In Which I Go to the Spa
For my upcoming birthday of an age greater than which cannot be conceived, I received a spa day as a gift. This was nice! I haven’t been to a spa in years. I went today.
The spa in question is an institution that has been a spa since before the dawn of time. Going to a spa today in the Washington DC area, while the nation was at the brink of credit default, felt a little like being Nero fiddling as Rome burned. Except I’m not in charge of things. And a deal was reached. Other than that, though, the analogy is firm.
I arrived, and was offered water. When I assented, I was offered a further choice of cucumber or lemon water. Cucumber, please. I was given a bathrobe and ushered into a room for my first activity of the day, which was a salt scrub. I had never received a salt scrub before. Monica (names have been changed in this anecdote to protect the innocent), a young woman with a long French braid and an eerily calm manner, ushered me into a dim room with pan flute music playing and a table in the middle. She asked if I’d like water. Yes. Cucumber or lemon? Cucumber. She got the water, and explained I was to get under the blanket. She mentioned as she was leaving that there was disposable underwear on the table. This…was unexpected. What is disposable underwear and why? I was still wearing my regular underwear. Was there some fear the salt scrub would damage my regular underwear? Just how extensive was this scrub anyway? The disposable underwear was a thong that looked basically like an X-rated surgeon’s mask. So. On went disposable underwear.
So then the salt scrub happened. Here’s what this involves: there is a mixture of what seems to be kosher salt and olive oil. Someone rubs it all over you. (Not very close to the disposable underwear, after all.) And that’s it. Afterward, Monica gently and serenely took me to a shower and told me to wash off the salt before the massage. She asked if I’d like some water. I said yes. Cucumber or lemon?
I was given a new robe after my shower, but no new disposable underwear, so I guessed it was back on with the regular underwear. And then Monica gave a massage, which was, of course, nice. I was feeling bad, though, because my mind kept wandering and I was not sufficiently appreciating what was happening. It is not often I get to go to spas. I should have been focusing on the experience, but I couldn’t. After all, I have so much trouble with mindfulness that I once ordered a book on how to attain it called Mindfulness. I discovered soon after its arrival that I had already ordered the book several months before and forgotten about it.
Over the course of the massage, though, I realized I wanted it to go on forever. If I was just laying still, I would be bored to tears. So I decided that since this seemed to be far more pleasant than, say, meditation, I was getting something out of it even if I wasn’t paying attention.
Just letting someone tend to you while you are wearing next to no clothes is very strange. It struck me that a good portion of a prostitute’s job must be easing the social awkwardness of the situation.
Monica took me into a waiting area, and then the facial technician, Mariko, retrieved me. As she put on the creams and unguents, pushing certain products (essential to the relaxing spa experience) I wondered if there was any industry other than the beauty industry that makes greater claims of efficacy with less evidence. My favorite are the “studies” touted by facial creams that say things like “93 percent of women reported a reduction of fine lines in 4 weeks of use.” Of course they are based on self-report. Of course the trials are not blinded.
I had thought I left the house with one or two zits, but she attacked my face squeezing and popping I know not what. I mean, my make-up mirror magnifies 10X. I thought I was familiar with the horrors that close-ups of my face have to offer. Where were these blackheads? She then gave me a shoulder and face rub, which is part of the facial deal. I was becoming one well-rubbed person. When that was done, she spread a facial mask on me and sat somewhere behind and to the left of me. We waited for the mask to do whatever facial masks do. I was reclining in a glorified dentist’s chair. It was sort of like Freudian psychoanalysis, but a silent telepathic version. However, I achieved no insights into the nature of my childhood traumas.
When I left the room, I looked in the mirror, half expecting to see the dewy skin of a newborn babe. But there it was, my same face, but kind of clean and shiny. She asked whether I’d like water. Yes. Cucumber or lemon?
Now I was to get back into my clothes. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw I was changing next to a woman who was, like, 23 and size 00. If you like that sort of thing. It crossed my mind to turn to her and say in a witch’s cackle, “Don’t think you will escape the ravages of age, my dear young one! They will come, they will come.” Then she turned toward me and I saw that she was actually older than me, in fantastic shape, and had very expensive-looking hair. If you like that sort of thing. Then the truth hit home. I was not the ghost of her future, she was the ghost of my future. But she was my counterfactual future self that I will never be. Of the future wherein I have the leisure to maintain myself without a full-time job and with lots of money. She didn’t cackle, though.
Next, I was ushered upstairs to a room with hairdressers, make-up artists, and nail folk. All the women had very expensive hair, and I hoped no one noticed that my hair was courtesy Clairol Nice’n’easy. Pedicure first. This was supposedly a fancy schmancy spa pedicure, but it was exactly the same as the corner nail shop except the leg massage part lasted a little longer and my feet got stuck in plastic bags of hot paraffin wax. During the manicure, the nail technician seemed to apologize for not massaging my legs during the preceding pedicure, and indicated that there was now a regrettable law against doing such without a license. Since she massaged my already-well-massaged legs at some length, I had no idea what she was talking about. But she seemed very upset about her failure to offer proper service.
While my nails were painted, I watched people get their hair done expensively. One woman was receiving the finishing touches of her haircut. When finished, it was perfectly smooth and shiny. She got a hand mirror so she could see the back of her head. She frowned. And frowned some more. Her hair stylist returned, and they began some intense talks. Soon, another stylist came over and seemed to be in on the consultation. The conference lasted about five full minutes. Then the customer got her hair washed, cut, and dried all over again. It was a wee bit bouncier the second time. I have no idea what anyone thought the problem was.
No one had offered me water for over an hour. I was dangerously parched.
Then came my shampoo and blowout. Lee came over and asked if I want water. Yes. Cucumber or lemon? Cucumber.
Seriously? My hair looks totally gorgeous. Supermodel from the scalp up! If I do say so myself. I flirted with the idea of leaving my regular hairstylist for Lee. My regular hairstylist, Michelle, is the world’s sweetest woman who, among other fine qualities, is willing to give haircuts to my kid with severe disabilities. This is a kid who almost never melts down except when he is getting a haircut. Then he screams as if she were dripping battery acid on him. She is always willing to do this and say how cute he is when he is being perfectly awful. That I could even think of leaving her made me feel like a terrible person. I am so so sorry, Michelle. I love you and only you. I will never leave you. No matter how Lee makes my hair look.
I got my make-up done, and now I am officially gorgeous! Or at least not bad. I came home, and our kids’ nanny was so pleased by my transformation she insisted on staying late so my husband and I could go out to dinner. I shouldn’t waste my temporary good looks, I guess, because in two days it’s back to shrewsville!
And we avoided default. All in all, not a bad day!