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My Very Last Night in a Gay Bathhouse

THE LAST TIME I went to the gay baths, some years ago, I stepped in poop. Actually, more like a pile of poop, because it crept up between my toes for a horrific second before I realized what my bare feet had stumbled across.

stmarks-postcardI made the grim discovery while standing in the private room of another customer there, making small talk. While I had hopes of more meaningful communication, my plan was cut short when I stepped forward and directly into the offending dung heap.

Lurching back and out of the room, I limped quickly in the direction of the wet area, walking on my heel, dirty toes splayed upwards. As I negotiated the crusty terrain of the carpeted hallways, there occurred to me many questions.

Whose poop was that? How did it get there? Should I go back and tell the guy I stepped in it? Did he know there was poop in his room? Was it his poop? Did he want me to step in it? Was it a poop trap?

The episode spoiled whatever momentum my evening may have had. Later, sitting in the lounge area — same men, same towels, but with smoking and less sex — I began doubting my choice of sexual venue.

In most big cities, there exist two options for the baths: the one your friends will confess visiting and is therefore somewhat acceptable, and “that nasty one” on the other side of town, about which they admit no further knowledge.

The choice is simple for me. I generally pick the nasty one faster than you can say “locker 32, your room is ready.”

But sitting there adjusting my towel — it was one of those thin, modestly sized towels made for a kid with a 30-inch waist and the inability to perspire — I realized that, at the very least, bringing flip flops to the place might have been a good idea. It was the kind of planning that escaped me when I responded to such an impulse.

The guys who thoughtfully prepared for their bathhouse visits always impressed me. There they sat in a private room with the door slung open, their very own fake leather sheets on the mattress, a jaunty scarf draped over the bare light bulb, porn playing on their large screen laptop, with perhaps a scented candle flickering seductively on the plywood night table.

It made me hate to enter empty-handed, without bringing a Viagra for the host or a covered dish.

baths 2And yes, I know the baths can heighten risk for sexually transmitted diseases, having been an AIDS educator for a number of years. Safety and discretion are key, even if the battle has become a uphill one. “The clap” has become so popular again they should call it “the applause.”

Back in the lounge area, a man entered and paused in front of me, cocking his head back and forth like he was trying to look up my skirt. I pulled the towel across me more securely.

Even in bathhouses, I never exposed myself unless it was time for “The Big Reveal.” On this occasion I was feeling depressed and a bit surly after my foot incident, so it was most definitely not the time.

“How you doin’ tonight, man?” he asked. You had to give him credit for persistence. I’m sure my feet smelled like poop.

baths4I looked up at him with tired and sarcastic eyes. “I used to design public health campaigns for queers who go to bathhouses and have ‘multiple partners.'” I made great big quotes in the air with my fingers for emphasis. “Now I’m sitting here in a shredded towel that barely wraps around me, at what? 3 a.m.?”

He shifted his weight away from me and had an expression like he’d just snorted stale poppers. I was undeterred.

“I’ve become my target audience. How depressing is that?”

He looked in either direction, a little helplessly, like waiting for a cop after a traffic accident. Finally he met my impertinent stare. “Well,” he offered, “I do think they, uh, have bigger towels at the front for a dollar more.”

The reasons for my retirement from the baths are many. Let’s just say it doesn’t mix well with my recovery from crystal meth addiction. That, and I always left with athlete’s foot anyway.

But, for the more adventurous among you, here’s one last piece of advice: should you approach an open room with lighting so dim you can’t make out the occupant inside… trust his judgment.




  1. Brian Barber April 26, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Just to let you know… my retirement from the baths came when a twenty-something came up to me and stated “I bet you where really hot when you were young.” The bubble had burst.

  2. Tim July 4, 2010 at 10:45 am

    I’m curious about something. I have never been to a bathhouse, but I heard they are pretty seedy. I’m not even sure exactly what they are, other than they are places for guys to have anonymous sex. Why, however, would the writer of this article have stepped in crap?

    (Umm, excellent question, Tim. Yes, these places can be a little seedy, as characterized in this piece I wrote. Now, as to the origin of the poop, I can only guess. Someone may have had a terrible accident and was too drunk or high to do anything about it. Or the reasons could be… stranger than that. I’ll never know, thankfully. — Mark)

  3. Tim July 4, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Seriously, I thought that guys went to bathhouses for anonymous sex, not to crap on the floor.

  4. greg March 3, 2011 at 6:18 am

    Well that’s a weight off my mind, I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  5. Bob July 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for the memories Mark ! My excuse for going to the baths was that they were on my way home and I didn’t want to drive drunk .

  6. Noel July 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Too funny…I’d hate to think how the poop got there too but I know how the baths are. And at 53 I haven’t given them up quite yet…

  7. Liam July 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I’m a little late to this article, but somehow found this today. I think most people have sort of learned ‘the ropes’ when going there. Flip flops are a must, and your poop story is a good reason. However, I wouldn’t even want to walk around the wet area and steam/saunas without having my feet protected. I’ve been only twice in the last three years. And funny, I go to the ‘nice’ one in town because my only time at the bad one was a disaster. It must have been an off night (though it was Saturday) and there was absolutely no one I would have any physical contact with. I tried to j/o one guy in the sauna and his penis was covered in genital warts. I was a bathhouse king in the 90s and 00s, but it’s lost its luster. Plus, yeah, I used to be hot back then, now I’m your okay looking 46 y/o and have a bit of a belly. I advise my middle aged friends to just stay away. And those young 20 something cutie pies take loads better than Dawson. It’s a different culture now at the bathhouse. A shame.

  8. bearcruzer December 28, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Sounds like you went to Mans Country in Chicago. Never again! Hasn’t seen bleach in 20 years.

  9. Gabe March 24, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Yeah Man’s Country is a real piece of shitty dump. They 86’d me a year and a half ago for no reason whatsoever. I go to Steamworks in Boystown now. Much cleaner, hotter clientele and a hot tub. In short, MC did me a favor kicking me out. ¡Que lastíma!

  10. Kevin Smith December 2, 2014 at 4:14 am

    I still go to the baths a few times a year and always have a good time, even at 58. In my best years I plowed thousands of the most beautiful men on the planet. I thank God I did that, instead of wasting my time in church, worshiping some fake God. I used to have 2-3 beautiful men waiting in line for me to do them, on a Sat. night. Truly paradise…..

  11. K.J March 19, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Ya..While I generally agree with most of the comments here, I too have had some incredible nites and adventures @ the various bath-houses both here in North America and “Down-Under” in Australia..In Australia, they have two types of places to go. A cruise-club where you enter and keep your clothes on and find a corner or cubby to make-out in or they have steam-baths which are pretty much the same as here in North America..My point to this response is simple..You can still go to the bath-house and have a reasonably good time..It’s all what you make of it really…And P.S. I’m finding the 20 somethings are almost always interested in hooking-up with this 40+ year old…Cheers.

  12. Eddie October 18, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    I just turned 70. A few years ago in Munich, a gay friend advised me to visit the local gay sauna and I told him, “I’m too old. Nobody would want me.” (I have a LOT of body hair–everywhere.)He assured me that would not be the case and he was right! Almost immediately I had a young muscular, smiling guy come up to me and started playing with my cock and butt. Soon he was drilling, and not for oil. Another younger dude came up later, blew me and then bounced on my Mr. Happy until we both shot our loads. Give me Germany young men any time!

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