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I Bartered for Baths

Lawyer by day, bather by night, I soaked my way across the city after pandemic restrictions eased.

Jessica Magonet 20 Oct 2021 |

Jessica Magonet is a writer and human rights lawyer who lives on unceded Coast Salish territories in what is commonly known as Vancouver, B.C.

Last summer, as COVID cases in Vancouver fell and the city opened up, I was determined to do what I’d longed to do for months. I was going to take a bath.

I’d moved into a great — but bathless — apartment in East Vancouver in March, against my mother’s advice. She questioned how I would survive without a tub, given my profound love of bubble baths. I assured her I could always go to my friend Yvonne’s place if I wanted a soak. But then, of course, the pandemic hit.

At a picnic one evening after restrictions had eased, I casually mentioned to my friend Graham how much I missed taking baths. Graham paused. “My housemates and I are going away for a week. You can take a bath at our place! Would you mind watering our plants?”

Just like that, I was off — like a pandemic parallel of a John Cheever character.

My first pandemic soak came in mid-July. On a Saturday afternoon, I rode my bike to Graham’s place just off Commercial Drive, with a towel and a bottle of bubble bath.

When I opened the door to Graham’s bathroom, I found a collection of Hafiz poetry on the counter. A post-it stuck to the book read, "Jess: Welcome! If you are a bath reader, this is one of my faves. — Graham"

I filled the bathtub, climbed in and cracked open the book of poems. I didn’t care that it was 30 degrees outside — an absurd day to take a bubble bath. I was exquisitely happy.

Once my skin had shrivelled, I got out and watered Graham’s plants. I hadn’t anticipated there’d be quite so many. It took me well over an hour to water, much longer than I’d spent in the tub. By the time I was done, I was sticky with sweat and undoubtedly dirtier than I was before bathing.

Before leaving, I scrawled an “Ode to the Bath” on a postcard I’d brought with me. I tucked the poem in Graham’s mailbox and cycled home.

In August, my friend Yvonne set off for the Yukon. During the early days of the pandemic, Yvonne, a fellow bath enthusiast, had called me from her bathtub nearly every night.

“Want to housesit?” she offered, before heading north. “Water my plants? Use my bath?”

Yvonne lives in an art deco building in the West End, and I love everything about her apartment. Her vintage velvet furniture, her cupboards crammed with snacks, her slick silver bicycle, her collection of film cameras, maps and rocks. I love her bookshelves stuffed with notebooks, the pages filled with stories and Polaroids from her travels. Most of all, I love the stunning photographs that adorn the walls, images she’s taken of glaciers and mountain peaks and her favourite dogs.

Yvonne had left me bath salts and candles. I filled the tub, lit the candles, and dialled her number.

As summer turned to fall, word about my side gig began to spread. I was a human rights lawyer by day, bathtub barterer by night. I was willing to trade baths for house sitting, plant watering, cat care… name your price.

In October, my neighbours asked if I could feed their cat Sassafras while they went camping, offering to let me use their bath in return.

After my first night cat sitting, I settled into the tub with a magazine. My neighbours had left a stack of New Yorkers for me. Sassafras perched herself on the lip of the tub and meowed with affection.

This summer, I was finally able to visit my mum in Montreal after spending many months apart. I took full advantage of her bathtub during my stay.

I’ve lived without a bathtub for the entire pandemic. Sometimes, my partner talks about moving. But I do not. I love our small, oddly shaped apartment, tucked into a 100-year-old East Van home. I love the ancient cedar tree in our garden, the view of blue mountains from our kitchen window.

My mum was right — I can’t survive without a bathtub. But thanks to my friends, I don’t have to.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health

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