Ah, the apricot tea, the ping-ping New Age music, the waffle robes, the nubby sandals, the little bracelets holding keys to the lockers where we just left our clothes and our cellphones and our wallets and our lives behind.
Ah, spa. We are back, this time to celebrate Nancy's birthday. It has become a deliciously indulgent ritual: Each time one of us reaches an age divisible by five, we treat her (and ourselves) to the treatments.
In a moment the elevator door will open, and out will pop the treaters. The massage therapist and the pedicurist and the seaweed-wrapist and the healing reiki kila reflexologist and the hydrating ylang-ylang shirodhara-ist. Each will call one of our names and escort us to a special room, with special potions and more ping-ping music and a promise we have chosen to believe.
Believe. In this waiting room it's easy to pick out the women who are not sure they believe. The freshmen class. Three of them, all blond, sit in the corner whispering, laughing as they imagine the best and the worst. "What if I get a man!" one says. "Oh, my God, do they have men who do the treatments?"
"Honey, you have to ask if you want a man," my friend Beth says with a smile. I'm not sure where the "honey" is coming from. Maybe a sign of sisterhood? She tells the newbies that for massage it's best to get a man, and I agree, while Nancy, Wendy and B.K. say they go both ways.
"I asked for a man," I say, "but they said they didn't have a man who could do a deep-tissue. Can you believe that?"
"How about for a Swedish?" Nancy asks.
"Yeah, and also for a sports, but I'm all about deep-tissue."
I am proud of my lingo in front of the freshman class. I ask them, "So what are you getting?"
"Aroma Body Paraffin," says one. "Lavender Indulgence," says the other. "Spa Sauna Body Bliss," says the third, "with French clay, aromatic oils and papaya."
"Uh-huh," I say politely, thinking how cute that is. I remember those days. In the beginning, it's all about detox, dips into this or that. You move up to scrubs. You're trying to get rid of stuff. Surely, you think, the answer is exfoliation.
It isn't. But when you are a freshman you hardly understand anything about mind/body harmony, which, soon enough, you will come to reject as hooey anyway. Sophomoric! You move beyond. Massage is the only answer. Swedish, shiatsu, sports, anything to get into those muscles holding all that stress. Looking at these freshmen, I'm adding everything up. My friends and I have passed through our sophomore spa-going years, and so what are we now, juniors?