Sunday, July 13, 2014

They Don't Miss Nothin'

Disclaimer: This story might shock a few of you. Feel free to bail out if you feel uncomfortable at any time. However, chances are that none of you is more of a prude than me, and if I survived the  actual experience, you can probably survive reading about it. I'll go easy on you, which is more than I can say for my masseuse yesterday. But I'm getting ahead of myself....

On Friday we celebrated my sister Amy's 50th birthday. True to form, I didn't even think about what I might buy for Amy until that morning. On the way to Allyson's summer day camp, I asked her for ideas.

"Gently used kids' tattoos?" [Leftover from her belated birthday party the night before; more on that soon.]

"Um... no."

I thought about it off and on through the day, but all I could come up with was a massage. The only problem was that, according to Amy, I promised her a massage for another birthday a couple years back and then forgot about it. So how could I promise her another now?

I prayed about it, but still came up with nothing. Before long, I was off to the party empty-handed.

While Amy opened the presents that other people so thoughtfully purchased or even made, I stood around feeling like a pretty crappy little sister. Okay, so I'd offer her a massage, and we'd schedule it right on the spot. But when? The next several weekends were booked....

Just then, I tuned into a conversation between my sister Melody and her friend Dana. They planned to go to the King Spa the next day. Melody and her husband Joe had been talking about this Korean bath house for years, and I'd always been curious about it, but not curious enough to spend the money.

The gears spun in my head for a moment. Hmm. What if Amy and I went along? It could be a sisters' day. A sisters' and friends' day. But I could hardly buy Amy a massage and not also buy myself one. What would I do while the rest of them got pampered?

"It isn't in the budget," I thought.

"Be quiet, Dave Ramsey," I answered. "Amy only turns 50 once. And I could use a massage, too."

"...and it's pretty cheap," Melody told Dana.

Those were the magic words, though I later learned that "cheap" is all a matter of perspective.

I stepped over to the table. "Say, Melody. Would you guys mind if Amy and I join you tomorrow?  I want to treat her to a massage, and this would be more interesting. We could make it a girls' day."

Melody grinned. "Sure! But there's something you should know.... Before you get your massage or whatever services you choose, you have to shower with soap, and you have to go in the bath."


"In your birthday suit."

"In your bathing suit?" Dana asked.

"No, in your birthday suit. There are naked people everywhere."

My eyebrows rose.

"But the women are separated from the men," Melody hastened to add. "Still, it's pretty embarrassing until you get used to it."

"So you're totally naked?" I asked.

"Yes, but they give you a little hand towel." She waved her hands at chest level, and then at waist level. "You choose what you want to cover."

I swallowed hard. "Sure, why not? Sounds like an adventure."

An Adventure, All Right

Around 11 yesterday morning, we all stripped down in the ladies' locker room. I held my little tea towel against my chest and let it hang down like a loin cloth, painfully aware that my butt was in plain view of anyone who cared to look. Not that anyone would, I reassured myself.

"Hey, you and Melody have the same butt!" Amy observed.

"Um, yeah. I guess we do," I said.

I glanced around the mostly empty locker room and noticed that so far, we were the only naked ones. Maybe Melody was playing a joke.

Next, we stood at the counter asking about the salt scrubs, facials, and massages. I can't even describe the ignominy of discussing business, in your birthday suit, with a fully clothed clerk. Melody and Dana quickly decided on the super deluxe package, a 90-minute combination that included a full body scrub, massage with essential oils, and facial.

I hesitated, trying to drown out Dave Ramsey. It wasn't like I was married to my budget, right? I could be flexible, when it came to my sister's 50th birthday. In the end, Amy offered to pay for a portion of her massage, which made me feel both relieved and ashamed, even more embarrassing than being naked in front of a bunch of strangers.

"Do you want a deep tissue massage, or gentle pressure?" the clerk asked.

"Gentle pressure," I replied without hesitation, recalling the pain of my last massage, when I'd been too shy to tell the masseuse she was hurting me terribly.

In the bathing room, we did see lots of naked women. Old ones, young ones, and little girls. "Don't be embarrassed," I told myself. "It's perfectly natural."

Natural or not, I tried very hard to avert my eyes without appearing to avert my eyes.

The four of us chatted and laughed in the hot tub, safely submerged in the bubbling water, until the clerk called us for our 11:30 appointment.

You know how when you go for a massage, they lead you into a dimly lit room with candles or incense and soothing music, and they cover you with smooth sheets? And then they uncover one part of you at time during the massage? Well, this wasn't that kind of massage.

We trooped around the corner to a long row of pink, vinyl-covered tables attended by Korean women in bras and panties. My masseuse grabbed my tea towel and gestured toward the table. Using hand motions, she told me to lie face down.

I obeyed meekly, clambering onto the wet and slippery table. Immediately, this little woman in a red floral-print pantie set began scrubbing me within an inch of my life. She wore some sort of loofah gloves, and she rubbed various kinds of minerals over my entire body. It felt like being rubbed raw with one of those mesh dish scrubbies. I figured I must be pink all over, maybe even bleeding in places. I gritted my teeth and told myself I'd better enjoy this, as much I was paying.

In between the different types of minerals, she randomly dumped buckets of hot water over me, always without warning. I guess it was kind of nice, once I got past being startled.

Soon, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and the little lady motioned for me to roll onto my back. As I sat up, I took in the name plate over my table: Candy.

As I lay flat on my back, I longed for one of those crisp, white sheets. But Candy didn't bother with any sheets. She scrubbed every inch of my front, including my armpits and in between my toes. She laughed aloud when she got to my toes and said something to her colleague at the next table. I remembered then about my half-removed toenail polish that I'd tried so hard to scrub off the day before. Each nail was outlined in faded pink along the cuticles and up the sides.

Now here I was, in my birthday suit, blushing over my toenails. Go figure.

At last, Candy grabbed my hand and pulled me up. She pumped some white foam into my palm. "For face," she said. "You go showers. Wash face."

I walked over to the nearest shower, no longer bothering to cover anything, and scrubbed my face thoroughly. I noticed that Dana and Melody were in the next two stalls. Dana was giggling.

"Man, they don't miss nothin', do they?"

I laughed ruefully. "Nope, they sure don't."

"Now I know how a baby feels getting a diaper change," Melody said.

That really was the perfect analogy. That's all I'm going to say about that.

I headed back to the table, wondering what was coming next. Would this be the good part, the relaxing part?

Candy gestured to the table and pushed me forward gently, her hand between my shoulder blades. But then she stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. "You go back," she said, frowning slightly. "Wash back."

I returned to the showers, where Dana and Melody were finishing up.

"I didn't wash well enough," I said. "She sent me back. She only said to wash my face," I complained.

Dana told me about a miscommunication of her own. Her masseuse had gestured toward her mouth when she put the foam in Dana's hand, and Dana thought she was supposed to wash her mouth out. Weird, but wasn't this whole experience weird? So Dana had eaten her soap, which didn't taste all that bad. And then she had to use the bar soap in the shower on her face.

I decided being sent back to the shower to rinse my back wasn't such a bad thing.

I soon found that either Candy hadn't gotten the message about the gentle pressure, or that her idea of gentle was much different from mine. For example, at one point she pulled my arm behind my back the way we did when we played "mercy" as kids, and then she climbed up on the table and put all her weight on my flexed shoulder muscle. I guess she was working out a kink.

"Don't embarrass yourself," I thought, clenching my teeth to keep from crying out.

When she started in on the tight place where my neck met my left shoulder, it was all I could do not to sob. "God," I prayed, "please tell her to ease up."

When she got to the tender place under my right armpit, I cried, "Ow!!"

She stopped. "You hurt?" she asked. I nodded. She said something about not pushing so hard.

"Oh, thank you, God," I thought.

This time, when I rolled onto my back, Candy put a cloth over my eyes. That made me feel less exposed somehow, like a baby playing hide-and-seek by covering her eyes.

I almost fell off the table when she slathered a very cold cream onto my face. A mud mask, I realized.

From that point, the experience became intermittently pleasant, especially when Candy rubbed wonderfully fragrant essential oils onto my skin and into my scalp. I caught the scent of peppermint and lavender and something else familiar that I couldn't place.

"This is nice," I thought as Candy rubbed the front of my shoulders. But a moment later.... aiyee!!! She'd found another knot of tension. I never even knew you could be tense under your collarbones. She pressed and pinched and twisted my muscle.

"Oh, leave it," I begged mentally, squeezing my eyelids tight to hold in the rising tears. "Really, I don't mind being tense. Just leave it." I thought about my recent trials, and how I'd told God the same thing. "Oh, just let me be. It hurts too much. Just leave it."

Well, this was different. "Ouch!" I cried.

Candy gave up and moved to the other side. Whew!

After she'd massaged my entire front, Candy sat me up and moved me (blindfolded) to the other end of the table, with my head hanging off the end. I perceived now that the table had a slight incline, and my head was at the low end. By now, the table was very slick with oil, and I hoped I wouldn't slide off in a naked heap!

I tensed, waiting for a bucket of water in my face. Instead, Candy brought out a warm sprayer and washed my hair. Very nice! She wrapped my hair in a towel, peeled off the mask in one motion, and sat me up.

She handed me a towel even smaller than the first tea towel she'd confiscated, and I made a pretense of covering myself while she took my hand and led me all the way to the counter in the locker room, which by now was full of people, all naked. I signed a tablet and went on to my locker, where I thankfully pulled out my spa uniform, a set of orange scrubs.

We all did a lot more giggling as we compared notes on our experiences.

Amy said, "Hey, we should take a selfie!"

"Let's get dressed first," I suggested.

"No," Amy said. "It will be cuter..."

The girls next to us laughed. "Nothing like taking naked selfies!"

"And posting them on the Internet," I added. "You know all of this is going on the blog, right?"

Amy protested that she'd meant to take pictures in our spa uniforms, not in the buff.

So that's what we did, after we'd had a nice Korean lunch.

Dana, Me, Melody, Amy

And then we found a nice lady who took a proper picture for us.

As you can see, we had a blast. I think what I enjoyed most was not the scrub/facial/massage, but the laughing about it afterward. 

"Let's do this again for my 50th," I said. "Let's," they agreed.

If you hang around, maybe you'll hear about it then.

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