Steven Slosberg: Steamy tales from the Mystic Y locker room

Steven Slosberg: Steamy tales from the Mystic Y locker room

The Westerly Sun

As the Mystic branch of the Ocean Community YMCA prepares to break ground at the end of this month for its long overdue expansion, word is about that improvements to the cramped and swampy locker rooms will mean the elimination of the venerable saunas, dating back to 1983 and the opening of what was then the Mystic Community Center.

The sauna in the men’s locker room, in which a group of six adults is a crowd, serves as an agreeable retreat, even though the years have brought squabbles. These were occasioned by over-steaming (from water tossed on hot rocks); settling on tolerable thermostat settings (and surviving what often are beastly high heat levels); as well as the eruption of nails or screws from the benches and the searing and shocking rear-end discovery of same.

All manner of folk have populated the sauna, with conversations generally friendly, though there’s nothing like a little heat in close quarters to generate hot air when it comes to politics, religion, and other topics.

Among the myriad memorable moments, as I mourn the imminent passing of the sauna, was one that occurred maybe a decade ago. This is the way I described it then:

“To the fully clothed woman poking around for her son’s shoes in the men’s locker room last weekend at the Mystic Y, a rousing how-do-you-do to you, too.

“As you no doubt recall, we met, briefly, when I emerged from the locker room sauna flush in the rosy and fleshy altogether. Lost in your hysterical retreat through the swinging door toward the swimming pool was your name. Your purpose I sort of divined.

“I’ve left women in various stages of shock and awe before. This was a first, though, and apparently for both of us. I have to say that in my many years of membership in what used to be the Mystic Community Center on Harry Austin Drive, then reborn (in 2003) as the Mystic YMCA and now, officially, the Ocean Community YMCA, but still Mystic to most, mothers have ventured into the men’s lockers from time to time.

“A persistent hazard, from the days the place opened in 1983, is that there are only two locker rooms — one for each gender. That means adults and children are forced to commingle.

“Usually, women stand by the open doorway off the downstairs corridor, shielded from view, (urging their kids) to stop piddling around and get dressed. The women — it’s happened twice while I’ve been in there before last Sunday — then announced they were invading the sanctity of the male domain, and in they marched, head high and hell-bent for their prodigal progeny.

“The encounter the other day, however, was all about chance confrontation with unforeseen and rather steamy, literally, actualities. An array of issues abounded: the burdens and boundaries of contemporary parenting; the expectations of privacy; the protocol governing civil behavior in compromising situations; the efficacy of hand-to-groin defensive reflexes in unsuspecting and aging athletes.

“A desperate housewife, but not beyond reason, the woman vanished in a vapor trail. Therefore, there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to delve deep into any of the above. In her defense, let it be known she did apparently knock first. At least, I surmised later, she had asked a father, also fully clothed and in the locker room with his son, whether she might sneak into forbidden territory for a hasty trawl for the shoes. Neither the father nor the prospecting female knew who was blissfully reading his New Yorker and soaking his skin in the sauna.

“ … So out from the sauna I pop, all lobsterish, seeking to cool down in the showers, and who should be facing me, a few feet away, but a woman. ‘That woman is a woman!’ shouts Mr. Tilney, the Master of the Revels, in the immortal film, ‘Shakespeare in Love,’ and, indeed, this one was one as well.

“What she was doing in there, again, was not wholly out of sorts, given the relative nature of addled mothers and drifty sons. Weekends at the Y are also rife with birthday mobs, so patience, as well as door signs, can sometimes get ignored.

“Anyway, I didn’t get her name, and am not entirely sure how much she got to know about me. I can only trust the experience was, once things quieted down, as revealing about adult behavior today for her as it remains for me.”

For the record, the upcoming expansion at the Mystic Y will include a third locker room — one for families. However, adults and children of the same gender still will share respective locker rooms. So who knows what random encounters of togetherness may ensue.

Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Day in New London. He may be reached at:


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