Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Spas: A Cautionary Tale

My wife and I had decided that we needed a relaxing weekend away and a friend had recommended a hotel & spa located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It offered a romantic weekend package for two that included a massage in their world famous spa. The prices were reasonable and my wife (who had been trying to convince me to have a professional massage) thought this would be the perfect opportunity.

By maneuvering our Honda Civic under the hotel’s entrance canopy, I apparently tripped a silent alarm that jolted the valets into action because soon we became surrounded by vested men. After informing them that I was unwilling to pay $10 a day to have them park my car, I was directed to their “self-service” garage two blocks away that resembled the set of a post-apocalyptic motion picture. Through the broken windows of the first level, we could see piles of garbage apparently ruled by a pack of mutated house-cats who were either unintimidated by people or had a taste for human flesh. Narrowly escaping the feline militia, we made our way back to the hotel and prepared for a romantic day of pampering and relaxation….

The much-anticipated morning of the massage was finally here and I braced myself for the impending bliss that was laid out before me. Ashley and I made our way to the spa entrance where a bespectacled woman in her late 50’s directed us to gender-specific entrances on either side of her desk. I was given a disposal bath mitt, which I noted with mild alarm, had the name Derek written on it with a permanent marker. Passing through the curtain, I was greeted by a large, muscular man brandishing a clipboard who, after glancing briefly at my bath-mitt, introduced himself as Derek and proceeded to confirm the options of my three-part relaxation package. First stop: a stress-melting mineral bath.

Derek led me to a curtained alcove where he instructed me to remove all my clothing and cover myself with the Velcro-equipped man-skirt I found inside. After several harrowing minutes, I was finally able to secure the over-laundered towel into what I believed to be an iron-clad hurricane-proof double-knot. Derek then led me into the main chamber where I was quickly greeted by the smell of mineral spirits and unnecessary male nudity. Only a congressional sponge bath could amass a more impressive number of unclothed geriatric white men. I felt like a visitor on the set of Cinemax’s “Studs of the AARP,” and the worst part about it was that no one else seemed taken aback by the scene unfolding in front of us.

Derek’s face remained expressionless as we navigated the shifting gauntlet of liver-spots and herniated disks, until we stopped at a cinder-block stall at the end of the row. He then restrained the wafer-thin curtain while I stepped inside to survey the apparatus necessary for a successful mineral-bath. The stall housed an archaic claw-footed tub that was partially straddled by what appeared to be the outboard motor of a fishing boat. As my eyes were tracing the frayed wiring of the device back to the electrical outlet opposite the tub, I became vividly aware that my man-bits were no longer residing under their complimentary Velcro awning. While I was silently contemplating my chances of surviving electrocution, Derek had taken the liberty of removing my modesty wrap and was now holding it hostage in his arms along with my bathing mitt.

With a tender firmness, he requested that I step into the mineral bath while he readied the “water agitation device.” Unwilling to prolong my impromptu nudity, I gingerly placed my feet into the tub and began lowering myself into the water only to find it so hot I would not have been surprised to find a chicken bouillon cube resting at the bottom. I was torn; do I continue my decent into the tub and risk igniting my genitals, or remain standing like a pasty-white lawn gnome? It dawned on me that Derek was not going to abandon me until I was fully submerging and giving the appearance of relaxation, so I mentally said goodbye to my future children and sat down while Derek fiddled with the boat motor.

Derek, apparently satisfied that the “water agitation device” was reaching critical mass, turned his attention to me, donned the bathing-mitt, and asked if I would like to be “sponged-off.” I heartily assured Derek that his services past this point would be unnecessary and he seemed content to leave me unsupervised; parting with an assurance that he would return in fifteen minutes in order to begin phase two of my pampering: a soothing hot towel wrap.

True to his word, Derek materialized again just as my internal organs began shutting down from heat-stroke and asked me to stand up with my back toward him. Fighting the overwhelming urge to call him warden, I complied and soon found his forearms encircling me as he deftly refastened my modesty linen and helped me out of the tub.

I was then directed back into the chamber of flesh where a set of padded tables supported what appeared to be the mummified remains of The Senior PGA Tour. Derek brought me to an empty table and requested that I lie down on my back while he applied scalding hot towels to my face and torso, leaving only my mouth, nose, and eyes unobstructed. He asked if I needed anything else (like my dignity) and then disappeared.

Suspecting that I had already suffered irreversible damage to my circulatory system, I removed my linen-tortilla in an attempt to lower my body temperature. Unfortunately, Derek took this action as a personal affront and asked if there was something unsatisfactory about the service I was receiving. I tried to diffuse the situation by explaining that the towels had simply triggered my selective claustrophobia disorder and that perhaps I would skip the hot wrap and head straight to the massage.

Derek, ever the consummate professional, would not hear of it and requested that I enjoy the deluxe sauna in lieu of my hot towel wrap. I agreed, and was taken into a room sweltering enough to be Hell’s exhaust pipe; its only other resident was an unnaturally-hairy patron who gave me a brief, yet informative, presentation on the advantages of sweating out one’s impurities. Thankfully, it was soon time for the grand finale: the massage.

The massage wing was akin to a Civil War-era field hospital in that any seclusion was made possible by a hanging white sheet that only provided the idea of privacy without any structural follow-through. After passing several “Stalls of Paradise,” I found myself shaking hands with a wiry senior citizen named Bert who was to be my masseuse for the next thirty minutes. It was requested that I remove my towel (since apparently nudity was a pre-requisite for relaxation in this place) and lie face down on a table that, by appearances, seemed to pre-date the building itself.

Bert busied himself with extracting pre-heated massage oil from a brothel-sized drum that adorned the corner of the room, and without warning began slapping my back with his arthritic hands. This continued for several minutes (during which time I tried to recall the statute of limitations on assault in Arkansas) and ended with what he referred to as “The Rubdown,” a process probably borrowed from his days as a stable boy.

Having been slapped senseless and rubbed like a donated pack-mule for the past thirty minutes, I was elated to see Derek and anxious to retrieve my clothing and escape. Back at the changing station where my journey began, Derek reminded me that he would be within earshot if I “needed anything.” My torso now safely ensconced by layers of processed cotton, I peered through the gap in the curtain to see if the coast was clear because I knew that Derek expected a handsome tip for his services. I waited several minutes, but every time I attempted to emerge he would come back into view. It became clear that this man was no amateur and barring a long overdue structure fire, I didn’t have a prayer of escaping unseen. I sighed, placed a crumpled five dollar bill into the palm of my hand, and walked toward the door depositing the crumpled bill into Derek’s hand as I passed.

I do not remember the journey back upstairs to our suite, but my wife insists that when she opened the door I was seated on the edge of the bed transfixed to the television that I had never turned on. This ended my first, and only, professional massage.

2 comments:

  1. awww... good times. Wait no that wasn't good times! lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
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