Monday, January 14, 2008

Sweating Like The Wind

Yesterday, I went to the Russian baths here in New York City, which have been in existence in the very same location on East 10th Street for over 600 years now. No, actually it’s more like 115 years or so, but that’s still a long time any way you slice it.

For the uninitiated, the Russian baths are a series of insanely hot rooms that people go into to sweat out all the nasty stuff that ends up lodged in their bodies as a result of drinking Mountain Dew and eating hot dogs all the time. John Belushi used to go there back in the days when he was really packing a lot of fun into his week. There are five different rooms at the Russian baths, each offering a different way for you to get so hot you think you are going to keel over and end up on the cover of the New York Post. One room is the Russian room and it’s all dark and hot. People moan a lot in this room for some reason. Then there is a Turkish room that seems even hotter and sweatier than the Russian one. People tend to say “shit” and “fuck” a lot in this room. There is another room that’s just labeled “steam room.” It’s really small and kind of boring because no one is grunting or swearing much in this room. Sometimes I go in this room for a few minutes and do a little grunting and swearing myself just so it won’t feel left out.

The fourth room at the Russian baths is the aromatherapy steam room. It’s pretty much just like the other steam room only it’s bigger and smells like eucalyptus or something. This room is good for clearing out the sinuses but isn’t as popular as some of the other rooms because men are afraid they might turn gay if they hang out in a room called the aromatherapy room for too long, which is a reasonable concern.

The fifth room at the Russian baths is the sauna room and it’s pretty much like those wood saunas they used to have at Holiday Inns and stuff back in simpler times. This sort of room always reminds me of going on family trips when I was kid. We’d go in the Holiday Inn swimming pool and then sneak off into the sauna for a couple minutes until we got yelled at for trying to pick up those hot rocks they have in there. I wish they would pipe Fleetwood Mac into the sauna room. It would really take me back. Then again, I kind of wish Fleetwood Mac were piped into pretty much every room I enter. Someday, someday.

They also have a big cold pool there, which- as the name suggests- is a swimming pool full of freezing water. People jump in and let out high pitched noises for a couple seconds before going back to saying “shit” and “fuck” a lot. I tend to avoid going in the cold pool because I assume it contains a high percentage of ball sweat. Also, it’s seriously cold and I am kind of a whuss in that regard.

I really like going to the Russian baths here in New York but it still doesn’t compare to the Schvitz in my native Cleveland. The Schvitz is a Russian bath with just one big sweaty room. It’s men-only but not in “that way,” more in an old school manly man kind of way where guys use the word “broad” and “dame” a lot and look they might have a heart attack at any moment. After hanging out in the big sweaty room (It’s Russian-style, like the first one I mentioned from the Russian baths) for a while, everyone heads upstairs and eats big garlic-covered steaks and drinks beer and vodka while dressed in bedsheets and swearing a lot. The entire proceedings are watched over by a mysterious old photo on the wall of a man with an eyepatch. The parking lot is guarded by a guy who is rumored to have a shotgun within easy reach. In short, the Schvitz is awesome.

After the Russian baths, my friend Brett and I walked a few blocks to eat the fuck out of some Indian food. We went to Panna II, where chili pepper lights meets Christmas tree lights and it’s everybody’s birthday all the time. Some people think this place is a little cockroachy, but I disagree, dammit. And after sweating like a motherfucker for three hours, I was lumberjack hungry so I went kind of nuts. I am feeling a little plus-sized as a result today, but it’s still good to know I’ve gotten all that Mountain Dew and hot dog residue out of my system.

Dave Hill


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