Here’s a thing I forget about Manhattan.
Everyone is so slammed for space that the markers of luxury in most other parts of the country – palatial lobbies, building facades made just so, empty nooks left unfilled just so you understand the sheer wealth going on here – well, they’re not an option. The language of luxury reads differently in New York.
Which is why this sign, which would read as a kind of chintzy place of dubious quality in Seattle…
…is actually a really lovely, swanky spa.
Alas, this is where the pictures end. Cameras aren’t welcome in closed spaces where women are padding around swaddled in towels and bathrobes.
My sister from another mister and I have a tradition of taking advantage of couples deals at spas. We’ve done it in Sonoma, Arizona, and Renton, and now: Manhattan. And that is how I found myself kinda naked, semi-naked, and then pretty nearly close to naked on a plastic-covered table a mere few feet from a friend I’ve known for, at this point, slightly more than half my life.
I’ve been curious about Korean scrubs for a while, largely via the Seattle-obligatory thoughts of going to Olympus on my birthday. And my friend is my girly ambassador.* These two facts came together to find us, gently speckled with Manhattan dirt, wandering into a spa and wrapping ourselves in those strange towels with the elastic and velcro that fastens right above your boobs.
Oh, also: disposable underwear.
After we were swathed in towels and shod in too-big shower-style sandals, we sat awkwardly by a glassed-in manicure room, sipping cucumber water and sweating gently beneath our poly-blend towel dresses. Busy spas – the kind I like, anyway, when I go in for that kind of thing – have a kind of factory feeling. One person checks you in, one person hands you your garb, one person points you toward the water bar, and then another person fetches you with a gentle mispronouncing of your name for the actual reason you’re there. There’s something comforting about being just another body to a professional. When a spa swaths that central reality in too many layers of new age music, polished floors, and whispering attendants, I feel uneasy.
The stairs, bordered with strips of black sandpaper, were steep and curved in a quick u-shape, hard to navigate when you’re a little tall, a shade ungainly, and wearing sandals that are approximately seven sizes too big for you. Even so, we were quickly ushered into a large, tiled room that reminded me of the kind of communal shower experiences I never had in high school.** One shower curtain hung from the ceiling, obscuring the view from the door. The rest was open, all tiled walls, ceiling, and floor. And two water-resistant looking tables.
Have you ever experienced the boob towel? It appears in many guises. If you have ab work done by a massage therapist and you’re a woman, you’ve experienced the boob towel. A medium-sized bath towel is folded lengthwise into thirds and then placed gently, euphemistically over the most central part of your breasts so that everyone involved can act like you’re not actually topless. These common fictions unite us.
They’re pulled apart fairly quickly, however, when the woman scrubbing you moves it up and down before finally giving it up and moving it away entirely.
Here’s something I learned that day: all of you needs to be exfoliated. ALL OF YOU. I thought that this kind of thing would focus on the legs and arms, and maybe the back and other parts of us we can’t reach so well. No no. Here are some surprise areas I had thoroughly buffed that day:
- My ankles
- My armpits
- That groiny area my friend describes as the bikini line
- The less intimate areas of my ass
- Every part of my boobs that doesn’t fall into the nipple provinces
And THOROUGH. At one point, I decided to count how many times my scrubber went over certain parts. She was a thorough woman, and I honestly lost count. Eight times? Twelve? I don’t know. Apparently I had an exoskeleton when I walked in there. I didn’t when I left.
I get massages on the regular, but I occasionally feel awkward about spa-like activities with an element of servitude to them. Pedicures, for instance – I feel awkward having another person sit at my feet. But this woman’s hands were so strong and sure that there was no question of who was in charge.
Spa technician: 1
And my faith in my own security in my body: assured. Because if you’re not 100 percent awesome with that, you will find out somewhere between when you climb nearly naked onto a plastic table and when the technician places a towel over your eyes and starts the surprisingly long process of exfoliating your jugs.
*Girly ambassador duties: helping your neglectful friend go bra shopping, introducing your curious friend to the wonders of Sephora, and endlessly helping your confused friend parse out relationships.
**I skipped gym. I’m still relieved.