I will quote in entirety the student essay written after a short story by XX-cent. Russian Classic Michail Zoshchenko*, called The Bathhouse.
I came across this essay when searching for adequate translation of another sarcastic story by Z., one of my favorite writers, called “Poverty”. Search was not without its rewards, as I stumbled on this treasure trove of a site. Don’t skip on comments section…it’s stunning. I bet, M.Z. would write a story about it if he lived to read it.
“The Bathhouse” begins with our narrative addressing us about the quality of bathhouses in America and then confiding in us that Russian bathhouses are much worse. In American bathhouses, nothing is stolen, but in Russian ones, you must check in your clothing and then figure out where to put your checks when you are naked and bathing.
Our narrator ties his checks to his feet and goes to find himself a bucket. He sees a citizen using three buckets and unsuccessfully attempts to take one of them. The citizen is angry, but the narrator responds with “This isn’t a theater,” a phrase that will be uses several times throughout the story. He finally finds a bucket that somebody took his hand off for one moment and begins to bathe.
Around him, people are doing their laundry. The narrator gets fed up with this and decides to finish bathing at home. He goes back to the dressing room, turns in his check for his clothes, and receives the wrong pants. The attendant says “This isn’t a theater” and makes him keep the wrong pants. The narrator has lost his coat check, and has to convince the attendant to give it to him by a description.
The narrator figures out that he left his soap in the bathhouse and attempts to go retrieve it; however, the attendant doesn’t allow him to do so. He responds with “Citizen, I can’t undress a third time. This isn’t a theater.”
The narrator goes home empty handed, and closes the story revealing to us that the bathhouse that he attended cost him ten kopecks. This story describes a cultural clash and perhaps a dream for something better, but also the frustrations of daily life in a budding Soviet Union.
And now – to an Ann Arbor-published translations of Zoshchenko’s short stories, s. 1961. Scroll down the long preface and enjoy the thing itself.
* “Shch” in his name reads as one consonant, similar to “sh” in “sheer” or “Shawn”. The stress is on 1st syllable.