A Trip to the Baths

sc0591f38fTennessee Williams’ Amanda Wingfield is a character that I understand. That scene when she appears in the dress in which she “led the cotillion,” the way she waxes about all the gentlemen callers, the opportunities she once had as a young girl, I understand it all. I, too, was once young. And if Amanda appears foolish for trying so desperately to hold onto those treasured days, it’s a foolishness that most of us relate to, perhaps some of us more than others.
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Yesterday, in my blog about three different San Francisco men, I touched on the fact that I’d made a visit to the remains of the Sutro Baths. The Sutro Baths were a large swimming pool complex built in the 19th century. It closed in the 1960s and a fire destroyed the building not long after. For decades, people have visited and walked around the ruins that face the Pacific Ocean. The venerable Cliff House is nearby and tourists and locals can visit both together.

It had been years since I’d hiked around the Sutro Baths ruins. When Eric and I were in the city in June, we drove by, but did not stop and explore. But Tuesday, when I was tooling around the city, I felt I needed to go there, a mission of sorts.
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When I lived in San Francisco, I visited the Sutro Baths on occasion. I must confess, anything with the word baths in it’s name just sounds kind of sexy to me. I’ve seen the old pictures and the reality is probably not nearly as sexy as what I’d imagined. But still, I am a swimmer and I do love history so there was an appeal.

In the summer of 1997, my friend Greg Zukowski, a friend from New York and also a photographer, came to visit San Francisco. We got together and he asked me if I wanted to do a photo shoot with him, maybe something out and about in San Francisco. Because I was young and still loved the idea of having my picture taken, I said yes. I suggested we go to the Sutro Baths and that is where the majority of the pictures were taken. He took picture after picture, I gave him pose after pose. I smized, I tooched. I took off my shirt and posed shirtless. I’ve never had the best torso, but I’d run several miles that morning and felt confident. He asked if I wanted to take off my shorts for a few pictures. And, I figured I’d already been naked in a play and this was San Francisco, really, why shouldn’t I? So I dropped my shorts and posed for a few shots, my Speedo tan line, complimenting my summer skin. I don’t remember ever feeling more handsome.
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I also felt unlimited possibility. I had broken up with my boyfriend but we had remained friends, in fact we still lived together. These were my last weeks in San Francisco; I was moving back to Los Angeles and looked forward to starting the next chapter in my life. I know it’s a cringe-inducing confession, but I thought I was going to go back to Los Angeles and get an agent and start booking commercials and guest starring on Friends and Ellen. Of course, that’s not really how it went down, but, hey, that’s the great thing about hope: it gives you hope.
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Months later, when I was living in Los Angeles, Greg sent me a bundle of pictures with a letter saying that one of my pictures was going to be in an art show he was doing. He sent me a flyer for the show with an image of me. I was thrilled. I felt famous. By then, my Los Angeles reality was not shaping up the way I’d hoped. I still lived on my friend Amy’s couch, not making enough money to get an apartment. I dated with some regularity, but every guy paled in comparison to the ex-boyfriend I’d left in San Francisco. I was lonely and lost. But I loved my little bundle of pictures, they made me feel handsome. Years later, I am so happy I have these wonderful pictures taken by my talented friend Greg.

All of these things were in my thoughts as I wandered around the Sutro Baths on Tuesday morning, taking pictures of the ocean and the rocks and the ruins instead of selfies, because, as it turns out, I don’t like most pictures of myself anymore. Like The Glass Menagerie, it was my own memory play. I’m not young anymore and some days I mourn it’s loss more than others. But there on that overcast breezy morning, with each salty breath I took in, for a few minutes anyway, I was 29 again, slim and tanned and young with a world of boundless opportunity before me.
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8 thoughts on “A Trip to the Baths

  1. Great blog, great pictures! I must confess I have never been out to the Sutro Baths. I must check it out sometime soon.

  2. I read this on vacation last week at a coffee shop on wifi and didn’t have the time. I too am titillated by the words ‘the baths’–struggling with writing a chapter about them myself. I too identify with Amanda and I am much older than you–therefore am truly more pathetic. But there is something almost sacred about reveling in our pasts. They are a part of us that makes us unique today. You have so much more ahead of you. Anything is still possible. And Unlike Amanda, “all our hopes, all our dreams have–NOT–gone up the spout!” Loved this lots and lots.

  3. I agree with Dino-Matthew: ‘What’s past is prologue’… We are who we were, with just a few more layers. When we dwell a little bit in the past, it is comforting, like visiting an old friend. And isn’t that exactly what we’re doing? That person we were is very much the person we are now, just under the skin. Scratch the surface ā€“ he’s still there. That sassy, sexy 29-year-old comes through in your writer’s voice, Ray. He’s not as far away as you think. (He has just learned to do it without the peroxide. šŸ™‚

  4. RAY, dear Ray, this day was such a memory, a day I will never forget, the history, the ocean, and you…glad I was there snapping my camera of your hot being. These pictures will go down in your and my history. GLAD WE ARE FRIENDS….Thanks Allison Tray!. xoxox gregz

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