When I was getting divorced some 13 years ago, my son would come and visit once a week. His mother wanted him to stay the weekend, to give her some alone time with her new paramour, but given the dump I lived in and the limited space, I told her it wasn’t a good idea, but I would spend as much of one of my days off with him as I could.
I lived in a studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and it probably hadn’t been renovated in 40 years. I inherited it from my father, whom I’d placed in a nursing home; and at his age he wasn’t prone to doing any housekeeping.
One Sunday, Javier usually came on Sundays; my soon to be ex-wife asked a favor in the midst of our “pick-up arrangement” conversation.
“Could you do me a favor? Could you talk to the kid about his hygiene a little? He spends about 2 minutes in the shower and I know he’s not cleaning himself properly.”
She always referred to our son Javier as “the kid,” a habit I’m afraid I sometimes adopt.
“Sure.” I said. “I’ll take care of it.”
I prepared for the bathing lesson by buying a brand new loofah at the drugstore, and getting out a fresh white towel for him. I had been using loofahs since I was a kid, my dad would bring a supply of raw ones back from Mexico, like the one in the picture above. You can only get the cut-up ones at the drugstore on 9th Avenue.
When we arrived at my place after meeting in front of Barnes and Noble on Lexington Ave., where I would pick him up Sunday mornings as his mother waved from about a block away I asked him to jump in the shower.
“But I just took a shower, dad.”
“Humor me. I want to show you something.” He went in the bathroom and took a less than 2-minute shower. I timed him at 72 seconds. When he came out I was ready for him.
“Come here.” I commanded, wielding my pristine white towel.
“Let me have your forearm.” He did as he was told, offering up his forearm. I took the white towel and scrubbed his arm hard. The towel came away black with dead skin.
“See that? The rest of you is covered with the same dirt. Go back in the shower and scrub with this,” I said handing him the new loofah; “and don’t come out till you can wipe yourself on that towel and not blacken it, it should take you at least ten minutes.”
He did as he was told. The towel stayed white this time, and his skin had a rosy glow.
I discovered the same thing by myself when I was 12, the same age he was at the time. My mother always used white towels, I guess they are cheaper, and my money-conscious mother was all about saving money.My non-white towels.
One day after one of MY 2-minute showers I was drying myself vigorously the way I’d seen my dad do and was surprised when the towel turned black. I wondered why, and I realized that I wasn’t scrubbing off all the grime on my body. I went back in the shower and did it right, braving dad’s loofah for the first time. I realized a sponge wasn’t enough for a dirty boy like me.
My other body-cleaning discovery was made when I was 16 and dating seriously for the first time. My girlfriend at the time, a crazy half Irish-half Lithuanian girl of 14 would at some point in our make-out sessions get around to sticking her tongue in my ear. I almost jumped away the first time, it felt wet and slimy, and her breathing and the squelchy sound was deafening. It was all I could do to keep from squirming away and blowing my chances of getting to third base. The things we humans do for sex!
Of course, I had to reciprocate. I was learning as we went along, up till that time all I’d ever done was French kiss and feel up a couple of girls, the ear thing was a surprise, but I figured if she was doing it to me I was going to have to return the favor, so I did.
Surprise number two was that her ear tasted remarkably of wax, and not the clean scented wax of candles. It was the inner-body smelling wax of ears and belly buttons.
So now, in addition to exfoliating properly, I also make sure to clean the excess wax from my ears, and to wash behind them as well.
When I was in Basic Training there was a kid who wouldn’t bathe, he smelled and his lack of good hygiene became apparent one day when we returned from the field, where we had to paint our faces and hands with camouflage greasepaint. When he came down for dinner the backs of his ears were still green, as well as his neck. We were instructed to give him a “blanket party” and throw him in the shower forcibly by the Drill Sergeants. After that he bathed more often.
I’m glad it never came to that for my kid or me.