I’m escorted into a large room, with tables and chairs in the middle and stalls and tubs on the perimeter. Mercifully, this is a fairly slow day on the men’s floor, with only a few other customers around the room at various stages of the process. “Biker Dude” from the locker room introduces me to James, who’ll be my attendant for my time at the bath.
James is a wrinkly, thin African American man who may have been among the original employees of Buckstaff. James walks me to what can best be described as a large handicapped bathroom stall, except in place of the toilet, there’s a huge claw foot bathtub already filled with 100 degree natural spring water and what looks to be a small onboard motor at the end of the tub. This contraption, circa 1963, no doubt, provided the “whirpool” feature of the tub. I walk into the stall and take note of the marble dividers. Perfect, no way of anyone seeing anything that they shouldn’t. However, upon a quick glance backward, I’m a bit miffed that there’s not privacy curtain at the entrance of the stall. “No worries,” I say to myself, “it’s just a quick jump in the tub after James leaves.”
Not quite. Evidently these attendants are full-service in every sense of the word. James assumes that we’re much closer friends than we really are and proceeds to politely take my sheet for me, directing me into the tub. While the rest of the room only got the previews on my way from the lockers to the tub, James just got the Feature Presentation. Lovely. “Thanks, James. I can take it from here,” I say, quickly submerging myself and asking God why He had to make spring water so crystal clear.
James tells me to lean back against the tub, and I realize that my loofa is pulling double-duty as my headrest. James asks me if the temperature is OK and tells me that he’ll be back shortly. Take your time, James, really.
I lay submerged in the tub for all of 5 minutes until my ADD gets the best of me. Good, there’s a clock on the wall, and we’re doing fine on time—getting to the wedding won’t be a problem. (Punctuality and efficiency will always win.) From the brochure, I know that this portion of the “experience” should last about 20 minutes.
Sure enough, James is back right on time, only now he’s carrying some soap. Just as I start to reach for the soap, my greatest fears are realized as James explains that the staff are happy to bathe each of the guests, and asks me to lean back. Bathing?! That little detail was conveniently left out of the brochure. I consider putting up a mild protest, but relent all for the sake of getting “the most” out of my time at Buckstaff. At this point, I already knew that there was a story brewing out of this, so anything would be fodder for eventual publication.
James drains about half of the water from the tub, soaps up my loofa, and proceeds to scrub me down with the gentle touch one uses to get grease off carpet. I’m quite sure that James uses a more sensitive approach and less elbow grease while washing his car, but I don’t complain. James goes through the typical questions, asking me where I’m from, what brings me to Hot Springs, etc. James, I’m naked and you’re scrubbing my back. Forgive me for being less than verbose.
I find out that James has been working at Buckstaff for decades, has 4 children, multiple grandchildren and the first great-grandchild on the way. I freeze momentarily, fearing that James might reach for his wallet to show me pictures of his family and extend this rather uncomfortable exercise, but he hands me a towel and tells me to dry off. I’m out of the tub with the towel around my midsection faster than Paula Dean can say “Let’s add some butter!”
You haven’t really lived until you’ve had a full body scrub from an old guy with a loofa.
Stay tuned for Part 4 next Thursday…