True Story Tuesday: My First Real Spa
Like all red-blooded American girls, I’m fascinated by the injustice of not being born a super model.
If my genetically enhanced back leg cellulite and my immigrant arms didn’t already humiliate me enough, my perpetual singledom now into my 50’s, has only confirmed my worst fears. I’m undesirable.
I should qualify this.
I’m undesirable to men I categorize as hunk-a-hunk-a-yesyes-please. I am, however, a dazzling sex-goddess to 22-year-old ‘aw shucks’ grocery store clerks, pudgy black men in hockey jerseys, shut-in mama boys, aged out potheads and 5-foot-4 Portuguese men.
Social life, at this age, is an obstacle course.
Since self-pleasure got really boring about five years ago, I started to treat myself to the wonders of spas. Not the expensive spas with eucalyptus infused waiting rooms and the cucumber water, no, I like my spas like I like my lovers, cheap and authentic.
It all started 10 years ago on my second-only visit to Paris. I was staying with a friend after having been given the all-clear to travel post cancer treatment. When you survive cancer, you’re open to a lot of things, and she recommended a Turkish Hammam. I had no idea what that was, which alone, made it a thrilling adventure.
With my innately un-evolved sunniness and almost died openness, my skinny friend Jennifer and I took my Parisian friend’s advice and trudged our 30 euros to the hidden Hammam in an old Turkish mosque somewhere in an alley, behind a fence in the back of a park off a street near the Bastille. I loved it instantly. Jennifer, the opposite.
We approached the desk and handed the woman our euros which she wordlessly scooped out of our fingers then replaced with a packet of oily brown sugar and a receipt with the number 17 for me, 21 for Jennifer. I hoped that wasn’t it.
She then pointed toward the entrance.
Like children entering Willy Wonka’s factory, we entered, shoulder to shoulder.
Inside the hammam, as Jennifer slipped on her bikini behind a strategically placed towel and I mushed my body into a one piece lacking any dignity or personal space, Jennifer set the rules.
“Under no circumstance will either of us go topless, understand?” said the A cup.
“It’s all women here,” said the DD cup.
“Exactly,” she insisted as she folded up her towel and refused to look me in the eyes. And with that, she was gone down the tile hallway and into some steam-filled room.
Now alone, in a one-piece and still holding the mysterious packet of brown sugar and my auction number, I tried not to slip and break a hip along the tile floor.
Inside the steam hall was an eastern-European 70’s theme party of alcoves with every type of dark-haired female doing everything unsexy. Let’s summarize by just saying that much hair was shaven and much rough skin was removed. Just as I saw another woman open her brown sugar packet and smear is all over herself, my masseuse arrived.
Not the friendly kind.
She crock-walked up to my alcove, her thick baker’s apron swaying over her neat cotton smock, and sneered “Seventeen?” in my general direction.
“Yes, that’s me!” I said with an earnest, big-teethed smile as I thrust my assigned number at her, now melted into my palm.
She was already down the hall, sloshing her crocks with efficiency and a self-hatred that I admired.
I tried not to break a hip as I followed her.
In a quiet room, where people — I assumed — could still hear me if I screamed, she ordered me up on the plastic table. I lay on my stomach and without so much as a “my name is Candace” she began to simultaneously disrobe and horse-brush my skin. Imagine getting your teeth cleaned by a gorilla, that was the moment I was having, except it was my body and she was neither curious nor understanding. She stopped only to moisten the horse-brush in what I hoped to God wasn’t toilet water.
Her horse-brush technique was consistent and thorough. Like buffing a rusted car, she was relentless and enthusiastic only for repetition. I was being tossed around like a facedown safety dummy in an accident simulation. My body arched and squirmed in the petri-dish of the plastic table emitting every water fart and skin slapping plastic sound imaginable. She was undeterred.
In five minutes, she had scrubbed every part of me, and some places that most people have to buy dinner to get to.
“Turn over” was her next order and I did for fear of the repercussions. She commenced her horse-brush assault on my stomach, chest, neck and thighs. I held on to anything solid I could grip. If I dare make contact with her meaty shoulders, she flicked me off like a bug and keep scrubbing. Arms lifted, legs separated, chin up, look left, look right, all of it communicated with a grunt or nudge. Every time I’d teeter on the edge of the plastic table, she’d yank me back in and press harder on the horse-brush.
Finally, she stopped. I was a crumpled mass of limbs, moisture and regret. She surveyed her assault and then nodded, “Go shower,” and I did with the shame of a bed wetter.
Naked, cold and thoroughly horse-brushed, I slid into the public shower stall and turned the warm water on. I stepped under the waterfall and watched as layers upon layers of dead skin washed down the drain.
My skin had never been softer in my entire life. It practically sparkled. I stepped out of the shower and looked up gape-mouthed to my Turkish master. For the first time in our entire experience, she lifted one side of her mouth in what I can only assume was a smile, or a belch, we didn’t know each other that well. She handed me my wet one piece, and a towel large enough to pat dry my elbow.
I didn’t want clothes anymore. Why cover up this glistening marvel?
I sauntered with the confidence of an attractive European woman to the next room where a slightly kinder Turkish lady in a slightly less heavy wool apron and smock massaged my back while chatting with her fellow union members.
Afterwards, she gave me a glass of pleasant, sweet tea. It was nice. For the first time since surviving cancer, I felt relaxed.
Jennifer — holding her bikini and wrapped in her elbow towel — stormed through declaring, “We are NEVER coming back here!” before she slammed the door of the change room yelling out ‘nightmare’ to no one in particular.
That was my first real spa experience. I was 42. Here’s the link to the actual spa in Paris. If you’re ever there, tell Candace I said hi.
Next time, I’ll tell you about going to the Korean Spa just outside Chicago.