I tilt my head back and let the sun warm my face as the water sprays my chest. I'm surrounded on all sides by men and women, all of them nude, their wet bodies shimmering in the summer sun. Kimbot is showering across from me, and I watch with delight as she soaps up her voluptuous breasts.
We're standing on an expansive wooden deck with dozens of posts lined up in rows, each equipped with a shower head on either side. Above us, a massive wooden carving arches across the open sky – a raven holding the sun in its beak.
This is paradise.
Entrance to the Ritz
My father's been telling me about this little utopia for years, claiming it's his favorite part of the Oregon Country Fair. This is my fourteenth year at the Fair, but I didn't make the effort to finally check out this luxurious bathhouse and sweat lodge - called “the Ritz” - until recently. It's the kind of relaxing environment I might not have been able to fully enjoy as a younger man, restless as I was, but at this point in my life I couldn't appreciate it more.
Earlier today I spent some time sitting in one of the beautiful wood-fired saunas, sweating out the toxins of last night's fun. I figure after this shower I'll return to the sauna once again, and after that I'll take another shower. This is my plan for the afternoon. All weekend I've been making a conscious effort to let go of my anxiety and allow myself to just enjoy the present moment. Don't worry about what happens next. Just be.
I grab a bar of soap and start lathering up my shoulders, and the tension in my spine drops away. In the corner of my eye something moves. I twist my neck and see that the woman showering behind me is bent over, her bulbous backside a mere fraction of an inch from my own derriere. If I'd only been leaning back slightly she would have butt-bumped me. I imagine the soft, wet skin of our asses pressing up against each other, the awkward apology afterward, and I'm overwhelmed by a sudden feeling of terror as I realize I'm starting to get an erection. Glancing down nervously, I can see that my penis has clearly entered the No Zone and is quickly preparing for blast-off.
The muscles in my neck and shoulders are immediately tense again. I desperately look around for something non-sexual to focus on, but all I can see in every direction are breasts and penises and vaginas. A gray-haired woman with a tight body and a neatly-trimmed bush saunters by. I squeeze my eyes shut, and some demon in the back of my brain is chanting, “G-MILF! G-MILF!” I push the evil thoughts aside and try to conjure up an unsexy image. At first I try to think of my grandma, but my memories of her are too hazy, and she keeps morphing into the G-MILF with the well-groomed pubes.
I feel my penis move. The situation is getting dire. I decide the only thing left to do is recall a memory I've been trying to erase from my mind for years: My 26th birthday, sitting with my mother during her final moments in a hospital death bed.
So I'm standing here in the most tranquil place I've ever known, bathing in the sun, surrounded by beauty, and I'm focusing all of my thoughts on the image of my mom riddled with cancer, her skeletal form barely able to clutch the prayer beads on her chest. I clearly remember sobbing openly as the nurse wiped a bit of vomit from her gaping mouth. Her face was so sunken-in I barely recognized her.
The memory is so vivid I find myself mumbling out loud, “Jeezus, that's horrible.”
It doesn't occur to me at that moment, but some of my mother's ashes are scattered in the fairgrounds nearby.
Suddenly I open my eyes and look down to see that my penis has shriveled down to its usual non-threatening state of rest. It worked! For the first time in my life, I'm actually thankful for having that final image of my mother stored in my mind. Awash with relief, I flash a broad grin at Kimbot, who smiles meekly back at me.
“I'm gonna hit the sauna again,” I say, and I stroll through the crowd of naked people, whistling happily, seeing faces now instead of just genitals.
Later on, after we've left the Ritz and are walking around the main part of the Fair, I enter a wooden bathroom stall to take a piss. Through the wall I hear a woman's voice in the adjacent stall. She's letting out quiet moans and whispering, “Fuck me! Yeah, fuck me harder!”
My penis leaps out of my underwear, practically screaming for attention, and this time, alone behind a locked door, I can think of only one good solution.
Thirty seconds later the situation is resolved.