the Japanese boardgame - both are playing pieces with a certain number of options, the object being to limit and eventually stifle those options. A good first move (if you don't fancy plunging into an orgy of shifting towels and hoping for the best) is to sit somewhere with a bit of space on either side of you and work out the other players. The worst thing is an Interception - if you leave too much space between you and the man next to you, another opponent can slip in between the two of you. This is also why you should never sit in a corner - you're open to a Blocking Move - which is when a large man slides in and sits next to you, obscuring you from vision. Not good.
In fact, Steam Rooms are just odd.

5) Jacuzzis. Always full of old hairy men sitting a little too close together. And, amongst the bubbles is a lot of floating scum. Shudder.

6) Some men are great in saunas. They sail through, flitting in and out of cubicles with, well, gay abandon. It's an admirable trait, and they appear to enjoy it. Jealous seethe.

7) Porn. They show a lot of porn at saunas. I assume this is to "get you in the mood" like at a sperm donor clinic. Shrug. I still don't get why I should enjoy watching men who are having more fun than me.

8) Some men are Very Oddly Shaped. Some men in saunas are beautiful. Some are astonishing near misses - with a great face, magnificent arms, but a pot belly. But the male stomach goes through some alarming variations. On Friday was a man with a belly that had somehow shrivelled like a balloon, and sagged down completely concealing his private parts. Which was just odd.

9) On Friday, I saw a distinguished old man holding hands on a lounger with a much younger man. They looked happy and it gave me hope for the world. Later I saw them in the sauna cafe. "Buy me more sandwich," demanded the younger man, and all became sadly clear.

10) Sherlock Holmes stories are great. When it all got too befuddling, I sat in the cafe, curled up on a sofa with the mystery of the Gold Pince-Nez. Charming.

11) Saunas aren't always rubbish. Every now and then I will remember the amazing times I've had, mainly in Amsterdam - the remarkably experimental evening with the Dutch drugs manufacturer who, in between bouts would point out his clients... the lovely Swedish bridge engineer... the wordless man from Portugal... Peter the Poet, who I even dated for a while before I discovered that he'd mastered the egotistical sublime... lovely Phil who turned out to have an amazing job in television... and the charming Irish waiter who I kept bumping into until it became habit.

12) Most times I go to saunas I'll vow to never go again. And yet... and yet...

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