by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash.--Readers may be excused for thinking that I spend most of my life in the sauna. Not so. The better part, perhaps, but not most of my life.
It is just that retiring to an utterly unfamiliar place reduces the type, variety, and extent of social contact.
I am great friends with Jan, the postman, for instance (we both hate "postperson"- she for unknown reasons, I because it suggests the state of being towards which I am rapidly sliding).
She calls me "Clarence" with the usual northwestern lack of fussiness; those in Princeton, all men, called me "Professor Brown."
Neighbors in Princeton tended to be at least as new to town as I was. Those in my present neighborhood come, by and large, from families rooted here. Kurt went to the school whose playing field both our backyards abut.
There is my church, of course, where I do encounter a familiar group of people once a week, but we have other things on our minds than socializing.
That leaves the gym and the sauna and the locker room. But above all the sauna.
There is something about sitting nude on a bench and enduring ridiculously overheated air and steam, which make it impossible to read, that encourages idle chatter and occasionally even exchanges that rise to the level of conversation.
But even idle chatter, after four or five years, can cement a relationship.
Take the Actor (whom I'll call X, since even the most favorable ink in this space would be useless to him). His hero is, or was, Henny Youngman, of all people. The king of the one-liners died in 1998, but he lives on in his admirer, who told me what the rabbi said at the funeral: "Dear God, take Henry...please!"
X. seems to have liked me ever since I told him of the crack by my landlord in London: "I never go to the theater-it encourages actors!" He responded with this. Three men present themselves before St. Peter, who asks them how much they made in a year back on earth.
First man: $4.5 million. (St.P. tells him to go with the CEOs.) Second: $450 thou. ("Stand there with the other tax lawyers.") Third man: $4,100, when working. (St. P. "Did I ever see you in anything?")
Then there is G, who aspires to the role of Socrates (where better than in a gymnasium?) The other day he asked me (we were alone), "What ten books would you recommend to a person aged 16." I come up with four or five. "Okay, aged 25?"
Why, I do not know, but the sauna inspires in some a desire to expose the most private elements of life.
F., a person held in rather low esteem because of his racial and other prejudices (and his assumption that we all share them), earned some astonished sympathy by suddenly disclosing that his wife had just died. Our mumbled condolences had hardly begun when he blurted out: "I found out she was seeing a psychiatrist! Can you imagine?!"
The sudden silence was all but pregnant with tacit commiseration: "Poor woman-can you blame her?"
There are times when I regret the extent to which I have made others privy to my habits. Dale, my closest buddy, will not fail to draw me into the following routine this very day:
-This is Wednesday, right? (Yes, I sigh.) -You took out the recycling? (Yes.)-The garbage? (Yes.) All of it? (Yes.)-Including Ink Soup? (Laughter, forced.)
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.p<