August 4, 2006

Travelblogging: The Ingrate American Bathtub

Hatched by Dafydd

I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate hotel shower curtains. I don't mean the nice, heavy kind you can buy in Bed, Bath & Beyond that hang like bullet-proof armor and come with their own nylon webbing. I mean the cheap-jack, gauzy curtain that is more like a long sheet of wax paper.

As the shower heats up -- assuming it does -- it heats the surrounding air, of course. The air expands, causing a pressure differential between the inside and outside of the shower stall. This causes the fluttery curtain to grope inward, like a giant, clutching hand, to wrap the body within like an Egyptian mummy.

It's bad enough in the morning, when I'm generally in a hurry. But it's intolerable at night, giving me nightmares of being suffocated by a soggy but intelligent winding sheet -- vast, cool, and unsympathetic.

I much prefer a bath before bed; but a bath is precisely what our hotel -- which shall remain unnamed in this piece for liability purposes -- does not have.

The reason for the lack is obvious; there is so little room in the bathrooms of the Milford Plaza Hotel (700 8th Ave) that it would make more sense to put the bathroom inside the bathtub than the more normal arrangement. In fact, I doubt a proper bathtub could even be fitted inside the entire hotel room, here at the Milford Plaza (also 270 W. 45th St -- two addresses, one cramped location).

Worse, the shower has a special safety feature that automatically cuts off the hot water whenever the temperature hits 80° Fahrenheit; this is for my protection and is installed by, I rib you not, "".

So what would a "proper bathtub" actually look like? We came close with our hotel in Niagara Falls, the name of which I will be happy to tell you: it was easily big enough for two, contained Jacuzzi jets, and was properly sloped. But even there, I have complaints. Oy, have I got complaints!

Bathing was a public affair for thousands of years, stretching all the way back to Bronze-Age India (and possibly to the pre-Cambrian). The Romans bathed in large public buildings in water heated by coal ovens on a lowered floor. The Celts bathed in hot water if they happened to find a thermal vent but normally luxuriated in icy rivers and frozen lakes. The Dark-Age English did not bathe at all; the modern-age French still don't.

Bathtubs in America are still by and large modeled after the early "clawfoot" tubs of the nineteenth century, despite the easy ability to vacuum-form plastic into pretty much any shape you can envision: modern tubs are still hard, simulating the porcelain-coated cast-iron tubs of your great-great-(great?)-grandparents' day; you still must lie rigidly on your back, as if in a coffin; the water level is still kept so low (by use of a spill drain) that you must choose between immersing your legs or, by scrunching down and poking them out of the water, your chest.

One modern innovation serves to make the experience even less pleasant: frequently, the back of the tub stands at a 90° angle to the bottom, meaning that if you lie back, as perforce you must, either your scapulae must rest with nearly your entire bodyweight against the sharp edge of the tub... or else you must have the neck of a particularly limber heron, so you can fold it at right angles to the lower part of your spine.

I have long thought that the design of this torture device was deliberate: our Victorian ancestors considered any activity that required disrobing to be disreputable to the point of sinfulness, something decent people avoided -- or at least did as little of as possible while still perpetuating the species. In the case of bathing, I am convinced the tub was designed for maximal discomfort, thereby limiting the time you might spend in such sloth and indolence, thinking lustful thoughts (good heavens) about scrubbing your paramour's back.

The Japanese have a different approach. To them, a bathtub is primarily a meeting room for clients. Thus, they bathe in groups, sit up straight, and wear their glasses. In most public baths in Japan, contrary to the lascivious thoughts of Westerners, men and women are separated -- though in some onsen (resorts) built around a hot springs, there is mixed-sex bathing.

The Japanese home tub is big enough for at least two, and you can fully immerse yourself. Alas, it too has its problems of poor design, not least of which is that you must bathe sitting up rigidly like a soldier. Also, the Japanese tub is not used for cleaning yourself; you are supposed to do that before entering or be considered an absolute boor. So no bubble bath.

American hot tubs (a.k.a. Jacuzzis, though that's a trademarked term) come closer to the mark: they allow you to recline while still fully immersing yourself, and they have a remarkable innovation that they copied from the Japanese: you can set the water temperature via thermostat, and the tub will maintain that setting.

But it's very difficult to find a hot tub small enough to be used in an ordinary bathroom -- and especially in a mini-sized bathroom, such as we have at home (or the microscopic bathrooms found at the Milford Plaza, 212.869.3600, which also has a very sporatic supply of water in the pipes and no coffee anywhere on the premises, though there are eleven Starbucks within a two-block radius, including one inside a McDonalds). Besides, most hot tubs are made of rigid acrylic thermoforming and thus as hard as galvanized steel.

I don't mind occasionally bathing in a crowd (I am a native Californian); but most of the time I really prefer solitude, so I can lie back and meditate upon equal justice for all and other aspects of Judeo-Christian civilization.

So to end a long story before it goes totally off the rails and turns into a document the side of the Constitution of the United States, forcing readers to gnaw their own legs off to escape, let me set forth the ideal bathtub:

  • It must allow for reclining, while you contemplate all that jazz about Judeo-Christian civilization, but also be deep enough to sit up straight when some accidental brilliance occurs and you want to get it down quickly;
  • It must be deep enough for complete immersion, right up to your chinny-chin-chin;
  • It must be temperature regulated, so you can stay as long as you like without contracting hypothermia and having to crawl into a pizza oven to recover;
  • It should be small enough not to seem cavernous for one, like being the only fellow in an auditorium -- but also large enough for two (just in case);
  • The material must be soft and comfortable for long stays (this also applies to a proper toilet seat);
  • The back must slope gently up to an adjustable neck support, also cushioned;
  • The tub must be set up to allow bubble bath (for the ladies) and shaving (for both sexes) without ruining the mechanism and requiring a house call by the plumber; ideally, a fog-free mirror should be included for shaving or applying makeup;
  • It should, of course, come in colors everywhere you comb your hair, like a rainbow...
  • ...And include a phone jack and high-speed dataport;
  • Shower facilities should probablly be included, since the tub will obviously be larger than a traditional one, taking up the room that could be used for a separate shower stall -- with or without a soggy but intelligent winding sheet -- vast, cool, and unsympathetic.

It's my understanding that each of these can be done with off-the-shelf technology; no advanced government research should be necessary, no taxpayer money whatsoever. Only the will lacks.

Arise and liberate yourselves from the Victorian straightjacket! Let us rescue the Great American Bathtub and turn it into an experience you'll want to repeat again and again, multiple times a day. The noses of the world will thank us.

Well, except for the French.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 4, 2006, at the time of 6:45 AM

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The following hissed in response by: Big D

Re. Hotel showers. What the heck is wrong with having a stall with a door? I've been to freaken' campgrounds that have them.

The only purpose I can see for the shower curtain is so, when I get shot in the shower, I can dramatically try to arrest my fall, only to have the thing break off the time...arrrggghh. Then, when the cops find me, I can be photographed in a PG way, since I will be enjoying my final loving embrace with the curtain. How many movies has that been in?

My new favorite is the "water saver" showers.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2006 9:19 AM

The following hissed in response by: yetanotherjohn

It could be worse. I remember an "en suite" bathroom in Europe. You open the door to the bathroom (the door swings toward you when you enter). Inside is a room about 3 feet deep by 4 feet wide (I might be off half a foot larger or smaller). To the left was a sink with mirror. To the right a toilet. In the center a drain with the floor gently sloping to it. Above the drain on the ceiling was a spigot to spurt water on you head. The shower controls were directly opposite the door.

You could literally cover the three important S functions of the morning (and brush your teeth) from the exact same position. No portion of the bathroom was free from the shower of water, so no part was entirely free of mold (though places around the sink and toilet were expecially vibrant in their organic diversity).

So when you contemplate your perfect washing apparatus, recognize such a device would be behind the Europeans in terms of productivity. That is unless you amend your description to include a fludhing action.

The above hissed in response by: yetanotherjohn [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2006 1:42 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E


“Well, except for the French.”

I’ve had the pleasure (?) of working in close quarters with locals in several countries. By far, the most olfactorily offensive folks I have encountered live in Belgium. The worst offender was a fellow in Herstal who, for the entire week I was there, wore not only the same suit, but also the same shirt, tie and socks. I can only imagine how often he changed underwear -- if, indeed, he wore any. It was impossible to endure more than a few minutes in a closed room with the guy, so I and the other American working with him insisted on opening his office window every time we had to go in there. It was November, the outside temperature was about 45°F and the wind kept blowing papers off his desk. He had to know why we kept the window open, but he took it all in stride, apparently just attributing our bizarre behavior to the fact that we were crazy, overly sensitive, Americains.

When the same guy drove me to the airport I had to keep the car window open -- all the way to Brussels!

A summertime ride on the Paris Metro can be an … ah … interesting olfactory experience. But I have never met a Gaul as malodorous as several Belgians I have had the misfortune to encounter.

I have no opinion on your proposals for an ideal bathtub. I’m a shower person. Shower and bath people don’t really understand one another. They just have to agree to disagree.

As a shower person, the best bathtub experience I’ve ever had was in Japan. It’s sooooooooo relaxing. And because, as you mention, the actual cleaning process takes place before you enter the tub, to me the experience is closer to showering than to our method of bathtub use.

But are you sure that the tub of your dreams doesn’t already exist? You and Sachi might want to research what’s available in Japan. I suggest this because the Japanese have raised the toilet seat to an entirely new technological level. As soon as you sit on a contemporary Japanese pot, the thing springs to life, spritzing warm water around. There’s a control panel allowing you to do all manner of water spritzing and air puffing -- I suspect some of it can get pretty kinky. Fortunately, a staid gaijin can turn the thing off before the kinky stuff starts -- if he can figure out which is the on/off switch.

A country that has johns with that kind of pizzazz may very well have bathtubs with at least some of the features you desire. Though I’d bet that shaving in the tub and bubble baths would not be highly prized features in Japan.

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2006 6:21 PM

The following hissed in response by: karrde

Funny thing about those Victorian bathers...

Somehow, the Brits have always been serious about their baths. At least, they have that reputation.

I suspect that the history isn't as simple as you've given it...

But I don't want to ask for a longer entry!

The above hissed in response by: karrde [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2006 6:39 PM

The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz

Whenit came time to redo our bathroom, we got rid of the tub and replaced it with a 60"x32" shower with a glass door. Much better.

The above hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2006 9:45 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Dick E:

Sachi's father is a "gadget nut," and they do indeed have about as high-tech a toilet as one can get. I understand the benefits of the bidet-style squirting toilet... but I have to say I don't particularly like the sensation, which always feels to me like a nearsighted proctologist trying to administer an enema.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2006 7:04 AM

The following hissed in response by: SDN

It's amazing that the concierge level rooms of the Fairfield Inn have full size Jacuzzis... and plenty of room for everything else...

The above hissed in response by: SDN [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2006 11:51 AM

The following hissed in response by: MarkD

I remember the plain soaking tub at my wife's parent's house in Japan, as one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life.

We had just arrived from NY with two kids (not quite 3 and 1 year old) in October. This is before wheeled luggage, or direct flights to Osaka even. We were headed to a small town near East Hiroshima. At that time, it was not the home of Hiroshima University, and foreigners were few indeed.

The tub was old and tiled and barely fit my gaijin sized body. My wife washed me off and rinsed me and put me in that tub. It was heated, if you can believe this, by a small fire underneath it. It was a small piece of heaven.

We've been back to Japan, several times since then. (My then one year old is now married.) The tub was replaced with a stainless one, with a gas heater. My wife's parents passed away. My brother-in-law has a fancy fiberglass tub with a heater that maintains the water temperature to within a degree or so.

Nothing ever felt as good as that bath in that old tile tub.

The above hissed in response by: MarkD [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2006 8:22 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Slowly he surfaces from the Dial up Depths imposed by his vacation to ask of Dafydd the simple question...

WHAT hotel in Niagra Falls?

We came close with our hotel in Niagara Falls, the name of which I will be happy to tell you:

But of course you don't. :sigh:

Oh, and add to the specifications the option of having this bathing haven be self luminous. If they can make a Luminous Coffin-style tub, they can make a luminous Aqualounger!

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 7, 2006 8:30 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Mr. Michael:

Pssssssssst... Renaissance Fallsview. Don't tell a soul.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 8, 2006 1:34 AM

The following hissed in response by: yk

The safety feature in the showers at the Milford Plaza is great for protecting you. I know many people that where severly burned in hotels.
The shut off device works at 120 degrees not at 80 degrees, you are mistaken.

anyone can buy one at not just Hotels

The above hissed in response by: yk [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 14, 2006 1:42 PM

The following hissed in response by: yk

The Safety devices that are installed at the Milford Plaza Hotel are set to activate at 120 degrees not 80 degrees.
It's a great device because I know of many people that have been burned (scalded) in the shower.
Anyone can purchase a device , not just hotels, from

The above hissed in response by: yk [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 14, 2006 1:47 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


The Safety devices that are installed at the Milford Plaza Hotel are set to activate at 120 degrees not 80 degrees.

Odd... I don't recall you being there in the shower with me. Are you a male or female? I have to know whether Sachi should now suspect of mere philandering... or perhaps something worse!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 14, 2006 3:43 PM

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