Recently a friend of mine asked me if I'd ever been to a bath house. I told him that I had, pausing to ask why he wondered.
"I've always sort of been curious about them. I've never had the opportunity to go," he replied.
"There's one in Portland," I said, "Drive up sometime, here's directions," I said, handing him my phone with the Yelp listing and Google-sourced map.
"Would you like to go with? We could drive up together and make an afternoon of it, maybe do some shopping and head off to Steam afterwards."
I mulled this over in my head for a moment before offering a non-committal shrug of my shoulders, "Sure. Maybe."
It's not come up again in conversation and I am hesitant to ask if he's been, fearing that I will again be asked to go with him. Safety in numbers or some such thing I guess.
Last weekend a different friend asked me nearly the same thing; he and I are much more intimate than the previous asker, so I was able to ask specific questions of him regarding a possible upcoming trip, namely why he wanted a partner in crime.
"You and I always have fun together. We have similar tastes in men, we both like to watch and be watched, it would be hot."
"So we're supposed to play together then?"
"Hell no, but if the option arises, then I know that you'll go with the flow."
"So we'll synchronize our watches when we get there and leave when the time comes huh?"
"Unless we decide to stay longer."
I asked if he'd ever been to Steam; he told me no, but that he'd been to clubs in Amsterdam and New York & San Francisco. Posing the question to me, I admitted that I'd been while in Chicago, London, Auckland & a few other places. Steam's a bit different though I told him, it's smaller than any other bath house that I've ever been in, the patrons have more attitude, there's no sauna & their list of rules is rather lengthy. Like a lot of baths there's a membership requirement and a fee associated with using the facilities; unlike a lot of baths, there's a sort of sterile upscale attitude that permeates much of the place. Common courtesy and cleanliness aside, it was the first bath house that I'd ever been to that placed placards above the bowls of condoms--"Unsafe sex practices will result in our banning YOU from premises"-Mgmt. It's also the first bath house that I've been to where lubrication is not provided, where there is no "maze" or back room-type atmosphere (no, the 13'x13' room painted black with it's tiny glory hole-bedecked "stall" does not count); it's also one of the only bath houses that I've been to where they clean incessantly--if the steam room is full of patrons, you don't open the door, yell out, "Cleaning time!," and move everyone out, we're all paying members...go clean something else and return when the area is devoid of life or post a notice outside the door listing the regular hours when cleaning will be carried out.
A friend of a friend started sending me notes about upcoming happenings at Steam. Very unofficial meetings between members, things that would never be posted on the Calendar of Events at Steam's website. A few times a month I get a random email stating something like: Steve-O will be in the sling room next Thursday for his 38th birthday, knock once for entry, condoms optional or PDXEagle is hosting a meet and greet at Silverado next Wednesday, carpool to Steam after or Jacinto is in from Madrid, Steam, 3-10am tomorrow. These events are meant only for those that are interested and I'm sure never make their way to the slate board that guests use to post notes to one another upon entering Steam's halls. An older friend of ours tells us that these kind of notes were often posted on such boards back in the days before the Internet and email and texting. I should throw in that he also lumps this time period as the days before men were able to live with HIV. Back then unprotected sex was the norm, though I'm told that nobody really cared if you asked them to use a condom or if you didn't; bath house etiquette has pretty much always dictated that you be comfortable with what you are doing, with what you are going to do and to be respective of your partner's wishes.
Laying etiquette aside, I find it interesting that the management of Steam feels the need legislate how its members will conduct themselves within walls that were built expressly for the purpose of catering to and fulfilling the needs of a sexual clientele. If two or more adults consent to unprotected or bareback sex, and two or more do not, I'd like to think it safe to point out that the two groups will likely leave one another alone; I'm not stating that there isn't the possibility of hurt feelings or egos, but life will go on.
Yesterday I received another of my friend's emails; PDXBoi will be at the Hawk on Wednesday. Brief and cryptic; there was no link as there sometimes is in his emails, cluing one in to who or where. I put Google to work; twenty minutes and as many searches later, I happened upon the missing information that I needed, a new venue is born:[PDX] As to PDXBoi? I have no idea if that's his Grindr or Scruff handle, his name on A4A or some other site, maybe just his self-appointed moniker. I work Wednesdays, so unless I receive a follow-up post I guess I'll never know.