Sound Bath

God I love the opportunity to do something completely out of my comfort zone.  Actually, that’s not true at all. I hate it. I absolutely love my comfort zone.  Do you know why? Because it’s comforting. And because all of my nice things are in there:  preconceived notions, long held grudges, disorganized feelings about the precipitous drop off in writing between Season 1 and Season 2 Netflix shows, etc…  All the things I don’t want to change live there in an almost perfect harmony. And so when it’s time to challenge something, I really loathe the experience.  

If I don’t have a way to overcome the obvious objection based on some real or expected danger to my person, I have no choice but to try it out.  It drives me insane that this is the way I tend to do things. If I can’t see a way around some bullshit problem, then I know that I’m going to have to just go right through the center of it.  Shit splatter be damned. It’s the only way I’ve ever learned to get out of my head once I realize that I’m in it. I’ve developed this skill over many years of being frustrated with myself for not doing the thing I was absolutely not desperate to try in the first place.   And that’s how I ended up here. 

I’m in Cudjoe Key this morning.  It’s a perfect 71 degrees. The sun is coming up over the palm trees and I’m in a place affectionately called “Dentures Out”.  It’s really known as Venture Out but jesus the people here are who I long to be one day. Crotchety. Suspicious. And most importantly, alive at a seemingly impossible advanced age.  My father in law is the king of this behavior. He’s now 68 years old and hasn’t aged a bit in the two decades we’ve been acquainted. It’s a little disgusting but he’s nice enough so I don’t put weird stuff in his coffee.  Anymore.  

I drove here from my home in the Florida Panhandle.  If you don’t know, Florida is an incredibly long state if you drive from one corner to the other.  The “Florida as America’s Wang” jokes are tired, I know, and yet, somehow, still funny. And mostly true.  But jesus it’s a long drive when you have three kids in the car and one of them took diplomacy lessons from Kim Jong Un.  She’s 4. And terrible. And I love her because she reminds me of me and I know that come the revolution she’ll thrive and probably lead the next Robespierre-esq National Convention.   She doesn’t yet know what a Guillotine is, but it won’t take her long to make it all come together.  

We’re here in the Keys because they’re my happy place.  We’re here for a couple reasons but that’s the one outwardly I’d like you to believe.  And look, we’re halfway into this journey together. I’m pretty sure you’ve already got an idea or two picked out for why we’re really here.  And I’ll cop to it. I got drunk at an auction and decided that I liked the idea of coming to a luxury retreat in the keys for a week. The fine print reads a little differently from the what was promised though.  Where they said luxurious boating retreat on the water, what they meant was trailer on the ass end of a canal where the flotsam and jetsam collect to look like a shitty latte lapping up against a Perestroika era sea wall.  I don’t mean trailer as in an Airstream like my friend Bob helpfully posited when I texted him to complain about my circumstances. No Bob. An honest-to-god, Hartford, Alabama style trailer in an old folks community 30 minutes away from Key West.  It’s sorta like hell, but with the lid blown off and all the fun bits scattered about.

And look, I wish I could tell you this was the first time I had gotten my hand stuck in this particular mouse trap.  Last year we bought a similar trip to a place called Little Gasparilla Island which is also in South (ish) Florida. We rented a boat because in my haste to buy the trip before some OTHER drunken fool spent way too much to live in a hole; I didn’t notice that Little Gasparilla Island is an actual island.  As in there is no way to get to the island that doesn’t involve floating. And you know what, it was an amazing week with my kids; once we all settled into the idea that we were all probably going to die of scurvy or some other aquatic borne disease of questionable provenance. We didn’t die though. We flourished.  The kids learned to be still on a boat. I learned to live without my phone. My wife learned nothing because she’s perfect and had nothing left to learn. (She asked me to put something nice in here about her so I’ve done that now and will entertain no further obligations from her. Unless she does that one thing from Christmas 2008 and then the world is her oyster.  Please honey. It’s been a decade. I’m due!)  

At the end of the week, my kids all privately took me aside and told me how much fun they had had and how much they wished we could come back and do something similar.  I’m kidding of course because these are ungrateful children who deserve the scurvy for all the complaints about lack of cable and/or readily available access to the comforts of home.  But we really did have a lovely time. We played board games with abandon. We boated everywhere we wanted to go and grew familiar with the idea that parents most times have no idea what they’re doing and, even worse, sometimes know less than their offspring about how to handle a problem.  My favorite memory is of an offhand game of Charades wherein I, as “it” or whatever you call the person who makes a fool of themselves to get the answer guessed, was gesticulating wildly when my wife quite literally and loudly said the word “SHIT” as though it might be helpful to the kids in their guessing.  We all stopped for a moment before it settled on us that my wife had guessed shit as a word I was trying to get across to my then 9, 7 and 3 year olds.  

What happened next is still a favorite memory of mine.  The kids looked at each other conspiratorially, each knowing what the word meant and neither wanting to acknowledge that they understood it to be a naughty word they weren’t allowed to use.  My three year old picked her nose like Kim Jong Un and dared us to say anything to her about it. I stood staring blankly at my wife wondering what gesture could have possibly provoked a loud shout of SHIT in front of our children.  And then she broke; laughter pealing out of her as tears cascaded down her reddening cheeks. The pent us frustrations of parenting on a literal island and being stuck at least a boat ride away from anything that resembled real life broke through.  And she laughed. Hard and long and at herself in a way that she rarely allows. The kids broke next. Each guffawing that their normally reserved Mom had just uttered an, in their world at least, extremely naughty word without hesitation. And finally me who realized that it was probably ok to laugh and she hadn’t just remembered some medication that they kids were supposed to take to avoid developing lice or a deviated septum.  And so we laughed. Together as a family for the better part of a quarter hour.  

As soon as the laughter would die down, someone else would get the giggles and the entire spiral would begin again.  We finally settled down to begin the game again with new resolve and abs that hurt. We got roughly thirty seconds in to the renewed game of charades before my wife again in a fit of hubris and excitement to get the answer right bellowed “SHIT” again.  We all dissolved into our own fits of laughter and called it a night. All was right in the world and I was happily adrift on a sea of parental bliss. I had found common ground with my entire family and as it turns out, it begins with dirty words uttered in a loud excited voice by a demure (by my family’s measure at least) woman of a certain age.  All that to say that I hoped this year would be a repeat of my mistakes from the year before. If you’re keeping score at home, the answer I was trying to convey was “Shrek”. And look, if I’m being honest, I’m quite literally one tube of green food coloring away from being an exact replica of the title character. So if you’ll pardon me, I’m still trying to get over my wife, not once but twice, pointing an excited finger at me in front of our children and calling me SHIT repeatedly.  It’s not that I don’t deserve it, it’s just rude.  

I have no idea why I continue to tell you all these stories about me that have nothing to do with health and wellness but god the catharsis is beautiful.  Which reminds me of one of the reasons I’m here in the first damn place. I have a good friend. He lives in Los Angeles now. He does not belong there and for a time he was my across the street neighbor and drinking buddy without an equal.  Jim and i were inseparable while he lived next door. Mainly because one of us always had a fridge full of beer (almost always him) and we both loved to empty it together while playing guitar and bitching about our jobs. He sold soap or some shit; I don’t really know because I don’t pay attention well. In any event, as the father of three, I am sometimes housebound while my wife goes to yoga or the store or the moon.  Again, attention is not my strong suit. As it occured, I was housebound on a particular Wednesday night and I had reached my breaking point with my week and desperately needed a beer or nine. I knew Jim had a beer fridge and that he lived tantalizingly close. I also knew that my then 1 year old would likely burn the house down or start a new republic if I left the house for more than 30 seconds. And so I phoned a friend (Jim) and asked if he wanted to grab a beer.  He was in the right frame of mind and said sure. I said great, I’m housebound, want to come over here and we’ll drink on my porch? He again said yes. He never saw the turn. I said great, can you bring some beer with you to my porch? He hung up. I didn’t blame him then and don’t blame him now.  

To his credit, he showed up 30 minutes later with a plastic sack of miller lite and what appeared to be an enlarged set of trapezius muscles brought on by the vigorous shaking of his head.  And so we drank and talked. Jim at that point was just getting out of a long term marriage and had begun dating a wonderful woman named Shanda. Shanda was present in our home multiple times over the next few years.  She was always a bit woo, but we loved her because we understood woo and wanted Jim to be happy. And then, one day she was just gone. She had up and moved to Key West to teach yoga and live a fully endorsed life full of peace.  And so, as one does, my wife texted her as we pulled into town to say hello and to ask what yoga classes she might be leading in the coming days. And wouldn’t you know it, the very next night she was leading not yoga, but something called a sound bath.  My wife cackled in her seat as we drove down US1 and said guess what you’re doing tomorrow night. I was thinking doing the sex to her. You can see how hope springs eternal in my body. Most hope is wasted. Turns out I was going to have a sound bath.  

If you have had a sound bath before, it is a discomforting experience in that you wonder if perhaps you’re the only one not entirely in on the joke.  There are several types of bowls scattered around the teacher’s yoga mat. There were at least 15 by my count. Some made of silica, some of metal and some of indeterminate origin.  Some metal tuning forks thrown in for good measure and a whole host of eager ernest faces ready for the experience to begin. There’s very little pretense. We’re all about to experience something together.  And so it began.  

The teacher tells us to let the sound fill us up.  That the gentle soundwaves will fill our energy fields and help us come to grips with whatever is bothering us or help us fill up the spaces that need filling.  I looked at my wife and she knowingly shook her head that no, in fact, there was nothing on her body that needed filling at the moment and that I should probably concentrate on the experience at hand so that the teacher didn’t think I got turned on by gong sounds.  The guy next to me with the ponytail got caught in the middle of the silent marital communication and moved his mat a little farther away in a hurried manner. I don’t blame him. My wife is a heavy breather which I have misinterpreted many times to my detriment and embarrassment.

The sound of the crystal bowls fired up almost immediately.  A gentle hum and rhythm enveloped the room and the rest of the participants closed their eyes tight and relaxed into a deep meditative state.    I did my best to concentrate on my breathing. Did I mention all three of my kids were with my wife and me while we went through this experience.  My older two were present on their mats and frankly, getting into the experience a little more amiably than I was prepared to observe. I’m not raising a bunch of damn hippies.  But the now four year old was occupied watching a show on Netflix. Or so I thought. Until she tapped the woman next to me (not my wife) on a mat, pointing to her mother’s phone and whispering authoritatively to “fix it.”  The woman looked at her quizzingly and then to me after recognizing the resemblance. The genes run strong on my side of the genetic tree. (O’DOYLE RULES!!!). I fixed my gaze on this poor woman and repeated my daughter’s words.  “Fix it!”  

That’s actually not true at all.  I apologized and fixed the show and sent the tiny terrorist back into her quiet room to watch another show.  I was just slipping back into a state of blissful unconsciousness when I felt L’il Osama tap the lady next to me again and even more aggressively say “fix it.”  At this point I was mortified and simply left the room to make sure we didn’t interrupt the sound bath again. We settled silently in the back office where there was a chair and couch and LaCroix.  We shared a tangerine sparkling water. Which, frankly, tastes like the recipe included showing each can of water a picture of a tangerine once for reference.  

But the sounds travelled all over the space.  I could hear it while my daughter giggled to herself about whatever she was watching on the phone.  It really did fill my head. There were some sounds that were extremely pleasing. There were some sounds that were vaguely disquieting.  And then there were some sounds that felt like nails on a chalkboard. But the majority of the experience was really lovely. I didn’t feel any of the sound attack any of my pains.  I didn’t feel exactly filled up by the sounds either. And the tuning forks are 100% horseshit. But I did enjoy the experience. And I was relaxed when the experience was complete.  And you know what, I met some of the friendliest most open people the island of Key West has to offer. Truly. I was grateful for the experience.  

One of the things I’m coming to realize is that these experiences are about letting go.  They demand more from you than a casual snide remark and a dismissive sneering side eye. You can do that to be certain.  That’s very much my brand. But I remembered earlier in the day watching my wife do yoga on the deck of our trailer next to the shitstain of a canal and thinking that she has the world by the tail when she’s in her flow.  Her assured movements force her body in a gentle, graceful rhythm that looks almost serene from the outside. She looks calm and I believe she gets the benefit of quiet in her head.  

I long for that most days.  I stay stuck in the same channels of internet interaction, emails and phone calls.  I very rarely give myself time to just be myself and sit in the quiet. And experience after experience along this very unusual road has led me to believe that whatever works for you, works for you.  It really makes no difference at all if it involves crystals or vinyasa or the equivalent experience of sticking your finger in a light socket. I really have enjoyed the faces of the people who have had these experiences with me.  They’ve welcomed me in with open arms. And they know me. They know I’m there to poke fun and learn a little. They know I’m not a particularly reserved person who holds his opinions to himself. Better said, they know I’m a butthole.  But they continue to open the doors to learning about their passion and they share with me enthusiastically. There’s no reservation in their enthusiasm. And so I’m going to embrace that spirit.  

But I’m still not doing the coffee enema.  That’s just someone’s version of seeing how much dumb shit they can get some schmuck to do.  I’m not that schmuck. Yet.  

Korean Dimadi at a jjimjilbang. I know, I don’t even know either…

 

There’s no preamble here; this one sucked.  It was excruciating in a way that none of my other experiments have been. I’ve certainly felt discomfort during this journey, either because of shame or simple physical limitations.  This hit all those notes and then some.

Hell, there were several times during hot yoga that I thought I was going to die from heat or exhaustion; or both. There were a few times during cold baths that I thought I would shuffle off this mortal coil if for no other reason than my entire body tried to climb into my belly button to get away from the cold.  In any real sense, a lot of these things are plain uncomfortable. But none of them felt dangerous. I guess I mean that I never thought I was going to actually die; not like dead dead anyway.  This one felt dangerous.  

I guess what i’m saying is that this was a harsh physical lesson that i learned while totally exposed to the entirety of the world

In this case, however, it might be closer to say that I would have preferred death to what I was actually experiencing.  I didn’t know what it meant to pray for death until I experienced this. The person who was rubbing my entire body raw had a name.  I simply called out to him in the only noise I could make at the time; the bleating sound of a dying goat. He understood that I meant “keep going.”  I don’t think I had a firm grasp on what I was trying to communicate to him in those moments, but it was decidedly not “keep going.” It was probably closer to “stop please, I have money I will give to you,” or “please do not take your anger out on me, I have children who need me.” I was fearful that our language barrier might encourage him more should I continue to beg for mercy, so I just laid still and imagined this treatment being visited upon all of my enemies whether real or imagined.  

We can also dispense with the formalities immediately.  Yes, you have to get entirely naked.

Yes, you have to take a shower first.  Yes, it helps quite a bit to sit in the pool of steaming hot water first before.  Yes, it also helps to sit in the sauna first for a while contemplating your exit routes and how quickly and quietly you can recapture your clothes and personal effects from the lockers at the front of the building.   All that to say that this was one of the more terrifying experiences that I never thought I would have to endure.

It’s physically uncomfortable but also emotionally uncomfortable and also somewhat aesthetically displeasing…

A number of different thoughts occurred to me during my intro to what this would look like as an experience.  I think the most important thing that you don’t want you to leave here without understanding is that this is not for the faint of heart.  And I am decidedly faint of heart. I wish I had known what was coming. So let me be your eyes and ears on this one, friends. If you choose to follow me down this path, you will leave a different person.  If for no other reason than the fact that they will take the first two layers of your skin off with a sloughing gloves and leave both sets on the floor.   

I should also take a few minutes to point out a couple of things about the experience.  I said it above but it bears repeating: You will absolutely be naked. Stark naked. There will be nothing between you and the cold, pink, plasticine picnic table covering.  Nothing between you and the scrubbing gloves of a grumpy acerbic grandpa who doesn’t care to speak your language. He’s going to lift your legs and arms. He’s going to contort your body into positions you neither like, nor want, to replicate.  And he’s going to scrub places you cannot reach on your own in the shower. It’s going to feel like he’s purposefully violating the Geneva Convention. It’s going to suck. You’re going to hate it. And when it’s over, you’re not going to regret it one bit.  Because you will emerge anew. Whether you like it or not.  

A few things about a Korean Spa first.

A few things first here.  If you’ve never been to a Korean Spa, it can be completely disorienting.  There are large written signs to direct you, of course. Most are written in Korean which makes complete sense.  Some use English subtitles, the effect of which is even more confusion. Most confusing is the number of doors that seemingly go nowhere and everywhere at once.  There are signs for the laundry, signs for the massage rooms, signs for the pools, and nude areas and family areas and saunas. They must have spent a fortune on hinges alone when the build out was complete.  But the worst part of the experience is that everyone else seems to live there full time and has a full working memory of where everything is and where they’re going at all times. I even followed a poor man into a toilet stall thinking surely he must know where the hot tubs were located.  He was very gracious about the mix up but the language barrier prevented me from explaining myself and so I apologized as best I could and promised we wouldn’t have to make eye contact again during my visit.  

Another disorienting problem with Korean Spas is that upon entering the facility you are handed a set of clothes that resemble a prison uniform.  They’re allegedly cotton, but I’ll be honest, it felt like they might have been made from angry hornets. You get one v-necked shirt that’s at least 4 sizes too big and one pair of shorts that are dangerously close to feeling like slacks.  They’re faded orange and do absolutely nothing for your skin tone. They do not fit well and they have certainly been worn by at least 200 people before they ever get to you. And everyone is wearing them as a uniform. Literally every person you see for however long you stay will be in one of two things:  1) ugly orange prison uniform complete with shank, or, 2) their birthday suit.   

There is no such thing as modesty inside one of these places.  It does not exist. It’s a trace of a bygone past like antebellum mansions or a respectable presidency.    It’s not anything outside the norm of a gym locker room, I suppose. We’ve all been around to see the old men drying their balls underneath the hand dryer.  I hope one day to be the old man drying my balls in the Dyson Blade hand dryer. Just drop them in there like a toaster. The fact that no one seems to care about the nudity is frankly pretty cool.  The mens and womens sides of the spa are completely separate and so there’s no chance of somebody’s grandma sliding in while you’re powdering your decolletage. And keep in mind, most of the bodies you’re going to see are just like yours.  Some fat, some skinny and some oddly disproportionate. And none of that matters one bit. It’s actually quite freeing to notice that nobody else sees your body for the disaster you assume it to be. They don’t have the time or inclination to give your rig more than a slight glance and then move on. 

But.  And there’s always a but, yes?  The most disorienting thing about the Korean Spa experience is that there are people sleeping everywhere.  Now look, it was 7:30 am when I we arrived. I get it, that’s early to some folks. But inside the facility were entire rooms filled with hard plastic chaise lounges with literally dozens and dozens of people sleeping.  Some in blankets, some dressed in their spa issued pumpkin suits and some covered only in what appeared to be hand towels. It was a sight to behold and felt alarmingly dystopian. Oh, and here’s one more little nugget you might want to tuck away for later use.  The front desk person is going to give you a plastic bracelet that you will wear the entire time you’re inside the spa. It contains your locker key, your billing number and probably at least 3 communicable diseases.  

Once you’ve put your shoes in one locker and your clothes in another (yes, I said what I said), you’ll hop into your prison romper and make your way out of the locker room and onto the sauna floor of the spa.  You’ll make at least 3 wrong turns and gaze upon the same blank faces as you walk through another wrong door. Everyone here knows where they’re going but you. But once on the floor, things get somehow even weirder.  People are sleeping everywhere AGAIN. Up against the walls of the saunas. On the pool deck. In the booths at the little food court area! Wait, did I not mention that there was a food court next to the saunas? There’s a damn Sbarro in this place 8 feet from superheated sauna room and alarmingly close to ALL OF THE PEOPLE SLEEPING ALL OVER THE FLOOR OF THIS PLACE WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. 

My wife, who graciously agreed to join me for this particular ride, took all of this in stride.  I have several questions about her childhood that flow directly from the relaxed look on her face while she stepped lightly over dozens of seemingly lifeless bodies.  I on the other hand, knowing full well my penchant for screaming when touched unexpectedly, zig zagged my way around all of the corpses on the floor and prayed that my skin wouldn’t make contact with anyone else’s along the way.  My wife, all 6 feet of her, managed to make it from the locker room to the first sauna in roughly twenty steps. It took me an hour and forty minutes like a rat in a science experiment hitting dead ends and turning back over and over.  Finally, we reached the door of the first dry sauna and stepped inside.  

We were alone.  Well, we were almost alone.  One poor soul was asleep inside the sauna and was breathing so shallowly that I thought about nudging her to make sure she hadn’t chosen this particular place to make her exit from the world.  I was concerned. My wife on the other hand, was already meditating and lost in a blissful trance. I shuffled away from the apparently sleeping figure on the floor and chivalrously put my wife in between it and me.  One thing about these dry saunas. They’re huge. They have no benches to sit on; only grass mats. There’s nothing between you and the boiling hot floor except a couple knots of seagrass. Now look, the seagrass certainly dissipates some of the heat.  It’s not that they’re hot. It’s just that they’re so warm that its objectively disquieting. Speaking of quiet, this place is preternaturally quiet. No one speaks above a whisper if at all. It’s just one set of prison coveralls after another silently shuffling from one place to the next trying to figure out which door leads where and trying not to step on the bodies on the floor.  It’s just a damn scene to behold. 

After several minutes laying on the floor, our sleeping friend was roused from her slumber and shuffled off to have a reflexology treatment or massage or eat a piece of pizza.  I don’t know and I wasn’t going to ask. It was then that I realized that the only safe place to be really was inside the saunas themselves. There were three on the main floor.  The first was a gem sauna with the walls covered in beautiful stones artfully arranged to resemble a bonsai tree. It was calming to contemplate. The second sauna was a salt sauna and was at least double the size of the first and at least 50 degrees warmer.  I think we measured the second sauna at roughly 200 degrees. It, too, was empty and no one appeared to join us for our entire 30 minute session inside. The last and final was a gold spa wherein each of the wall’s seams were painted gold. The room was extremely bright.  But again no one joined us on our journey. Where were all the people who were supposed to be enjoying the amenities you ask? Why, of course, sleeping on the floor just outside. I have never in my life…

One more thing about this place.  The lights. The lights were yellowish.  They looked to be infrared maybe. Or like warming lights at a fast food place.  I definitely felt a twinge of roast at mother’s day brunch. Everything was bathed in a warm orange-yellow light that made me feel like a taquito on a gas station rotisserie.  The whole thing felt… just…off. There’s no way I can describe it to you subtly. I think you just have to see it for yourself. And I encourage you to do so. And when you do, please write to me at Iknowyoudidntbelievemebutnowyousee@yahoo.com

Anyhoo, once you’ve thoroughly creeped yourself out on the main floor, it’s time to dig a little deeper and get in the pools.  Look, there’s nothing extraordinary inside. It’s just men in various states of undress getting ready to head in or ready to head out.  There was only one nude man doing burpees that concerned me, but nobody else seemed to notice him so I decided to play along and stay as far away from that kind of confidence as I could.  I don’t need that rubbing off on me, literally or figuratively. There are hot tubs and cold tubs, steam rooms and wet saunas. Plenty of places to shit shower and shave and then a very strange set of what appear to be sit down showers with mirrors and hoses.  I didn’t understand those and I wasn’t about to strike up a conversation to ask what kind of person would be prone to use something of that nature. I had enough questions already. I wasn’t about to go looking for more at this point. I gritted my teeth and headed for the main event.  After fumbling around trying to present myself to the right person for my body shampoo and cementing several very strange new friendships, I arrived back at the pool deck from which I had originally departed. There was small button much like a doorbell and a small sign that said ring for service.  I rang. And I stood. Naked. And waiting. And silently dying inside. I didn’t want to leave for fear of missing my window. I didn’t want to hop in a near by pool only to have to emerge glistening like an out of shape bond girl. And I certainly didn’t want to step into a sauna and then present myself to new best friend sweating from every pore on my body.  So I stood there. Naked with a hand towel while the world moved on around me. I have been in come uncomfortable situations, but nothing like this before. I’ve never even had dreams that made me this uncomfortable. And so I did what I always do when I’m totally out of my element. I hop from one foot to the other while pretending the stretch my back. I like to think it masks the insecurity I’m feeling.  In reality, it probably makes me look like I’m far too eager for this show to get on the road. And when you’re nekkid in a room full of men, that sort of confidence gets you a stern warning letter from the management or a date. I wanted neither. I simply wanted to disappear. I was not that lucky. 

Korean demadi is sometimes referred to as a body shampoo.  If someone tells you that lie, they are not your friend and you shouldn’t hang out with them alone.   They’re either plotting your demise or secretly filming you so they can release the footage on the internet.  What it is, is painful. And I’m here to make sure that you’re aware just how painful it is. Now, I can’t speak to every Korean Spa in America.  I’d be lying if I said I had been to more than one in my life. The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t prepared because no one prepared me. And so I’m here to offer you the olive branch no one bequeathed unto me.  

There are, I’m certain, rules of engagement when it comes to a spa of this nature.  There’s not gonna be anyone around to answer those questions for you though so you’re gonna just have to fly blind for a little while.  And maybe that’s the point of this book. I’m going to take the bullet first so you can be uncomfortable with me and then realize that the apprehension you feel is either entirely well grounded or just a silly by product of ego.  In most of the items I’ve addressed, my ego and fear of the unknown are what made me the most nervous. The experiences themselves were all fairly innocuous. This is the one where I should have listened to my head, my heart and my colon.  

I’m at best a purist.  I’m convinced that football should be played outdoors in the open on a field made of beautiful green grass.  I’m also convinced that baseball should be played outside in the open. And I am 100% convinced that something called a body shampoo should not be performed on the pool deck of a men’s spa in full view of the entire goddamned place with no covering and not so much as a shower curtain for privacy.  And yet, here I am staring at 4 massage beds sitting basically on the concrete surrounding the hot and cold tubs. I remember the horror spreading through my body when my brain transmitted the following Amber Alert: “Oh my god, this is where this is going to happen isn’t it?” It never occurred to me that this was the body shampoo area.  I thought maybe they were just for more people to sleep since they are sleeping on every other square inch of this god forsaken place. But to have beds set up right outside the area where I’m going to have my taint exfoliated? Jesus, I know we don’t talk much but could you lend me a hand here. This can’t have been created in your image.  

I want to set this scene for you and I’m not sure that I’ll ever do it justice.  My adrenaline was off the charts at this point and I contemplated running away. Just Forrest Gump the fuck out of there immediately.  But no, I’m committed to this endeavor for you and for me and so I stayed. You owe me. You really owe me. The four massage tables are covered in a pink plastic shower curtain looking material.  They look slick as hell. This is a slip and slide. There is no way I’m getting on this table and letting anyone, male or female, scrub my entire epidermis while the entire cast of Rent looks on. And as I turn to leave, he sees me.  A new player has entered the arena. My grumpy korean grandfather has arrived and he is angry to see me. I’m not prepared for what happens next.  

It’s 9:05 and I can see why he might be upset to find his first client of the day standing naked and sweating inside his office.  He tells me that he needs five more minutes to get ready and begins filling 55 gallon barrels with hot steaming water and muttering to himself.  I’m desperate to hear what he’s saying but I’m scared to death to find out he’s discussing all of his life choices that led him to a place where he has to scrub my entire naked body for money.  I’m only worried because I’m having that exact same set of thoughts. What must he have done in the past that this is the job he has at this stage in his life.  

And at once, he breaks the spell and hollers “FACE UP” at me from very close range.  He must have closed the distance between us while I was day nightmaring. He pointed to the one bed in the center of the area.  I motioned for perhaps the bed in the corner that at least wouldn’t be center stage but he apparently had his heart set on embarrassing me thoroughly out in the open.  What came next will haunt me for the rest of my life. He threw an entire bucket of hot water on the pink plastic material and hollered again “FACE UP!” This time he was a little more emphatic and the entire population of the pool room took notice and craned their necks to assess the comotion.  I couldn’t begin to tell you how gently I tried to slide onto the table face up while meekly reminding him that I wasn’t actually hard of hearing. I think, but am not certain, that my ass had barely made contact with the surface of the table when I felt particularly strong hands push me back and mold me into an extremely exposing and entirely unflattering position.  I was entirely snake out at this point. I’m no shrinking violet but this was too much. And whether rightly or wrongly so, I’m certain my dangle down took notice and decided this was the time to crawl back into his shell. I tried sucking my stomach in to make matters appear larger, but I’m certain that only made it worse. Mercifully, my companion must have had a plan in place because what came next could not have been thought up on the fly.  With a practiced hand, he dunked a towel in hot water, draped it deftly over my exposed meat and veg and wrapped it up neatly into what I can only describe as a cock dumpling. I looked down to find a steaming soup bao where before only my hang downs had been. I was too shocked to say anything; honestly I don’t know what I could or would have said regardless. He had, without a hint of effort, transformed my favorite pals into a dim sum cart. It was clear who was in control.  I was only here for the ride after that. He laid a steaming towel over my eyes and began.  

At first, my new friend used what felt like a brand new sea sponge on my body.  I had a general idea that this was the preamble and that things might get more difficult later.  He worked first on my arm and shoulders; turning my head vigorously from side to side to make sure he got all of my neck and behind my ears.  Then he moved on to my chest and stomach. I’m not ticklish per se, but this seemed like the worst time possible to start giggling. So I laid still and stifled it.  I can’t imagine what he must have been thinking at this point but I decided to try to make conversation. Nothing would come out. I willed my lips to move and was met with a stony wall of silence.  I was prepared to learn about his family and how he enjoyed his work and all the other questions that queued up inside my brain. Literally no words would form. I was a mute.  

And then he did something completely unexpected.  He moved my dumpling. He wasn’t harsh. It wasn’t violent.  It was simply so unexpected that I flinched. Remember I’m on a slippery table wearing half a loin cloth in front of god and all of his creation.  There is zero room for error here. But he definitely moved my noodle. He was, I guess, trying to get to my inner thigh and couldn’t get the angle he wanted without maneuvering my hard boiled eggs away from my leg.  And so in his head, he simply removed the barrier and kept going. I want to stop here to compliment his pornigami. The towel wrapped about my hey diddle diddle did not move. And when he was done on one side he moved to the other and repeated the maneuver with the same amount of success.  I have never been more amazed in my life. This was high art. Truly. 

I relaxed now certain in the belief that nothing, absolutely nothing, would bring me any lower than what I had just experienced.  I needed only wait two more minutes before he spoke to me a third time. “Side!” he yelled, just loud enough to make sure everyone in the room was reminded of my presence, naked and afraid.  I removed the towel from my eyes and quizzingly asked “Side?” He motioned for me to flip onto my side and walked away. I know I’ve told you this before but I am not a graceful man. I move in fits and jerking motions and do my best to not be noticed for anything other than my humor.  Alas, this was not to be.  

The plastic, slick with water in some places and tacky in others, held onto every pressure point I wanted to use and refused to let me go until I completely committed to the act of movement.  I’m sure I looked like an albino walrus trying to move about the table. I dared not make a sound so as to not draw anymore unwanted attention from those watching this calamity from literal feet way.  I got to one elbow and established a base. I then rolled slightly to my side and tried gamely to swing one leg over the other. As I did, the plastic underneath my ass and hip gave way with a great giant slick sound and suddenly I was in real danger of sliding naked onto the floor with only my won ton willy to help me break my fall.  I made a sound that must have sounded like real fear as I felt the steadying hand of my overseer meet my hip and push me gently onto my side. I was grateful for him then. I lost that feeling shortly.  

He moved my legs backwards and forwards so that he could make sure not a single micrometer of my body went untouched.  Dead skin flew in all directions. The act, divorced of the pain, was spectacular. I could only imagine how satisfying it must have been to watch all that detritus fly.  And then he ordered me onto my “OTHER SIDE!” and we repeated at act of falling with style. It was almost comical. If I hadn’t feared his reaction, I might have begun to enjoy the ridiculousness of the circumstances.  I thought to myself, we’ve covered three of the four sides and nothing on the fourth side has anything I wouldn’t particularly care about being seen or touched. Boy. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong.  

I had drifted off into my own thoughts when I felt the soup dumpling loosen and disappear.  I snapped too pretty damn quick at that point. I thought to myself, if this sumbitch tries to make my sack look like a shaved sugar glider, I’m going to lose my shit.  That thought was quickly displaced by a very loud “FACE DOWN!” I knew better than to question him, I simply flipped. It was one fluid motion at this point. I had conquered the fear of sliding onto the floor.  Because I knew that if i slipped onto that floor in front of all of those people, I would simply curl up and die on the spot. There would nothing for me to worry about because I would be dead from humiliation. There would be nothing left of me but my corpse after I ascended into heaven on the wings of pure unadulterated shame.  

But I had made it.  I was 75% of the way done and I had the lead in the clubhouse.  My back was scrubbed and I imagined all of the parts of my back I can’t reach screaming out in pure ecstasy.  It was glorious. My feet got a scrubbing. My achilles were cleansed. My calves and thighs were brought back to life.  Everything was coming up milhouse. And then he touched my butt. Nothing wrong with that I suppose. It’s part of the skin.  It needed some exfoliation. But I was not prepared to fight the battle of the taint. I had had enough at this point and clenched.  I clenched hard. I clenched so hard my soup dumpling reappeared on the other side and would have made me proud if I wasn’t laying face down trying to be demure about the last and final frontier.  This was the Northwest Passage and I was a hard frozen winter. We are not going to cross northern Canada by boat this year friend. It’s not gonna happen.  

I think he finally understood that I was good to go and didn’t need an exploration of box canyon.  He hollered once more “FACE UP!” I made my way unto my elbows and then side before he pushed me over and began slathering me in soap.  It was actually relaxing. I figured the worst was over and I was right. We finished up mercifully ten minutes later and I was a new person.  I had conquered a fear. I had lost a couple layers of skin. I had made a new friend AND enemy. And I had learned a little about myself. One – I didn’t need to do this again for a long while, but that I would definitely do it again at some point.  Two – the previous statement wasn’t about the act, it was my own feelings about my body and had exactly zero to do with any health benefits associated with the episode. And Three – I probably needed to make peace with my body at forty two years old. It’s mine.  All of my choices have brought me here. And I am in charge of what I look like and how I make changes going forward. I vowed to spend more time in yoga classes getting flexible rather than at bars. I told myself I was going to eat more salad and less bar-b-q. I even made a promise to myself to forgive a little more.  No one in that entire room had noticed me even one little bit. All the wounds I had imagined were entirely self inflicted. People generally don’t notice you until you make them do so. And if they do notice you, it’s entirely in passing. I’m reminded of a comic I say recently that has a figure looking sad with the caption “No one gives a shit.”  The bottom half of the cartoon is the same figure with a smiley face repeating the phrase “No one gives a shit.” Might as well go on and do what you want when you want to. It’s really true. Because if you were that close to me on that table during that experiment and didn’t laugh, then you truly didn’t care about what I was doing. And maybe that’s the best take away.  Nobody gives a shit. Might as well start living like it.  

Float Tank

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.