I don't often get naked in front of other men. Not voluntarily, at least. Also, I despise heat. All types of heat: dry heat, humid heat...I guess those are the only two kinds. Finally, I very much dislike being dirty. I hate feeling like I have dirt under my fingernails or crap in my hair. I'm a hyper-clean, easily over-heated, self-conscience young man when all is said and done. That's why last year I was surprised to find myself strolling around naked in a room that had to have been 115 degrees and submerging myself into a tub of boiling hot filth. You see, my friends, I took a mud bath.

It was my Aunt's idea. My girlfriend and I were staying with her in California and she had booked us into a little spa up in the wine country. Furthermore, she had booked us mud baths. My entire knowledge on the exact execution of a mud bath comes from what little I have seen in magazine ads and movies. I imagined it to be a very deep bath of, well, mud. I was wrong.

First of all, I was one of two male patrons at this fine establishment. The other guy - who didn't partake in the mud bath, only the mineral bath - was much older than me but sadly, in far better shape. I swear it was Lance Armstrong, although I wasn't about to peer into his tub to see if he was sporting a Livestrong bracelet. So, myself, Lance and a young Mexican guy - probably about 18 - shared a large room where I was instructed to disrobe.

Now, I was a wrestler in high school and I've bathed myself in more than a few communal showers, but this was something new. After my glorious manhood was unleashed, the attendant (Mexican guy) motioned for me to wash myself in the open shower against the wall. This I did, but believe me, there are more than a few things more comfortable than being watched in the shower. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of a long series of uncomfortable events.

Next up was the mud bath and I'll admit that I was a little excited. I imagined myself sinking deep into a warm, smooth bath of delicate mud. No, not mud even, silky, liquid dirt. It was not to be.

The attendant told me to hold on to the side of the tub, sit on the edge and pivot myself into the mud. Of course, keep in mind I'm doing this completely naked; legs spread far apart and all the years of pubic neglect in full view of my unfazed Mexican friend. Still though, the awkwardness would end as I eased my body in the liquid ooze that was warming my ass. Wait, it's burning my ass, actually. This stuff is hot. Very hot, in fact. So hot that I considered scrapping the whole venture and joining Lance in the mineral bath and I hadn't even cracked the surface of the mud yet. But, like all cheap people, I realized that I was not footing the bill for this little adventure and I had better take advantage of anything that's already been paid for.

"Ok, now just lie on the mud and scoot your hips down toward the end of the tub," the attendant said to me. How odd, I thought, that he would tell me to lie "on top" of the mud. Surely I'll sink into the deep tub. It's three feet off the ground, after all. He must just be a new hire, unfamiliar with the depth of such a tub or, perhaps, his grasp of English directions was not fully formed. And then I got in and my friend's instructions proved to be accurate, as I was amazed to be lying, fully exposed, on top of mud.

For a second I tried to tell myself that the mud was just very thick and that with a little hip wiggle I could bury myself in it like some sort of amphibian preparing for the winter. A few jiggly hip wiggles and strange looks from the attendant later, I had given up my quest to bury myself.  Mud baths, it turns out, are not baths at all, but platforms on which a thin layer of mud is spread out.  The three feet below the surface are taken up by what I assume is a heating system devised by the devil himself. I prayed that what came next would at least cover my penis, which by now had retreated virtually inside of my body out of fear and foreign environment.

I got my wish as the attendant began scooping up huge handfuls of mud and plopping them gently on my body. First, the penis. Next, the legs and stomach. Finally, up to the chest and down the arms. I hadn't noticed it before, but the mud stunk like eggs. With every sulphuric heap he piled upon me, my stomach turned just a little it more. The last pile, positioned under my neck, made me gag a little when the crust that had previously held the stench at bay broke right under my nose.

And the heat! I cannot describe how hot the mud was. My hairline instantly beaded with sweat which I could not wipe away due to the fact that my hands were buried in gooey, hot mud. Within seconds, my body decided to push water out of every pore not blocked by mud. By the end of the first minute I was gulping breath and trying desperately to move the half-ounce of spit my body could still produce around my mouth to keep my lips from splitting open like the surface of a dry lakebed in Arizona. But the mud wasn't done yet.

I have never understood quicksand. I did not understand how when knee deep in some mud you couldn't just climb out. It seems so simple. I understand quicksand now. When I adjusted to the stench and the sweat I began to do some investigating into the substance that was currently forcing it's way into the most intimate parts of my body. Any attempt at movement produced loud sucking noises and proved amazing difficult. By some alchemy, the fluid in the mud effectively turned harmless dirt into life-ending filth. But let us examine this mysterious plasma-like substance some more.

First, the mud was heavy. Heavier than you would ever imagine mud to be. It was dark as well, unhealthy looking. Finally, it was real mud. This stuff didn't come from some Swedish sod farm. There was probably a guy out back with a bucket and a shovel getting fresh dirt to torture new guests with. How do I know? For one, it was full of little rocks and twigs, which I felt around for in the muck. On one such mission I came up with what I assume to be a rather large twig. I tried to break it in half, but to my dismay I could not. "Has the heat sapped my strength to the point that I cannot break a little twig?" Nope. It was a nail. A big, old, rusty nail. I handed it over to the attendant who found that quite funny.  I made a mental note to see when I had gotten my last tetanus shot.  

The rest of the bath was much of the same: heat, weight, sweat, filth, stench and twigs. When my time was up, the attendant instructed me on how to actually remove myself from the bath.

"Really?" I said.

"Yup," he chirped back at me, as if the horrible series of movements I was about to execute were the most natural thing in the world.

I sat for a minute longer in the mud while pondering exactly how I was to remove myself from the mud bath without giving the attendant a full view of my perineum and anus. He had seen my penis, this much had already transpired, but voluntarily exposing your anus to someone is a pleasure reserved only for the closest friends and lovers.

"Just sit up and put your butt on the edge of the bath. Then, when you're done cleaning off swing your feet around and get down." It seemed simple but when I played the movements out in my mind I couldn't see how I could pull this maneuver off while still keeping some dignity. No, I did not want to execute this series of movements but the heat and stench of the mud were beginning to sway my judgment.

"Ok, sounds good," I said in a small voice. Step one was to sit up; a task made much more difficult by the thirty pounds of mud resting on my chest. With a grotesque wet sucking noise, my large midsection slowly rose out of the muck, my stomach compressing its insulation into beautiful, mud-covered rolls. Placing my hands behind me, I scooted my ass up on the edge of the bath and swung my feet to the opposite side of the bath. There I sat, my legs spanning the giant tub of filth and I couldn't help but think "It must look like I just had a horrible accident and then rolled in it like a dog." But I couldn't dwell on what I looked like at the time; I had work to do. Slowly I scraped the mud from my body. Its thick, oily consistency made cleaning it off difficult and a quick glance down to my genitals revealed that the upper body was going to be the easy part. After a few minutes I had cleaned every accessible part of my body; only the ass, penis and feet remained.

"Ok my friend, swing your legs around and hop down," the attendant instructed. This was the part of the operation that was going to prove embarrassing. Well, more embarrassing, I guess. But what could I do? Sit perched above the steaming mud for a few more hours? No, it had to be done and, with a sigh, I swung my right leg around. "That's it, there you go," the attendant said softly. When my right leg reached its maximum extension I leaned back to get the necessary leverage to swing lefty around. And down below the underbelly of my reproductive system shown like a black swamp in hell. Every strand of pubic hair had enthusiastically collected sticks and rocks while in the mud and clung to them still. My anus, though hidden to me, was on full display to the attendant. I have never felt quite so exposed, even though my anus, like the rest of my body, was still covered in a thin film of mud. When lefty finally showed up, I snapped my legs shut like a prude date on prom night. This man, this man I never seen before in my life, now knew me better than almost every one of my girlfriends.  Maybe better than I knew myself, even.

When I had hopped down from the tall tub I was told to hop in the open shower again and clean myself off. Finally, some good news. The elation didn't last past the point when I realized that this man would watch me clean my anus, something nobody has ever seen in the unforgiving light of day.

Slowly, I washed the mud off my body, saving the sensitive parts for last. Within a few minutes I looked as if I were wearing a shit speedo. Finally, it was time to wash the goods. I turned around, reached my hands back, and spread the cheeks. It felt fantastic, save for the attendant popping over at this very moment to see how I was doing. "Fine," I said, both hands picking twigs out of my asshole. "I'll be done in a minute." And I was.

The attendant handed me a towel and I dried off. I tried to hang on to the towel for a little longer but he snatched it away and led me to a small room off of the main bath area. There, three porcelain tubs stood next to each other about a foot and a half apart. Lance, was lounging in the middle tub, picking at his toenails with a little wooden dowel. I was led to the tub on the right and instructed to hop in. The water level was right at top and as I sank my naked body into the tub, gallons of water spilled over the edge. This caught Lance's attention and he gave me a little ?how you doing' nod. I nodded back and slid into the water. The attendant slid a tray over my chest on which rested a little paper cup of water, some brushes, scrubbing utensils and one of those little dowels Lance was using. Then, mercifully, the attendant departed.

I sat in the tub for a few minutes trying to decide how best to clean myself. I'm notoriously inflexible and certainly could not bring my foot to my face to clean it as Lance was doing. I decided my feet would clean themselves eventually and instead focused all my attention on my filthy fingernails. I scrubbed, I picked at, I scrubbed again and no matter how much I labored, my fingernails would not come clean. Perhaps I was Lady Macbeth, forever cursed to feel filthy for some long forgotten transgression? Lance, meanwhile, had begun to hum and I noticed that both hands were wedged between his legs. I couldn't see what they were doing but he seemed to be enjoying it. Of course, had I been alone at home my hands would have been lodged in between my legs as well. I would be expecting my penis thoroughly for signs of growth. Tentatively poking at my anus, pulling at my pubic hair, doing all those things humans do when they feel safe to be as curious as they desire. But I wasn't at home and I wasn't alone, so I kept my hands above water and marveled at Lance's ability to divorce himself from his surroundings and give into his primal desire to tug on his nuts.

The heat of the mud bath has made me practically insane with thirst so I was happy to have a little cup of water to drink. My mouth was as dry as a desert and when the water flowed into its every parched crack it felt amazing. But as my taste buds kicked back into gear, they detected something interesting. They radioed up to my brain saying the water had a certain flavor that, though familiar, had not been experienced in a liquid form. My brain quickly ran through the millions of tastes it has archived and could not find a match. Squash, maybe? My brain called to my eyes and requested some recon to determine what had given my water this mysterious flavor. My eyes looked down at the little cup and identified the culprit: a cucumber slice. I scraped my taste buds with my teeth, wishing them destroyed rather than taste the disgusting water again. It was not to be, my thirst outweighed my aversion to vegetable-flavored water and I took another disgusting sip.

It was at this point that I had an out of body experience. I closed my eyes and imagined the scene before me. There I was, all 215 pounds of me stuffed into a little white bathtub. I was frowning and moving my lips around, trying to erase the taste of cucumber from my mouth. Look, there is my penis, still tiny and scared of it's new surroundings, swaying back and forth in a sea of pubic hair that resembled a colony of tube worms grown on an oceanic steam vent. And there were my feet, still filthy with mud, resting above the water line. And there, a foot and a half to my left, was Lance, happily engaged in some underwater testicular exam. Though at least 20 years older than me, his body was strong, fit and tan compared to my strong, though pasty and rotund, form. And behind us somewhere, the attendant, probably holding in fits of laughter. What a strange little world I had been thrown into. Was a strange place to find yourself on a perfectly good Thursday morning.

"Sir, it's time for the steam room," the attendant said snapping me back into my body. I glanced over my shoulder at what had to have been a steam room designed jointly by my elementary school tormentors and Satan himself.

"Is that it?" I said, pointing to the cube of pain fifteen feet away.

"Yup," he said, and handed me a towel as I emerged from the water. Quickly, I stole a glance into Lance's tub to see what his hands were up to. Scratching his thighs. How boring. But I had bigger things to worry about. The mud was bad, the tub was embarrassing but tolerable, the steam room would prove to be the worst of all.

Looking back, the towel the attendant had given me to dry off was unnecessary, as I would be bathed in sweat within the minute. But at the time it seemed like, if nothing else, a momentary way to hide my hideous body from the other two people in the room. Lance, for his part, did me the favor of ignoring my lumbering form and continued to play with his thighs and hum a little tune to himself.

As the attendant led me to the steam room I noticed how strange it is to be naked and walk. I felt as though I had never inhabited this skin I was in.  Walking is so natural with shoes on. It's so natural with clothes but no shoes as well. But when one removes all the trappings of society and goes native, walking becomes an awkward journey in a body one does not fully have control of. My feet were stomping down on the floor without a hint of grace and each step brought with it the animated joy of turning my flabby body into jiggling mass.  I half expected Bill Cosby to pop his head around a corner and make a cutting Jell-O Jigglers crack, but no such luck.  I would have to deal with only one nude celebrity sighting for the time being.

My thoughts on nude walking aside, I was not looking forward to the next stop on the Uncomfortable Railway. The steam room was unlike any I had ever seen before. Most steam rooms I had been in were built of rich, dark wood that smelled nice. Most had a little pit of coals, on which you could pour water to steam up the room. And every steam room I had been in I had hated, of course, for the heat. But this was something else. This was no cedar-decked luxury room where executives trade stock tips and secretary-fucking stories, this steam room was utilitarian at best: two levels of towel-draped seats, steam pumped in from a hot spring somewhere below and, most curiously, sliding glass doors covering one whole side.

The attendant gave me a fresh towel not nearly big enough to hide my genitals with and a fresh cup of disgusting cucumber water. He slid open the door and motioned for me to enter. Hesitantly, I stepped through the door into the sweat box. I heard the door slide closed behind me and turned around to see the attendant take a few steps back and then come to halt, just watching me. I took stock of me new home, my home for the next ten minutes. From under the seats, hot steam bellowed up from what I can only assume was a hole straight down to hell. By this point, my attendant had seen my penis more than my high school girlfriend so I was no longer shy about letting it flop around; and flop it did. If the heat of the mud had forced my manhood inside to retreat, the heat of the steam had elongated it to the point where I almost asked the attendant to take a picture to show to girls. But for everything has a price, and the steam room would exact a devastating toll.

I wrapped the towel around my shoulders as my face was now emitting a volume of sweat the likes of which I had never encountered before - and keep in mind, I'm the kind of person who sweats on the ski slopes. I wandered over to the seats, thinking that maybe I could just plop down and wait out the ten minutes lounging around. I should have known better.

It's amazing how quickly the nerves sense pain yet how slow your body moves when over-heated. The second my ass hit the drenched towel covering the seat I could feel the scorching water sizzling my cheeks. Then I felt it in my calves, which were directly in front of the gate to Hades where the steam blew out. When my back hit the next row of seats, I could feel that being roasted as well. And still, my body would not react. I even had time to ponder this, that's how dimmed by reflexes had become by now. Eventually, my brain was able to move the appropriate muscles and I sprang off the seat. The attendant, stone-faced as ever, merely watched through the glass.

So, sitting down was out. Lying down was certainly out. What was I to do? Well, I what any animal does in a small space, I paced.

I love the zoo, don't you? All of these wonderful animals on display to eager eyes, so natural and open in their behavior. I say phooey to any lefty animal rights activist who says that zoos are cruel. The animals like the attention!

Wrong. As I paced back and forth in my steaming glass prison, I got the distinct feeling that I was one of those animals. And I was about as entertaining as your typical zoo gorilla: walking around a bit, scratching something, walking some more, inspecting the walls, etc. And my only visitor was the attendant, the one who had to be there, the zoo keeper. He kept a half interested eye on me, exactly what you'd expect from someone who sees naked men walking around a heated cage everyday. I noticed that Lance even turned around once and took a peek at what I was up to. Apparently I wasn't very interesting to him either because he quickly returned his thoughts to his mineral bath and his toned thighs.

As I paced back and forth, growing weaker with each step, I became acutely aware of how ridiculous I must look: buck naked, sweating, a small towel draped over my shoulders, milling about in a small, steamy box, doing nothing much at all. I laughed a little at the thought. Then I laughed some more. Finally - and I don't know if this is accurate since I have never heard myself do it - I guffawed. I'm not naive enough to think that I have a great body. Sure, after a long session at the gym I'll look in the mirror and think "not bad, not bat at all," but inside I know there is a layer of insulation covering my body. The thing is, it only starts at my waist. My legs are as toned and tight as a runner's, which added to the hilarity of the situation I now found myself in.

I think the attendant took my manic laughter as a sign that perhaps I was suffering heat stroke because as fast as you can say "dehydrated" the door to hell was slid open and I left the steam room the same way as I had entered the world: naked, disoriented and covered in liquid. "How was that?" he asked me.

"Fine," I said. He handed me my robe and told me that we'd be moving on to the final stage of the mud bath. He called it "the relaxation," but wasn't that what this whole harrowing process was supposed to be anyway? Wasn't supposed to feel calm, clean and reborn? There was no time for these questions, I had shame to cover up. I slid into my robe and felt, for the first time in half an hour or so, comfortable. Would it last? I wondered.

Nope.

All awful things must come to end and the mud bath ordeal was no difference. After being scorched by hot steam, infused with veggie water and dipped in filth, it was finally time for this tired, ashamed soul to have a bit of peace and quiet. "OK," the attendant said after leading me to a small white room, "Take off your robe."

Again? I thought as I let the robe slip to the floor. And here we were for what seemed like the millionth time: me, the attendant and my genitals, all standing around not doing much of anything.

He instructed me to lie face up on a small white bed that was propped against the wall. I heard some soft music as I reclined. Louie Armstrong, maybe? Enya? It didn't matter because, again, I was lying naked on my back with a young Mexican man hovering above me. What was to come next was anyone's guess. A chest rub? A heat pad on my face? Some boiling water dumped into my mouth? Far from it, actually.

The attendant pulled a soft white sheet over my body and tucked it snuggly in. Next came two cucumber slices on my eyes (FINALLY!) and soft-spoken instruction to "relax, maybe nap" for the next ten minutes. This was new. I was comfortable and my dirty bits comfortably hidden from view. The cool cucumbers on my eyes were like ocular orgasms sent from heaven. The sheet was as soft as the nail in my mud bath was hard. The music, well, I didn't really pay attention to that so much.

And so the final ten minutes of my ordeal passed in relative comfort. When the attendant came back in and told me it was all over I found myself slightly disappointed. And then it hit me, This is why people come here. It wasn't the "cleansing" effect of the mud bath or the "restorative" properties of mineral water. It wasn't even the "utter fucking hell" of the steam room. It was because your final time is spent comfortably wrapped in linen sheets with cucumbers on your eyes in a state of blissful relief. That is your final memory of your journey and that is the one you take with you when you walk back out to your cabana and await the return of your girlfriend to see if she had the same harrowing experience as you.

Luckily I'm not that sentimental.

As relaxing and lovely as the final ten minutes had been and as satisfying as it was to bid farewell to my attendant, knowing that he would never see my anus again, I was still acutely aware of the horrors I had braved the previous hour. The nudity, the mud, the smell, the heat, the shame, the nail, the Lance, the everything was so vivid in my mind that now, more than a year later, I can still remember every second of my adventure. I can still feel the greasy heat of mud. I can still feel the weight of the mud as it landed with a plop on my penis. I can still remember thinking If I tried to pee right now, what would happen? I can even remember my girlfriend coming back to our cabana and recounting how she had never seen so many naked old women in one place.

At the end of the day it wasn't so bad. I have a tendency to exaggerate the negative aspects of a story and don't do enough to stress the positive. The heat wasn't that hot. The mud wasn't that smelly. My anus wasn't that exposed. What can I say, I try to tell a good story. I'd even think about doing it again! In fact...

Just kidding. It was terrible. If I die and wind up in hell, it's either going to be one of two places: a summer traffic jam on I-95 in an un-air conditioned car or the Indian Springs resort in Calistoga, California. Although I doubt the steam in hell could ever get that hot.