Real Men Take Turkish Baths
© Copyright 2008 by Melissa Myers
When my fiance and I travel, we typically strive to avoid attractions with doormats and blinking arrows announcing, “Welcome to one of the 1,000 places to see before you die!” But it was snowing in Istanbul, we were drunk (trying to stave off the sub-zero wind chill with beer sweaters), and I had to go to the bathroom. This was the perfect opportunity for us to find out if visiting a hamam was truly a Thing to Do. So, with nothing to lose and little expectations, we politely ducked underneath the neon arrows and entered the Turkish bathhouse.
Before we even crossed the threshold, Tom was approached by a raging bull of a man--a masseuse as indicated by his naked torso.
“1000 things!” he shouted.
“Yes,” Tom politely replied.
The masseuse surveyed Tom’s measly 180 lb, 6 foot 1 frame, and sniffed the air in scorn.
“Ha, I give you massage! You like hard.”
It was a statement, not a question.
Tom nodded ever so faintly in submissive agreement, and was dragged away to a men’s only section of the bath.
“Take off clothing!” the masseuse demanded as he and threw a tiny towel in the general direction of Tom’s face: a challenge. Get this to actually cover your manly parts and I’ll eat my tarpus. After examining the 8 inch by 8 inch washcloth closely, looking for strings, a strap, or perhaps some double-sided tape, Tom, folded, wrapped, and finally, in desperation and despair, just held the teeny material over his yarak.
Upon seeing Tom’s garment-tying technique, his masseuse slapped him, hard, on the backside as if he were attempting to get a crippled and geriatric horse to run away fast, yah-yah!! through the doorway and into the marble bathhouse atrium. Contrary to what some guidebooks had suggested, this bathhouse did not, at least as Tom remembers it, feature “women lounging like Renaissance paintings” or “delicate copper bowls of sudsy water…reminisces of home.” There were men here. Manly men, like Slappy himself. And they all turned in Tom’s direction and stared—gawked at him as if he were a fresh-fish prisoner on the walk down to his cell, to spend his first lonely night in The Big House… Then they snickered. Tom may as well have been draped in an American flag with his balled-up towel and rented shoes. These dudes were gloriously naked, their hair shirts, back manes, and flowing locks of leg hair shimmering in the bright, natural light of the atrium.
Slappy grinned and nodded at his fellow countrymen as if to say, I do this for all Turks, everywhere! and ceremoniously removed his own precarious loincloth, lest it get in the way.
“You like hard,” Slappy demanded again.
Before Tom could give another weak and non-committal, gesture of compliance, Slappy picked up his giant T-bone steak foot and smashed it down square in the middle of Tom’s back. Here, he planted his flag—a Turkish star and crescent. He now owned a piece of America, even if just for an hour, and, by god, he was going to tread on it. Beneath 250 lbs of excess--dozens sheep’s brain pies, boxes of Turkish Delight, beef kababs equal to one whole cow, one and two pound bags of pistachio nuts, and pint after pint of Efes Pilsen--the air rushed out of Tom’s lungs. Slappy’s toes wiggled and jiggled the flesh of Tom’s back as his chewed-off toenails scratched into his skin like eagle talons. High above, Slappy hummed and stomped, spinning his bulbous head right and left on his lamb kebab skewer-neck, smiling broadly at the other bathhouse patrons.
“Over!” Slappy yelled as Tom jumped up, grateful that this “massage” had finally come to a close.
“No! Over!” Slappy threateningly poked the air around Tom’s nether region before he pushed his head down and flipped him in one fluid, forceful motion—two Greeks (gasp! Turks hate the Greeks) wrestling in the buff. Tom lost.
Now, fully exposed to the raw elements of the Naked Atrium, the loincloth now regretfully discarded to a distance of over 10 feet off to his right, Tom lay at the mercy of Slappy, his side of beef feet, and raw McDonald’s hamburger hands—hands that he now used to vehemently urge Tom’s liver into his chest cavity, swap his spleen for his bladder, and generally manhandle his innards through his skin. Tom finally admitted that he was a chicken—just another American trying to be Turkish for a day--and pleaded with Slappy to stop before handing him 50 lira and a please-don’t-hurt-me-anymore tip.
As I waited in the outer sanctum of the bathhouse, sipping apple tea and melting into myself in pure relaxation, Tom grabbed my arm, ushered me outside and nearly sobbed, “I think I’m going to die.” It was okay, I reassured him, you can now because you’ve done at least one of the 1000 Things.
in the subject line of the message.)