"Zat nice Américaine on le troisième étage. She seems so gentille, usually so calm and quiet. Bien elevée. Mais, alors, do you hear her? Zose.. euh.. kinky activities in her shower?"
This is the elevator gossip that I imagine taking place among my building neighbors. They hear me, I know. I haven't showered silently in months. The screams, the moans, the shrieks, the begging for more! Or less!
The daily soundtrack they hear echoes up and down the building’s air-well, broadcast via the half-open casement window in my bathroom.
Sounds of trickling of water, then a rushing spray. Then:
"Jeez, get going, will ya?"
End of water sounds. A pause. Pattering of wet footsteps.
Resuming of sprinkling sound.
“Yes, you can do it.”
"Stop that, you jerk!"
A sob. A bang. End of water sounds.
Resuming of drizzle. Louder gushing.
"There, that's better. Keep going, keep going."
"Just DO it."
"FOGGIT! I give up on this. Never again!"
“I HATE you!”
It's called Mortal Kombat: Paris. Polly Versus the Shower.
Oh, that shiny chrome bathtub fixture may look contemporary and modern, but believe me, it has just two settings: arctic and cauldron. I try to run the hot water at the tub tap: it's about the right temp for icing down a bottle of champagne. I nudge it a little more, move the lever to warm. A hot sprinkle emerges, then vanishes. I wiggle the lever to the middle: more frigid H2eau. Fuming, I dart out of the shower, slipping across the dining room to the kitchen to see if the chaudière is operating or if the wind has blown out the pilot. Yesss! There is a flame; but to claim the water-heater is actually functioning would be a wild exaggeration. I shiver and dash back to the shower.
Then the hand-to-handheld combat begins. Frigid Niagara blasts me first; I yelp and bat the showerhead to the right, readjust the hot/cold lever. It seems to be reaching almost tepid, so I position myself hopefully under the spray again. The water goes from polar to bi-polar in a nanosecond, in one quick, scalding stream. I swear and scream and knock the shower head aside again. Lather, repeat, lather, repeat – no rinse. I mutter and moan. I thought that water torture was Chinese or Spanish, not French.
Score: la douche - 258; Polly - 0
What? Oh, of course I’ve tried to fix it, and to get it fixed. I may be a tad lazy at times, but I’m hardly a masochist. I turn the sélecteur de temperature down a notch, and then get no warm water at all. I’m worried that it may be a calcaire problem or some other unknown French plumbing nightmare, so I descale all the robinetterie. Again. Then I call in the experts.
I ask the plombier. "Oh, it's not a plumbing problem, Madame,” he insists, “it's a question of the chaudière. You need to speak with the company that maintains your water heater."
I ask the ramoneur. "Oh, it's not a chaudière problem, Madame.” He insists, “it's a question of the water pressure in your building. You need to speak with the syndic." (For this I pay him 180€ annually for a maintenance contract?)
I ask the... well, on it goes. The apartment syndicat will say it's the problem of the City of Paris, who will say it is the problem of Lyonnaise des Eaux, who will say it is because of the government, who will say it's all because...of God or the Pope or the Socialists.
You know what, fellas? I really don't care. I promise not to blame anyone. I just want to take a shower. Just a short, steady, happy warm one. Please?
Meanwhile, I am convinced that a bulging, secret dossier bearing my name is winging its way from Lyonnaise des Eaux to the Trésor Publique, denouncing me for secretly harboring an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool in my 70-square-meter flat. This is the only logical bureaucratic deduction to be made by the water company, judging from my astronomical monthly water consumption. Water which, ironically, rarely touches my skin.
And, meanwhile, my personal hygiene is taking a major hit. Body odor may help clear out a section of the bus if you’re trying to score a seat, but vague lingering odiferousness from long-term shower-deprivation is not a desirable condition. Especially not recommended for general dating appeal or job interviews.
The upside, of course, is that houseguests never overstay their welcome. Heh-heh.
Sometimes I daydream. What was a real shower like, anyway? It’s been so long. When I try to remember, it’s like leafing through the pages of a tattered high-school yearbook, wracking my brain trying to recall the memories of happy showers of yesteryear. The bygone bathing days in when I could actually loofah and do all those other perfumed girlie tasks while the après-shampooing conditioner worked its one-minute magic on my flowing tresses. Did those golden years of bona fide showers really exist, or is it my imagination?
These days I'm lucky if I eke a decent birdbath from ten minutes’ wrangling with the shower. And even then, I grit my teeth and embark on my morning ablutions with a sense of dread matched only by my enthusiasm for, say, having my tonsils yanked sans anesthesia. Anyway, with all these eau chaude/eau froide shenanigans, I’ll be easy to recognize at the beach next week: I’ll be the unkempt lady sporting first-degree burns on one shoulder, minor frostbite on the other.
You know, sounds really ricochet in this apartment building, but I never hear my neighbors making any noise in their showers; maybe they all take soaker baths instead.
But this I know. I know they can't see me, but they hear me. And they wonder about me and my showertime theatrics.
They wonder if I’m some sort of Irma la Douche.
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