I’d like to tell you that I’m a strong man. That I have a spirit forged in iron and a backbone made of steel. I’d like to tell you even more than that that I’m a man who knows himself inside and out. And that I have the mental congruity to handle being alone in the dark without falling asleep within 10 minutes. But I’m not. I’m weak. If there is a substance that’s the opposite of iron, that’s me. I’m fully made of whatever that is. It’s probably shit. Let me set the scene for you.
I’m in Austin, Texas; the South’s leader in super woo. The People’s Republic of Hot Yoga and Hippie Granola Bullshit. I’m in a robe. A small man with a top knot of shockingly red hair is leading me reluctantly towards what appears to be the nicest YMCA locker room I’ve ever seen. The room is white. Everything is white. From the hair brush to the q-tips. Everything looks like it has a place and I am just not ready for this much commitment to whatever comes next. I’ve made lots of mistakes the night before. I ate tacos. Lots and lots of tacos. I drank beer. Lots and lots of beer. I’m now in a pink bathing suit with green alligators on it wondering what comes next and feeling like this whisp of a man with a literal man bun made of fire is going to ask me to do next. Truth be told, I’m probably going to do it. If for no other reason than I don’t want to be left alone in this endeavor.
He says strip and put on the robe. I wonder if he’s going to stay for this part but he’s quick to point to the lockers and then skedaddle out of that room like he knew what was coming next. Maybe I was green in the face. Perhaps he observed me sweating and cursing under my breath. Whatever he saw, it triggered his fight or flight response. He chose flight. I can’t say I blame him. I was scared. And hungover. And sick to my stomach; figuratively and literally. He tells me through the door that whenever I’m ready I can meet him in the lounge for a warm up massage. Whatever I’m about to do has to start with a massage? I’m astonished. They think of everything in these places.
And apparently a there’s a light show! I’m so excited! It’s like Stone Mountain summer ‘99. The only thing I’m missing is a huge joint and a 19 year old girlfriend and maybe some crippling social anxiety. I’m not kidding when I say there’s a light show though. This Merida looking dude guides me into a massage chair that will apparently take all of my vitals and then lean me back into a relaxed state which is apparently what I’ll need to achieve in order to truly “lean into the entire experience.” One of these days someone will tell me what lean into an experience actually means. At some point I’m trying to figure out what in the actual fuck I’ve signed up for that requires a liablity waiver, a massage and a dirty footed hippie putting on a light show before climbing into this 8 inch deep mental torture device filled with 1000 lbs of salt and hundreds of gallons of water.
I’m alone my thoughts until an older woman joins me in the chairs. There are only two chairs total and they are uncomfortably close together. I’m not sure how often she comes to this establishment but she seems awfully cavalier considering the circumstances. She enters the room directly after me and slides right into the chair like this is really what she came for. But within 3 minutes it’s pretty clear she’s a pro. And I’ve never felt more like a rookie. She’s breathing with the light show and apparently enters a trance which allows her soul to leave her body. I can’t get there. I’m trying my dead level best not to let out a war crime of a toot. I’m solid on the whole silent but deadly apparatus. I’ve been blame shifting farts for as long as I can remember. But she’s not gonna be fooled. It’s just me and her and there is no possible way her body could create the evil clawing its way out of my body. And I can’t blame it on Lucille Ball up front. I’m convinced he doesn’t eat anything but fallen fruit and kale. And look, he’s probably nice enough. He just doesn’t get enough fiber in his diet to grow big and strong. He’s like a cutie to my navel orange.
Mercifully the 15 minute chair massage ends and “Sarah plain and short” comes to get me. He’s being gentle and I appreciate it. But I’m being patronized by a disney supporting character and I do not appreciate that. He leads me into a quiet room with a shower and a purely white box that looks like Apple designed it and Hobby Lobby produced it. He points to the shower and says I should rinse off. Can he smell the beer and fear seeping through my pores already? I’m guessing that’s his power. I know I smell like chorizo and cheese dip because I ate my weight in cheese dip the night before. I also rode around Austin at night on an electric scooter so I clearly was not trying to add years to my life. My guess is that I was trying to add life to my years… Print that shit on a cricket machine and let’s put it on a wall somewhere!
Anyway, I was ready for the plunge. Carrot Top pointed to the door and started to have a little fun with my hesitation. I asked simple questions using my smallest words: “Can I leave whenever I want”, “Can you hear me screaming from the front desk or should you just stay in here with me until this is over”. He laughed a little and pointed to the door and said you just have to push this little button on the inside of the life sized airpods case and the door will open. No sweat I think. But how do I find it once I’m inside and the lights are off and I’m having a goddam panic attack, Prince Harry? Can a fat man drown in this little a space?
The little asshole giggles again and points to a foam toilet seat on the floor and says in his most condescending voice “Since you’re a first timer, you might want to use the head rest to keep your head above water.” I need to make it clear at this point that if anything touches me in the dark, I swear to god I’m going to shit in this machine. I tell him that too and his last words to me before departing are “Please don’t do that, sir.” Smug son of a bitch. You’ll see. I’ve shit in way better places that this. I’m not afraid to ruin this whole establishment. I’m a man, I’m 40.
He explains through the door that the music and lights will gently fade over three minutes and then I’ll just be alone with my thoughts and that if I need a break I should just adjourn to the lounge. I’m desperate not to do this now. He’s gotten in my head and under my skin. I just want to run. But I can’t. My stupid brother in law is sitting outside and I’d never hear the end of it. He came along because he wanted to try it out but they didn’t have room for him. Instead of going to a bar like a normal person, he decided to sit between my white box of fear and freedom outside the door of this hell hole. I hate him. He’s really not that bad.
I finally decided to climb in. It’s warm. There’s a little light. Relaxing music is playing. I have my blue foam toilet seat for my head. The water feels like warm lube. What the fuck is this place. I do as I’m told. Go first to one knee and then roll onto my ass and scoot towards the center of this primordial cell. My body stretches out and suddenly I’m floating. The water still feels like corn oil. I just can’t place why I’m so damned creeped out by this entire experience. But I get my bellend situated (British for shitter seat) and I begin to relax; read: freak the everloving hell out. The music starts to fade, the light starts to go and I’m in it up to my ass. My literal ass.
I need to explain something to you here. I’m not proud of this. My parents raised me better but it’s the truth and I think it will help you understand what happened next. When I drink; I poop. It’s not the usual quick in and out experience. It’s more of a we’re going to be in here a while. It’s like shitting a Faulkner novel; all sound and fury signifying nothing. Until the nothing is a something. But it’s not a once a day experience. It’s a four times in one morning experience. And I’m nervous right now. And I had tacos the night before. And the ring of fire is a real thing after all the wiping. I’m the walking embodiment of a literal blown o-ring.
Remember how I said there was 1000 lbs of salt dissolved in this water? Insert RicFlairWooooooo.jpeg here. Reader, when I’m nervous, I toot a little. When I’ve been drinking, I toot a little more. When I’m nervous and hungover, I sound like a 1972 Ford F100 longbed misfiring and in desperate need of an engine tuning. It’s awful. And friends, this is a very small room to be boxed in alone by myself with all of my digestive mistakes on display. And friend, I don’t know if you’ve ever farted in the shower, but it has a clarifying effect. Farting through 1000 pounds of salt water has a 100 times the clarifying and magnifying effect. It was horrendous. And I knew Nicole Kidman at the front desk was desperately waiting on me to run screaming out of there. I couldn’t give that slight son of a bitch the satisfaction. I guarantee he has a device that will tell him when and if the door opens. I’m trapped by my ego.
So I lay in my own den of iniquity. And I suffer. The lights go out and the thunder rolls. I’m in here for an hour by myself with no way to know how much time has elapsed and no way to escape until the lights come back on. Mercifully, it’s calm now. I’m floating. I’ve given up on making it through this entirely intact. I know evil lurks in this room and I’m responsible for my own demise when it comes. But nothing can shake the sense of foreboding.
And then it happens again. The call of the wild. Except with the push out, the water rushes in. Just a little. But just enough. It feels like an itch at first. Just a little prick of ouchy. Nothing to be afraid of. Nothing to be terribly concerned about at this point. But the second wind break causes the sting to grow. We have a discernible problem now. It’s not going away. I have no escape. I’m stuck in this pool of seawater lube and every thirty seconds the sound of sail cloth tearing roars through this prison. Every passing moment brings a different and more concerning sensation.
My head is on my foam toilet seat. The time passes. The awfulness closes in around me. And then I find peace. I’m gently floating from side to side touching the walls gracefully and pushing off to find purchase again against another solid surface. Time slows to a crawl. By my estimate, we’re probably 10 minutes into this ordeal and I realize I’m going to finish the full hour because this has to be the worst it can get. I floated peacefully for the remaining time praying for death. My thoughts are of my family and my home. My three kids, my dog and my career. My relationship with my father and how I need to do better being a dutiful son. My mother and how she probably loves me despite her inabilty to think of even one nice thing to say about me until a week later when she calls to remind me it took her this goddam long to thing of something at all. It all floats gracefully by as I try to really concentrate on the things passing through my mind. I really did some good work in there. And once I’m starting to feel like everything is coming together, I hear the first plaintive undertones of music. Mercifully the lights begin to warm. I’m still on my back floating but for the first time I don’t want to leave. I’m ok staying in here. It’s quiet. It’s gentle. I’m at peace. Everything made sense in here and I’m not ready to go back to real like yet. It feels like a loss. One last anal exhaultation forces me from my position and helps me move towards the shower.
I take my time and shower thoroughly to get all the salt off, pull my robe back on and then head to the lounge and locker room for a final run through. It was over. I slid back on my clothes and headed out. My idiot brother in law waited until I was in the tank and then went to Torchy’s tacos by himself. I hate him. I could have left at any point and only had to deal with the scowls of Anne of Green Gables at the front desk. I walked outside. I breathed deep. I left. I never want to go back. I had my membership card punched anyway. Opie might want to see me again.
I’ve thought about this experience a number of times since I experienced it. I’ve only done it the one time. And I probably owe it more of an explanation. It really is as I described it. There’s no pulling of punches here. I didn’t enjoy it because I didn’t know what was coming. But having reflected on it several times since, I think I would enjoy it a second time. I had to know that time wouldn’t come to a halt. I had to know that it was ok to have the experience of disorientation. And I had to know more than anything that I was going to be just fine after an hour.
It’s extremely disorienting to be lost in time and space. It’s equally off putting to be on someone else’s turf and have no idea what to expect next. I think maybe the point of some of these things was the challenge of getting myself through the front door to get a look at what was on the other side. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I gave myself over to it. I think if I had prepared better for it, it would have made that much more of a difference. But even looking back on it now, I’d go again. I really enjoyed the feeling of being untethered. More often than not, we’re tied to our jobs and to our families. We’re not able to detach and simply think about ourselves. I was able, during that hour, to think solely about myself. I could wander around in my head picking up thoughts and putting them back down. I didn’t have a governor to prompt me one way or the other. And frankly, that was as relaxing as anything else I experience. A completely self directed thought pattern for a period of tens of minutes.
I think more than anything, I took away the idea that I could be still for a period. Too often I find myself checking twitter again for the 400th time in an hour begging for some sort of update to a timeline I don’t really care about and which has no appreciable effect on my person. I just want to be entertained. Sitting in that tub of goo taught me a lesson on how to be still. I wish I had learned it at 17. I wish I hadn’t had to learn it in Austin, Texas being guided by Willie Nelson’s illegitimate grandson. But by and large, I enjoyed the experience. I dare say I’d ever do it again. It was a favorite of mine, stinging butthole and all.