In movies, when someone is stranded at the top of a mountain or crossing a rickety suspension bridge while fleeing dart-blowing natives, someone inevitably says, “Whatever you do, don’t look down.”
In graduate school, where I earned a master’s degree in making things up, we would have called this a cliché, and then gone back to pretending we understood James Joyce. Well, cliché or not, it’s a piece of advice that I wish someone would’ve given me last weekend in France when I found myself in a bathtub for the first time in 27 years.
When I realized that our hotel room didn’t have a shower, I actually played it pretty cool. I mean, I’m a liberated guy. I voted for Obama, and I drink chai tea lattes. If baths are good enough for the French—people famous for being both clean and delightful—then surely they're good enough for me, right?
And so there I was, soaking in my own tepid filth, looking at a complimentary French Vogue, when I made the mistake of allowing my eyes to dip southward. Like most guys who are not Olympic swimmers, my body is best seen from a distance while squinting. However, up close, soaking wet, curled into a beige tub that was designed for petite European women 75 years ago, I was . . . how you say? . . . disgusting.
My skin was the color of skim milk leaked onto the bottom of the refrigerator. My hernia scar looked like something put there by gardening equipment. Things that I can’t discuss on a family blog were just floating there, wrinkled and unimpressive. And don’t even get me started on all the hair. My God, I didn’t realize that I’m absolutely covered in it. I looked like something that had climbed out of the woods to terrorize villagers.
When my wife heard me screaming, she came running to the bathroom door. “No,” I yelled. “Don’t come in here! Don’t ever, ever come in here. How could you possibly love me?”
Behind the door, I could sense that she was thinking about how to answer. Clearly she had discovered long ago what I’d just then discovered, that I am a hideous monster. “Well,” she said, carefully. “You’re fun at parties. And you know how to work the cable box, which is nice. Now stop crying and get out here. I need you to kill a spider for me.”