Creative Nonfiction

Romancing the Shower

by Jessie Hanson

Since moving to Latin America, I have experienced all the excitement and romance I can handle. And that’s just the plumbing.

I am currently residing in a small, dusty house in the small, dusty town of Talara, Peru. The excitement of crossing two continents and navigating three airlines, a major Latin American city, an unfamiliar language, and innumerable dilapidated taxis to arrive here pales in comparison with the main-lined thrill of waking up each morning to face the worthy adversary of my shower.

My shower has cold water all of the time, hot water some of the time, and water pressure none of the time. The water does actually fall from the showerhead to the drain, but not because of any pressurization in the plumbing; it’s just gravity. Talara is an oil town, its economy fed by off-shore rigs. These folks have the technology to anchor a derrick with 100-foot-deep pilings in 300 feet of water, drill 9,000 feet into the solid rock, and pump oil through nearly two vertical miles of pipeline, but still can’t get a shower to squirt with more than two psi. Instead, after much coughing and sputtering and a possible grand mal seizure, the shower works itself into what could best be described as a hearty drool. The dribble of water is the diameter of a cigarette. Not a Cuban stogie; a Virginia Slim UltraLight.

My waking moment each day is electrified with the potentials: “Will there be hot water today?” “Will it at least be lukewarm?” “What can I do to curry favor?” You’ve heard of Romancing the Stone? Well, I have begun romancing the shower.

I start by engaging in some light flirtation by turning on the water heater circuit a good hour in advance. During this hour, I offer a love gift: I bring my soap, shampoo, etc. to the shower and lay them out in a pleasing display, like a monk placing an offering before the Buddha. No geisha ever arranged flowers with more care than I do my shower supplies: much is at stake.

After the hour, I make my first serious move by turning on the “hot” full blast. But I don’t want to seem too pushy, so I leave it alone briefly, making sure the shower has plenty of space and doesn’t feel rushed; I want her to want it, too. When I return, I am carrying my razor and shaving cream concealed in my towel. (This is the cold-water-flat equivalent of a condom in my wallet; I want to be prepared, but don’t want reveal my hopes too soon.)

I then ease the shower into a steamy, but not scalding mood and, if all goes well, I have a lovely, if lethargic, hot shower and a smooth shave. Unfortunately, this happy result is infrequent.  Instead of a long, warm relationship, I often wind up in a brief fling with a glacial drip and a morning-after stubble.

Getting relief from the frigidity by toweling off with a thick, fluffy Egyptian cotton towel is another unfulfilled fantasy. Although I did pack the hard-cover volumes of The Complete Poems of Robert Frost and The Collected Works of Emily Dickinson, I forgot to bring a towel. I bought one at the local market.

The Towel is large enough to pull double-duty as a 4-man tent, is about 2mm thick, and is woven of luxuriant polyester in 50-thread-count extravagance. Its breadth depicts a bevy of fluorescent-green, stoned-looking sea turtles swimming through an electric blue ocean. It molts every morning.

The Towel doesn’t really dry me off, but I use it to smear the wetness around. It leaves me covered in a fine, black, particulate lint. I resemble a Sasquatch with a full-body 5 o’clock shadow. A damp and grumpy Sasquatch.

The risk and thrill of romance with a temperamental partner; the challenge of a cold declination; the satisfaction of a warm reception...yes, this is all that could be hoped for in Life. Because Life's a bitch.