November 2, 2009 | 2:00
TV game show winner Charles Van Doren says everything was a fake.
There's a Strange Girl in His Bath
TOKYO -- You know what you've always heard about those Japanese public baths? Well, don't believe it.
We Americans have an innate suspicion of any culture which makes a public excursion of so private a matter as a bath. To this day, we still gossip about the Romans who took their ablutions in mixed frolic. We look askance at the coeducational baths of Sweden.
And because the Orient, despite Jack Douglas, remains inscrutable, we distrust the Japanese public bath over all. So, it isn't simply that we're evil-minded. It's simply that we have never known what goes on behind those steamy doors.
Therefore, in the interests of creating better understanding, I went to a Tokyo bathhouse that was advertised in an English-language paper as: "Best bath in Tokyo. Good massage. Most pretty girl attendants."
When I handed the address to a cab driver, he gave me a sly, toothy grin which, I must admit, unnerved me a bit. But which, I subsequently realized, didn't mean what I thought it did. The grin was merely to inform me that he couldn't speak or read a word of English, and had no idea where I wanted to go.
After I played charades by taking a pantomime bath in the back seat, he got the message and delivered me, oddly enough, to the right address.
A gentleman in horn-rimmed glasses bowed me to a small room on the second floor and handed me a yellow slip of paper to be filled out later, "Contest for bestgur'," he informed me, "Winner gets r'uving cup."
On the contest form were three questions I was requested to answer about the girl who attended me: "1- Does she give good consideration? 2- Is she so sweet? 3- Does she speak in a softly manner?"
While I waited for her to appear and meet these qualifications, I looked around for the rest of the crowd. But there was nobody there except me. Finally a girl in halter and tennis shorts came in and helped me to disrobe. It could have been embarrassing. Instead, it was almost insulting. I've never in my life been looked at with such disinterest.
Then, as though I was a piece of flabby finnan haddie, she shoved me into a steam box where I bubbled and boiled away for awhile. After I was done to a turn, she opened the box, motioned me to sit on a wooden slab about six inches off the cold marble floor, and began soaping my back.
And if you've never sat scrunched up six inches off the floor while a strange girl soaped your back, don't ever. It's an utterly degrading experience.
Suddenly she began hitting me in the face with pail full after pail full of hot water.
"Tha's enough," I was finally able to sputter, "You wanta' drown a person?"
That Grin Again
But she gave me that familiar, toothy grin meaning that she too, didn't understand a word of English, and continued throwing water in my face.
Just as I was about to go down for the third time, she stopped. And I, too weak to protest, was deposited into a wooden tub of scalding water. Then I was dried out, stretched out, unmercifully pummeled on the back and shoulder muscles, dressed and ushered out the door.
Over my shoulder I tossed her a baleful look, spit out a remaining mouthful of water, and tore up the contest blank.
Anyone who treats me like that don't get no r'uving cup!