By Dan Valentine
SUCH GOES LIFE, PART TWO
In the Navy, during boot camp in San Diego, I witnessed–heard is a more accurate verb–a G.I. shower. One night, a gang of self-appointed disciplinarians threw a blanket over the head of a new recruit, sound asleep in his bulk, a few rows down from mine. They carried him, his arms and legs kicking, into the showers, and gave him a good scrubbing down with steel-bristled brushes, manufactured for cleaning pots and pans. His offense? They said he stank.
On a recent night here, I was sound asleep. Five traveling Danes, bunking in the same dorm room, had gone out on the town, which here means visiting strip bars and buying scantily-clad women shots of tequila, with the hope and promise of getting, well, you know. Everyone needs a hobby.
In the wee hours, the five stumbled into the dorm (three bunks, six beds, adjoining bathroom), drunk and laughing, playfully carrying-on, grab-assing each other, literally. One, taking a leak, would turn around and tell another, “Suck on this!” The other would reply, “Blow me!” Y’know, all the silly little shit young drunks tend to say to each other after a night on the town, half-a-world away from their folks, and almost always while taking a leak, with member in hand. Charming.
Before they arrived, I’d had the room all to myself. When I was told others were coming, I packed up my belongings, placed my bags (one carry-on, one laptop) neatly beside my lower bunk on the floor; and tidied-up the place, cleaning up after myself. Gabby complimented me on how nice the room looked.
The Danes arrived with heavy backpacks and carry-ons, two or three or more each. They were on world tour. (Europeans have time on their hands. They’re between world wars.) In short order, their socks and underwear were scattered on the floor, atop their luggage, dangling from the rails of bunks and doorknobs. I had to step gingerly over them to get to the bathroom, as did they.
After more ass-grabbing and some manly belching, of course, one of the five stopped to sniff the air. “What’s that smell?” The others stopped to take a sniff. “Phew!” And all started laughing and holding their noses. “It’s awful!” “How are we going to sleep?” “Smells like shit in here!” Etc.
I was wide awake by this time. I thought they were joking about their socks and under things, strewn every which way.
They were talking about me, laughing their heads off (but far from pleased). Can’t blame ‘em.
I couldn’t smell a thing, which doesn’t mean anything. My nose has been broken so many times, I can’t smell the roses, can’t smell the dog shit. A blessing in disguise, says my bestest friend. There are many unpleasant scents out there. Or so she says. I wouldn’t know.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they finally hit their sacks, as they say in the Navy.
Next morning, Salzador motioned for me to join him outside. “The Danes,” he said, “would like you to take a shower. They say you stink.”
Quite embarrasskng, to say the least. You can imagine.
But I take a shower every morning, I told myself. Well, maybe not every morning. Often, I rise and shine around six a.m., an hour or so before Priscilla arrives.
Priscilla. How to describe Priscilla? She spent her early youth in Seattle and speaks extremely good English; works her tail off; never complains; not a mean or lazy bone in her body; tall, slim, and very beautiful, extremely-so inside. She spends whatever free-time she has saving stray cats and finding them homes, and other nice stuff. I once asked what her title was. She answered, while standing tippy-toe on a chair, scrubbing the outside boiler, “Handyman.” I told her I had asked Salzador the same question and he had answered, “assistant manager.” She laughed the hardest I had ever heard her laugh, and she laughs a lot. She’s a happy person. “More like party-boy,” she answered, still chuckling aloud to herself. She calls me Mister D.
So, anyway, Priscilla arrives on the scene around eighty-thirty, nine. First thing, she lights the boiler outside. Before she arrives, a shower here can be extremely cold or extremely refreshing, depending on your viewpoint on such matters. So I, myself, usually take a shower midday or at night. Some times I forget to, if I’m writing.
Then I thought, maybe it’s my socks! I’m a walker. I mean, I’m a walker!! When I first started writing these pieces, I paced and paced–before, in-between, and after–up and down in front of the hostel; up and down, block after block, along the city’s avenidas; up and down the shores De Pacifico–thinking and writing in my head–my left big toe struggling mightily to make its way out of the tip of my pacing/walking shoes (Rockfords), struggling its damnedest to breath free. (I recommend them. Very expensive. But they last. I’ve had them for several years now. My bestest friend bought me the pair for my birthday. It’s the homeless who should be doing Rockford commercials; they need the bucks and would know of what I speak.)
But anyway. My dad traipsed through the jungle trails of Guadalcanal and in need of foot powder for the rest of his life. I’ve walked through the jungles of many a great town and country. I don’t drive. But foot powder I could little afford at the moment.
Third, I thought, perhaps it’s my clothes. I had room in my one carry-on for very few; though, I had been very careful to change every other day or so, saving a shirt and a pair of slacks for an emergency. On at least two occasions, Gabby had said, “You look very handsome today, buddy.”
I told Salzador: You’ve no washer, no dryer. No ironing board. No plugs for the bathroom sinks, so as to hand wash things with Wool Wash, as they call Woolite down here. It was one of the first items I purchased.
That, and I confessed: I’m close to broke. Couldn’t afford to take my things to the dry-cleaners down the block. My friend had deposited my social security check in my U.S. account, awaiting a debit card to arrive in the mail, so she could send it to me when I had an address. When I decided to stay at the hostel, she sent it immediately. Overnight. Cost her thirty bucks! Overnight in Mexico is some sixteen days.
Anyway, Salzador had been out drinking with the Danes. They were drinking buddies now. That morning, after my little chat with their new best-friend, they asked him if they could wash their soiled clothes at his place. He has a washer and dryer at home. Sure, he said, no problem. Me, he told to take a shower. You stink!
So, I took a shower and, while doing so, I washed and rinsed and rewashed my socks and underwear with Wool Wash. I stepped out of the stall and I’m drying myself, when it came to me like a light bulb suddenly beaming above the head of Elmer Fudd in a looney-toons’ cartoon.
A sign above the toilet reads: “For Favor No Tire Papel En La Taza” (“Please No Paper Inside the Toilet”).
The plumbing here was installed by the Incas in the beginning of, well, pick a single-digit year. A.D. Or before. Or so it appears. They don’t buy biodegradable tissue. They’re operating on the cheap, as they say. So, the paper used tends to clog the pipes, causing it to overflow. As a result, there is a plastic container nearby, lined with a cellophane bag, and after you “wipe clean” yourself, you drop the tissue into the container. Plop, plop, sniff, sniff!
Salzador empties it whenever it appears to be getting full or close to. (A peso saved on cellophane bags here, a peso saved on jars of strawberry jam there. It adds up.) It’s not the most enjoyable of duties. But someone’s gotta do it. So, you can imagine the stench after six guests, and others from down the hall in dorms without connecting bathrooms, have deposited countless tissues of toilet paper after wiping their, well, you-know-whats, after a night on the town and/or out dining. Plus, the fact that this is Mexico. Don’t drink the water! Plus, the fact that since I’ve been here, a month and half or so now, the toilet has been plugged but once. Guests are fairly diligent about depositing their tissues, with their signature on ‘em.
It’s quite an experience. In the States, we’re used to wiping ourselves and dropping the tissue into the bowl without thinking. I did this a couple of times in the beginning and had to oh-so daintily dip two fingers down to retrieve it. By the sink is a bottle of liquid kiwi-scented soap to wash your hands after such a fast-track learning experience.
Most don’t know how lucky we are in the States. We tend to take everything for granted. A retired South Korean was correspondent I met here told me that similar bathroom facilities can be found all over the world, in parts of Asia, Central and South America, Africa, the Eastern Bloc, the list is endless.
But anyway, the Danes moved to another dorm. Salzador told me that he didn’t want their wee-hour antics to bother me. Yeah, riiiiight!
There was a sort of happy ending, though. One of the Danes left a pair of newly-washed, freshly-pressed, black corduroy jeans behind. I was 160-some pounds a year or two or three ago. I’m 140 now. I tried ‘em on. Perfect fit. Thank you, very much. I think I’ve earned them. But, as fate would have it, one of the Danes just happened to enter the room to use the bathroom. He looked at me, looked at the jeans. They looked familiar. After a momentary hesitation, he turned and strolled into the bathroom. Without a word said. Much of living is a daily trade-off. Humiliation for new jeans. At this point in my life: fair exchange.
That was a week or so ago. They’re long gone. This morning, I go into the bathroom to take a shower. The water’s been turned off for some reason or other. I get dressed, buckling my belt buckle on my new jeans, and I’m on my way out the door, when Gabby says, “Did you shower?”
Not getting the gist, I say, “The water’s off.”
“We can put it back on.”
“That’s all right,” I say. “I’m on my way out.”
She says, “We don’t want to start ‘that’ all over again.”
“That”–meaning? For Christmas f**kin’ sakes. I’m a guest here!! I shower. I use underarm sports odor defense. 100% MORE odor blockers! I’ve washed my socks and shorts.
Such goes life, ever-so-often.