My nails are pink, my heels are smooth, my cheeks are soft and clear. I have been oiled and herbed and soaked and rubbed. I have worked my muscles to exhaustion for six hours a day until my abdomen howls in pain, my calves clench in furious protest.
For 40 years, the Golden Door has made a science of luxury and a luxury of deprivation--for $2,500 a week. In recent years the deprivation has been refined: 7 a.m. wakeups have been cut back to 6 a.m.; 800 calories a day have been winnowed to 700, with something served every 21/2 hours to keep blood sugar up. (The diet halts there, the staff explains, because at 500 calories guests don't exercise as hard and thus lose less weight.)
The week starts with a limousine ride through southern California to a door that actually is golden. From the moment of arrival, the beaming, fluttering staff, who outnumber guests two or three to one, call you by name.
Your room is large enough for an entire exercise class; your bathroom is filled with lotions, flowers, and thick towels; your laundry is done every day. And if you desire, your car will be washed before you leave.
Your sisters are three dozen affluent women in white terrycloth robes and beige warmup suits, most from New York and California and ranging from age 40 to long past 60; housewives and mansion- wives and professionals, most returnees and a few staying two weeks, thin and fat, fit and flaccid. Some remember when Cher was in residence; others when John DeLorean sent his wife a dozen roses daily; the rumor spreads that Johnny Carson's wife, Joanna, is there under a pseudonym.
Some guests settle in for a week of video movies and soaps, with a little stretching in between. But most of us concentrate on being beautified and whipping our muscles and hearts into shape.
After our 6 a.m. wakeup call we stumble into the lounge for coffee, herb tea, lemonade, mineral water and vitamin C pills--all of which are available around the clock. After a session of stretching by the pool, we divide into three groups; I choose climbing the mountain, all three miles of it.
Hobbling back to my room by 8, I luxuriate in breakfast on a wooden tray with batik cloth and napkin: fresh fruit over yogurt one day, a shirred egg with a wicked membrane of cheese and a morsel of bread wrapped in gold foil another, perhaps chef Michel's own muesli, or a melon cut to look like a basket and stuffed with cottage cheese. My coffee is in a silver thermos and my newspaper is by its side.
By 8:30 I am exercising again, and since mine is desparation dieting, I choose the most punishing possibilities. At 9 is advanced DaVinci, the Door's own aerobics format, in which you build up an unconscionable sweat while your teacher urges you on with a smiling enthusiasm that makes even Jane Fonda look dour. By midweek I have slimmed enough that I dare to wear a leotard and watch myself in the mirror. And when boredom threatens we brighten our routine with toys: top hats and white gloves or tutus for dancing, hula hoops, tap shoes.
Our hearts pumping, we go on to spot-reducing class, which is like being on the rack without the equipment. In exercise classes I have known before, at the point of exhaustion you are urged on with, "Just two more!" At the Golden Door it is, "C'mon, just eight more!"
Then it's on to the gym to attack our sagging arms with weights, a brief break for hot vegetable broth and a nibble of vegetables, and water exercise, which might be a romp in a steamy outdoor pool or maybe a volleyball game.
By noon it is time for a herbal wrap. In a silent room you are encased in towels that have been boiling with herbs. Then the masseuse finishes the job and brings my robe to the bathhouse and heats it in the sauna while she hoses me with a Scotch mist, which one guest describes as going through a carwash naked. Back in my room she kneads my calves into obedience and my shoulders into working order.
If the day is sunny, lunch is served by the pool--a little soup in an individual Japanese iron kettle, or broccoli in a bit of creamy sauce and four melon balls for dessert, maybe spinach omelet with extra whites sneaked in to replace yolks or--the big hit of the week--spinach and zucchini frittata. If it's warm we'll have a fresh fruit plate; if it's cold, turkey with gravy. Parsley and watercress, fresh from the garden, are available for nibbling, and the dishes are strewn with fresh herbs. The herbs, like half the food we eat this week, come from the Door's own garden, burgeoning with snow peas and sugar snap peas, all kinds of lettuces and fennel, ornamental kale and red chard, shallots and chayote and jerusalem artichokes and oranges, even homegrown kiwis. We find big green sunflower sprouts decorating our salads.
Little salt is used in the cooking, so a salsa of fresh tomatoes, coriander, onion and red pepper is on the table. Dislikes, allergies or preferences are discreetly honored. Over half the calorie allotment is saved for dinner, which gives us all something to look forward to and unwind with.
While most of the exercise is in the morning, an afternoon special was added last spring. One day it is exercises with a trainer from the Harlem Globetrotters, another day it is tap dancing. The most fun is dance class from Uichi, a bald and inspiring modern dancer from San Francisco. But the highlights of the afternoon are more passive: facials, makeup lessons, resting our hands and feet in warm creamy mitts, manicures and pedicures, hair washes and cuts or tinting.
Never did I find members of the staff passing the buck, saying that it's not their job --except the last morning, when we could not use the jacuzzi, sauna or even the scale because the bathhouse was being cleaneddfor new guests.
Before that, our every wish was at least considered and usually granted. Our water carafes were kept full by our bedside, and our sheets were turned down. Though there was more commercial pitch than I would like--selling the Door's own cosmetics and stocking the boutique with glamorous extravagances-- the Door kept giving us little gifts: stationery with our name embossed in gold, our choice of $25 worth from the boutique, samples of skin care products chosen for our skin, exercise tapes made specially for us with music we have selected, a group photo.
Dinners are a careful ritual at the Golden Door. First we gather over hot fruit teas and hors d'oeuvres--a single oyster Rockefeller or cucumber canap,e. In the dining room, we are met by a salad with a chilled fork; by the time we are presented with our main course, 40 minutes have passed from the first hors d'oeuvre. That is the time, says the Golden Door's creator, Deborah Szekely, it takes for our brains to signal that we are full.
Since chef Michel Stroot takes Sundays--our arrival day--and Mondays off, many of us took advantage of the opportunity for a liquid diet Monday, supposedly to shock our bodies into a weight-loss mode.
Stroot concentrates on designing as much as cooking. The theory is that salad should be served on a dinner plate, dinner on a salad plate. And every plate should look full and beautiful. Vegetables are cut into paper-thin spirals and mounded beside skewered chicken in tofu sauce. Halibut is wrapped in romaine leaves and poached-- unfortunately too long. The dinner highlight is braised leg of veal topped with oyster mushrooms, and the dessert hit is banana "ice cream" that is simply a frozen banana put through a juicing machine but is a dead-ringer for real ice cream. Stroot attends to color contrast and texture, being sure to include a lot of crunch. He highlights with seasonings; nutmeg, he says, make things taste as if you'd put a lot of cheese in them. Now he is working on tofu recipes: tofu lasagna, tofu pot au crMeme, vegetable p.at,es. His kitchcarwen has few packaged goods, merely cheese, spaghetti, agar flakes, rice, vegetable juices, potato starch and vinegar among the fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meats; occasionally the seafood is frozen.
At Saturday's weighing and measuring I have lost 83/4 pounds in 51/2 days (plus another pound by the time I leave) and a total of 16 inches in waist, back, thighs, ankles and elsewhere. Most have lost 31/2 to 7 pounds, but the top losers have been 91/4 pounds and 161/4 inches. We celebrate at dinner--with a glass of wine--that our group has lost more than any in recent memory: a total of 168 pounds and 406 inches.
The family, like all families, starts to drift apart, a few at a time beginning to leave, dressed in civilian clothes that make them look like strangers. Nearly everyone promises to return next year. This moment is our peak, perhaps the most totally beautiful we will look for the rest of our maturing lives. It is heady, so much that I start to calculate: in 10 years, after all three children are through college, maybe I ought to consider tuition at the Golden Door for me.
Can I keep my weight off till then?