The Tale of the Hyperventilating Naked Man

Apr 01, 2019    /    stories & photos

It was late December and Chad and I were cozied up at the 25Hours Hotel at Zurich Langstrasse

The breakfast was epic. Our room was artsy. Luna was a huge fan of the giant dog bed they carted to the room for us. And we were excited because we’d been told that if we took the elevator to the top floor, we’d find a sauna overlooking the city. 

So after dinner our first night there, up we went, bathing suits on and canteens full of water in our hands, to check out the sauna with the epic views.

The sauna was just as beautiful as advertised. But when we arrived, tucked our things into one of the lockers, and started toward the cute little wooden sauna room, we were greeted by a rather odd man.

Skinny as a rail and wrapped in a towel, he had the energy of a chihuahua who’d been cooped up in a crate all day. His body vibrating. His breath coming hard and fast. 

He’d just come out of the sauna and opened the balcony door to stand in the blast of chilly winter air. He sucked it in, pfffted it out. 

Hello, we said, and then slipped into the blissful quiet of the sauna, closing the wooden door behind us.

The city spread out below, twinkling up in the dark, and we talked in low voices as we sat cross-legged on our towels, slowly heating.

And then the door swung open and in came the jittery, towel-clad man. He climbed, jerky, stumbling, up to the platform behind us and, in a volume 10x what it needed to be, began to explain to us how saunas work, despite the fact that no one had asked.

“You have to turn the timer on the wall! Otherwise you’ll stay in too long,” he boomed, leaning over me to turn one of the sand-timers over to begin his own sauna stay.

We murmured something non-commital.

“Have you ever been to a sauna before?” He shouted.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, you’re supposed to do it hot-cold-hot-cold. You stay in here and get hot, then go outside and get cold.”

“Yes, we’ve been before.”

“Oh, then you know – hot, cold, hot cold! It’s how you RELAX!” He continued on, somehow managing to explain himself all over again despite the fact that, again, no one asked. (Random men really like to explain things to me, and my participation is rarely required.)

Then the talking stopped.

And the hyperventilating began. PSSSCHHHT. PFHHHH. PSSSCHHHT. PFHHHH. PSSSCHHHT. PFHHHH. 

Later, Chad would say that in his mind there were only two options for the grunting-moving-hyperventilating combo of noises:

Either the man behind us was doing pushups in the sauna or he was getting naked.

“But, wait, why would grunting and hyperventilating mean he was getting naked?” I asked between laughs later.

“I just KNEW.” Chad said.

And so he was. 

I already knew the man was naked. Because we were in a European sauna and that’s pretty much par for the course. We were the weird ones, in our bathing suits. 

But Chad didn’t know until the hyperventilating started.

At which point he stood up, averting his eyes, and held the door open for me with an eyebrow raised.

“Here’s the thing,” Chad would later say. “Any one of those things in isolation would have been kind of okay. So a guy’s naked in the sauna…okay. So he’s talking too loud…okay. So he’s anxious…okay. But being naked and shouting and hyperventilating…the combination is just creepy.”

Now, whenever we’re talking about relaxing, we like to reminisce.

“Don’t forget to hyperventilate!” I shout.

And Chad starts sucking in his breath and bouncing on his heels. 

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