an urban lifestyle + travel blog by liz norment.

Tag: stories

My Experience at the Russian + Turkish Baths in New York.

in CULTURE, WORDS
i first heard about the russian bath houses during my first year in new york. i was on a train coming back to the city from virginia. the entire northeast was in the middle of a relentless snow storm, and thus my usual 6 hour trip was on hour 10 and counting. we’d been stuck in philly for over an hour and i met a guy at the bar in the train station who was also heading to new york, and also intentionally getting drunk to pass the time. we boarded together and made plans to meet in the dining car. i had a bota full of wine, he had a bottle of dewar’s – our christmas spoils. as we sat and drank, he was a plethora of knowledge about the city. he drew me a map of manhattan and all the things i needed to know; which parks were prettiest in autumn and which ones you could consistently score drugs in, neighborhoods with the most authentic cuisine from a range of cultures and why you should use the staten island ferry (just as a free boat ride and then to turn right back around and come back, he advised). i still have this map, and the spot on it where he showed me his favorite russian bath house was. he looked at me very seriously as he described the nearly religious process of going room to room, the russian men that would beat you if you asked for it and sometimes even if you didn’t, the absolute euphoric feeling in your body after you left. he marked it on the map, and told me i have to go. then he pulled a lighter from his pocket and started burning the edges of the map and we were both laughing wildly, drunk and restless from the ride. they kicked us out of the dining car. we ran into the area between the cars to hide, laughing loudly and then he pressed his body against mine and we made out aggressively and madly all the way through new jersey.
seven years and, well, quite a few makeout sessions with strangers on trains later, i finally made it to the russian & turkish bath house. thankfully i went with someone who knew the routine, and now i will pass that knowledge off to you. the whole experience was insane and hilarious and hard and uncomfortable and then completely, corporally euphoric.
first, bring a bathing suit. honestly, i’d say a one-piece is best, but a two-piece works too. they have little cotton shorts that you can (and should) keep over your suit, and if you happen to spend the night away from home, then your uniform can simply be a borrowed sleeveless tee and just the shorts. which i kind of thought was hip. regardless of what getup you choose, go in the locker room, change, and loop the key around your wrist or ankle as if your life depended on it. trust me, you don’t want to know what they do if people lose them.
choose a pair of rubber slippers, a towel, and then go downstairs and enter into a tiled basement of different rooms and the knowledge that your dignity is far, far behind you. i arrived with my hair tossed up in a top bun, smiley and bright-eyed and mistakenly wearing mascara. within minutes i became a desperate, drowned rat.
the whole scene transports you back into history, imagining this activity in countries all over the world, a social scene. built in 1892, this is clearly the oldest activity in New York, other than drinking and lying. it all kind of felt like being at the gym, just without the working out. everyone is suffering, out of breath, wanting the activity they are doing to stop but also trying to push through it. some people talk, which usually consists of “god it’s just so hot in here.” some people just moan every so often. most just exchange eye contact that says, “are you ok? because i don’t know if i’m ok. and if i pass out, will you drag my body out of here? because i’ll drag yours.”
there are 7 rooms, i think. honestly i lost track and along with my sense of direction because when you enter one room, you take a deep breath knowing it will be the last time you can actually fill you lungs for the duration of your stay, and when you exit, all you can think about is submerging your body in the ice pool. which, as soon as you do, all you can think of is getting out of the ice pool. the room that i suppose i decided was my favorite, which i don’t know if that means it was the most tolerable or most challenging, was a stone cave that looked like part of a putt-putt course. it has tiers of wooden benches that you can’t sit on straight away because you’ll burn your buns off. literally. i saw it happen. you sit on your wet towel and every 30 seconds you force your body to walk over to a well of cold water and dump an entire bucket over your head. i was hesitant to do this at first because it looks ridiculous, just shaming yourself with a bucket of water in front of a group of strangers. it felt as dumb as the ice bucket challenge but the only charity it’s supporting is you and your own momentary survival. my hesitance quickly evaporated along with every ounce of moisture on my skin, lips, and hair. that bucket saved my life, again and again and again and again.
the steamy rooms felt like you were in confession with a large group of strangers. you felt, saw, and heard all of their sins exiting their bodies. then all of our sins hung there in a heavy cloud together as we all sat paying our public penance. everyone sits leaning over, their shoulders heavy, their breath short. just sitting and trying to continue sitting, somehow.
every so often a large man with a gold chain wanders through the rooms saying “who wants a platza!!” to which, without inquiring, i would recommend going with, “no sir, i would not like a platza today.” i saw one man being platza’d, which took place in the hot stone room, in front of everyone. he was instructed to lay down, turn over, sit up, stand up, all while being beaten with a wet rag and having water and some other liquid poured over him. it was like a public shaming, and i felt the desire to help him but of course, all i could do was muster the energy to drag my body over to the well and baptize myself every 30 seconds. he chose the platza. now he must suffer.
at some point, you carry your tired body up the steep stairs to the roof for some sun. this, again, is not a glamorous experience; you lay your body upon some old rubber mats and close your eyes and feel your heart nearly beating out of your chest from the intense environments you’ve been experiencing. men are walking around with some sort of thick white mud face masks caked on their faces, looking like mimes. mimes are walking around without any face masks, looking like men. you realize you may never leave the rubber mat. you are trapped in a glass case of corporal instability. you and the mimes.
you descend back into the basement and wander again from room to room. into the pool and immediately back out. breathing in steam and heat and sins and nothing at all. you sit in the social room between the other wet humans. everyone seems to be marginally surviving and you think, maybe, you will too.
i remember being concerned that my boobs were showing through my wet clingy man tank top or that my baggie shorts were exposing everything beneath and then immediately thinking that i should concentrate on breathing. inhale, exhale. nothing is private here, we are all exposed.
and that’s when anthony weiner walked by in a tiny speedo and started doing slow, languid ballet moves with his tiny tight leg upon the bar in front of me.
when you finally leave, putting back on your clothes and saying goodbye to the sassy little shorts and shoes, you emerge out onto 10th street and new york is still happening all around you. i kept wanting to ask people as they passed on the sidewalk – do you have any idea what is going on in there? my body felt completely cleansed and euphoric. my skin felt new. i felt grounded and displaced in the city i knew so well.
the russian & turkish baths are not only the best hangover cure i have ever experienced, they are a glimpse into an ancient history and a strange social experience you can’t find anywhere else, unless i suppose you actually do slip into the confession booth in your skivs with a bunch of strangers and steam.
also, it’s the best way to see Anthony Weiner’s wiener without giving him your phone number. because he is always, always there.
the russian and turkish baths are located at 268 east 10th st.
check the site for the schedule, because there are men-only and women-only hours in addition to the co-ed and anthony weiner hours.

Invincible Summer | Brooklyn I’m Trying

in WORDS
In the depth of winter I finally realized that within me lay an invincible summer.
-Albert Camus
This quote I came across today on a board inside the powerhouse arena bookstore/multi-use space/my preferred location to buy cards… and it struck me. First, that the sign was inside. It was even too cold for a sandwichboard sign to be outdoors. Something used to draw people in was just there among the books, knowing that people would be entering just as a form of warm refuge if nothing else, and yet it was still there, humbly offering warm inspiration. The thermometer today read -1 when I woke up. -1. And somehow, in this absolute inhuman climate, do we seek and find summer and hold on to it. How do we react in a way that instead of being debilatatated, isolated, stagnant, that we keep moving. The air may be -1 but feels like absolute zero. Where all movement ceases.
Last night I found myself standing outside with a friend, smoking a cigarette in the frigid air, hardly able to hold my cigarette let alone inhale, here both of us having given up cigarettes for lent and yet still standing outside in the windy tundra, smoking. And as I shivered and wondered what I was doing, and asked aloud what I was doing, and then, “where is everybody?? They’re inside, why aren’t we inside.” He responded, indirectly to my inquiry with “I love this, silence. It’s completely desolate in this busy street…” And with that, I inhaled- summer. found.
I awoke this morning, late, for my jury duty, clambering to get dressed, receiving a missed call and voicemail from a mysterious NY number that of course I dismissed. I don’t answer calls from strange numbers. Not because of inconvenience but because I have too many things I’m running from. Collections agencies, ex-boyfriends, bar tabs, monsters. I ran out the door, waited for the G that had become the F that became everyone wondering what the fuck was going on but automatically boarding the train anyway in silent, paranoid solidarity. I walked swiftly to the Supreme Court house, late. i got in the security line, late. Removed my gloves coat scarf late late late and dropped them all on the conveyor belt and looked to the uniformed guard, waiting for my cue. LATE.
“Hey, aren’t you in my jury?” The white-toothed cop smiled at me.
“I am! I’m so sorry. I’m so late,” I cringed.
He smiled wider. “Judge called in sick. my dear, you’re free to go.” What??? “What?” “You don’t have to be here.”
I was confused. “I’m gonna go through, let’s talk on the other side.”
I grabbed my cost gloves scarf. …err, late? “So wait, does this mean I have to go to work?”
“No ma’am. Since you showed up you count as venue here for the day. I’ll make sure it’s taken care of.”
I put down my items. “High five me right now.” I said, with my hand already raised.
He walked me over to the desk and took down my jury number and I couldn’t believe what was happening. “What are you going to do now? Don’t tell me you’re going back to bed.”
“Hell no! This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened.” I skipped out the door with my lunch packed in my bag, already showered, full mug of coffee in my hand and looking at the onset of an absolute gift-‘a free day, all mine. And I entered the freezing cold air and inhaled and smiled- SUMMER.
a story to warm your chilly little winter hearts, based on the realization that summer, after all, is never gone. It isn’t waiting. It isn’t dependent on the phases of the moon or the tilt of the earth’s axis or those first glimpses of human skin in public or the neighborhood restaurant finally opening its windows, setting tables out on the sidewalk. Summer is laying dormant, but not for 9 months. It’s waiting for a spark. It’s looking for an awakening. It isn’t a season but a significance, a calling. An opportunity, a surprise. An inhale. A grasp, an outstretched hand, a warm embrace.

summer

Find yours. Thaw it out. Breathe it in. And don’t wait.

Up in the Air | Words Written on Airplanes.

in WORDS

 

Plane Pretzels.

I challenged myself to eat the entire snack mix packette before he returned with my wine. I can do this, I thought, I can eat this entire fucking thing. come on, I encouraged myself as I uncomfortably stuffed dry pretzel rounds into my adult mouth. COME. ON. I demanded, my moth dry, eyes panicky as i watched his slow and graceful return. NOOOOO. I fumbled with the remains of the snack packette. I tried to act cool with the thick pouches of wet pretzel tucked between my gums and my cheeks. Nooooo. I handed him my debit card. Defeated. He asked me if I wanted a receipt. Do I loom like I’m traveling for business? I. So full of pretzel I can hardly enter my pin.  No, I smile. Your wine glass is just below your water cup. He smiled flawlessly. I shift my gaze toward the double stacked plastic vessels sitting deep and cozy against the shallow rim of the tray table indentation. Oh! I exclaim. Lovely, I tell him. And as he turns I empty the snack pack into my mouth victoriously. thinking of how much I don’t even want it. Just the sweet and salty victory. The dry mouth of a champion. “Victoryyyyyy” my crumb filled tight lipped solemn and pronounced war cry.

 

Plane Meals.

I always eat everything on the little airplane meal. every fucking bit of it. I use all of the butter on my bread. I pick up and scarf down every single grape. I scrape around the perimeter of the little cup of salad dressing with my finger and make sure u get it all. I eat the dessert right away, I save nothing. This is mine. and then i package it all back up into the little boxes and secure the little flaps and am painfully content with my compact little meal.

Plane Time.

Why do they create a new time zone on the plane? It was 10am in New York and 4am in Hawaii and in 2 hours they served us dinner. The lights were out and they ordered all the shades such tight. We were to be quiet. We were to sleep. Breakfast was served at 2pm Hawaii time, 7pm New York time. Breakfast. Do they know some sort of jet lag equation I don’t know about? Because this feels like forced adult nap time and I do NOT like that.

 

Plane Sky.

the sky here is vast, eternal. its liberation hangs heavy, smothering the landscape. breathing life into rolling hills,flat plains, shallow rivers before settling slowly and heavy between buildings, over rooftops, streets, park benches. it colors I. The gray, the sidewalks and stone with tones of orange and red, altering their natural state to be part of this sunset, this experience. An opening and a closing. A slow drift toward the night. It gently touched my skin, kissed my cheek, penetrated my soul as I stepped off a plane 7 months ago. weary and excited, displaced, it embraced me. It grazed my summer-tanned skin. It lay before my uncertain feet. it filled my heart with light and lightness, a tangible warmth, an intentional deterrent from any former plans. and it will stay with me, additional baggage as I handover my boarding pass and step onto a plane. it will fill in the gap as my soul splits again, leaving behind the jagged ephemeron of my being, to hold and be held, to be guarded and used. it will occupy this space.

 

Plane Short Story I haven’t finished.

“I’ll get us fired up,” he said with easy confidence as he rolled away his black suitcase swiftly. Dunkin donuts was supposed to open at 5am, everyday. all they had to do was put the donuts into the case, donuts that had been pre-made in an industrial kitchen in queens, and fill the coffee filters with grinds and turn on the machines. that’s it. those simple activities, by 5am, every morning. Here it was 5:18 and he was waiting in an ever-increasing line with his co-pilot. Not his life partner or partner in crime, his actual co-pilot. The man with whom he’d flown over 700 times, each trusting the other at the helm as himself, knowing the others’ actions and reactions, anxieties and (excitements) before they even occurred. So, he’d get the plane fired up while Jim got the coffees. Fuel for the pilots so they could fly the plane that would take us all out of snowy New York City right to south beach. It see me like a glamorous job, jet setting around the world, seeing the sun rise and set over the horizon in any number of countries each year, appearing and disappearing out of sight through the lens of the windshield as if you were the last person on earth. And that was definitely the draw at first- that freedom, that independence. But now, what kept him in the air, flying from destination to destination, arriving, departing, was the sense of complete control. Of importance, of discipline. The constant routine and processes that were now second nature- they were his refuge, his sanctuary. The buzzing machines and beeping gauges sung like soft, calming hymns as he meticulously prepared for takeoff. Jim would come back with the coffees and maybe some sort of sweet confection that he always hid between them until they were about to taxi down the runway. “Hey-” he’d say, his eyes sparkling mischievously. “There’s a little something else here for ya, maverick.” and playfully punched him in the shoulder. Jim was only 5 years his senior but this was their dynamic- the playful, caring older brother type. And so he played along. It have them a sense of family which was often missing up in the air. Which he felt more than ever now.

 

Plane Sadness.
I love you.
Te quiero.
in each of our languages, a confession, a promise. in three words or two, a feeling shared, a joining of our hearts that won’t be broken by time or distance. a beauty in the blending of his culture and mine. a steady embrace. an imploring stare. an impenetrable sadness. a goodbye.

at the terminal gate I look in his eyes, my hand cupped softly around the curve of his jaw. Feeling he warmth of his skin, so familiar. and with hot tears swelling in my eyes, I finally squeeze his arm and walk towards security, knowing that with each step, we will grow farther apart. he watched me from the other side. he gave me our secret wave and an assuring smile. I blew him a kiss and my heart ached. It begged me not to go. when I finally looked back and saw that he was gone my heart waited, waited, inhaled and finally receded back back far beneath to the place it was before. waiting finally for him, until he appears again, until I can run to him, can hold him, can grab his hand and kiss his cheek and show him that despite the time and distance, that I’m his. and he’s mine. that from the other side it will still be I love you, te quiero.

 

Plane Tale from 2009.

9am wednesday. RIC airport. gate 9.
justin is a physical therapist in seattle. and i’ll never forget him.
you know, i don’t think he’ll forget me either. not anytime soon.

his kids are jake, and finley, 5 and 8. his girlfriend, maxi, is in germany. just before we parted ways i gave him a richmond postcard i’d been saving for just such an opportunity, in exchange for a promise to buy an international stamp and send it to her. they met when she tore her ACL. “she had her eye on me for a while… i had no idea.” part of me believed him. he was reading ‘Chicken Soup for the Lover’s Soul’. i was the only one who would verbally make fun of him that day. his simple justification: ‘well, i’m in love.’ they took the most beautiful photo at dawn on charles bridge in Prague. he said i looked czech with my high cheekbones and bright eyes.

it’s funny, now that i think of it. overhearing my response as to why i was going to colorado. ‘i have no idea,’ he laughed and forged a uniquely cliche introduction– ‘what’s your story?’

and here i am, writing his.

 

<3L.

straphanger

a straphanger’s tale.

in WORDS
the relentless anxiety that pours in, wondering if this train will be mine as it is approaching the station. I size up everyone- boy appearing not to give a shit about anyone else, with skateboard. where will he put that skateboard? we won’t have space for it. man looking nervously important, with briefcase. he is worried about getting to work on time, I can tell. and he probably showered this morning. I’ll stick near him. woman holding child’s hand, using it as some sort of free pass to the front, pushing and prodding expectantly. I feel sympathetic while also wondering if there is some sort of child rental service for situations like this. I feel guilty for thinking that but also highly entertained. shit’s funny man. besides, on the subway platform we are all the same. we all deserve a spot and don’t deserve a spot. there are no rules here, no lines. I feel the thought creep into my head- I’ve been here the longest, they must know. I dismiss it just as quickly. no one cares. i don’t care.
an automated announcement dictates what the countdown clock tells us- 9 minutes until the next train. NINE MINUTES. it’s an eternity. I must get on the next train, the one that’s coming barreling down the tunnel and I don’t dare scoot back, risking my coveted spot on the edge. I realize if I had been blessed with my mother’s breasts I would likely be nicked. I’m momentarily grateful as the whoosh of wind hits me and i lean slightly into the other penguins standing upon the ledge, i don’t care, i won’t budge. I’m betting that the doors open exactly in front of me. I know if it’s just a few inches off I’ll be pushed back too far.
a muffled announcement tries to calm the mounting anxiety. “there is another train directly behind this train! do not try to get into this train! there will be another train approaching the station immediately behind it.” no there won’t be man, stop lying to us. we all saw the clock. we believe the clock. it’s nine minutes away and we will all be fired in that nine minutes and I am getting on THIS train.
the doors open and we all hold our breath and squeeze in. we grumble. we cling tighter to our items. it closes and we exhale, knees and stomachs and shoulders filling the gaps as we expand together. we choose silly things to hold on to for dear life. I am pinching an inch-wide sliver of plastic on the ceiling and have my chin nearly resting on my neighbor to steady myself.  everyone smells of coffee and their own apartments, it’s familiar and invasive and someone is smelling you. you wonder how you smell to other people.
i make eye contact with someone 15 bodies and three feet away. we both exchange the exact same look that says,”this is fucking ridiculous and no one should have to stand this and there must be a better option and this is the most efficient public transit according to whom and I think that guy’s back hair just went in my nose and I don’t even want to go to work! and we live in the greatest fucking city in the entire fucking world.”
and then the train lurches to a stop and everyone collectively groans and the doors open and we spill out like bats from a cave and we all move intentionally and rapidly forward and up, ascending, together.

<3L.

brooklyn, i’m trying…to plan a trip.

in TRAVEL

i have $1000 from selling my most prized possession (a 1998 Jeep Cheerokee), a passport, and a map. I have the knowledge of the places I must go- Madrid, the keeper of a significant piece of my soul; Istanbul, a city whose mysterious appeal has taunted me for the past three years, and Cappadocia, a place that with one photograph captivated me enough to relentlessly haunt me in my dreams, sleeping and waking. and with those resources I hope to create enough displacement, enough momentum, enough moments of pure awe to last me until the next. to follow along with me, sign up to get Brooklyn, I’m Trying updates delivered conveniently to your inbox or look to my instagram feed for views of the world through my lens. and if you have any advice for the 6 days to fill in between the places I am using as anchors, please leave your suggestions below. or, you know… come along. in any capacity. come.