I Had My Boobs Scrubbed by a Professional

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…

The Tribeca Spa of Tranquility, Manhattan…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

Boobs: 0

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.

Hither and Thither #31

This rainbow-covered individual was at Fisherman's Wharf.

I wound up back in San Francisco this weekend. When my friends and I returned from a Muir Woods and wine tour, we collapsed into a mediocre restaurant that I realized only too late tacked on a 4 percent protest charge about having to provide healthcare for its employees. It was too late to ditch. Sigh.

I did get to see this person from the window, though. Seattle doesn’t really have living statues and other beyond-human busking oddities. It makes for an easier walk, but a less magical existence.

Related: wine tours are excellent for responsible people who have dreams of being winos on their vacations. High marks.

division squiggle

Take a couple minutes and let Andrew W.K. make you cry. It’s worth it. Related: what happens to your social media when you die.

division squiggle

My inclination is more slow travel than mad dashes these days, but these maps laying out five-hour forays into a variety of cities are a great start when considering what to see in different places. I think they’re either a little optimistic on the travel time or a little pessimistic on the attention span, but that’s ok. Hand-drawn maps!

silver gate bridge

I do love miniature versions of things. For instance: Miniature World in Victoria, Mini-Europe in Brussels (which I will see soon), and the tiny reproductions of California missions in the California Mission Museum at Cline Cellars in Sonoma (which I tipsily shambled through this weekend). So how charmed was I to find this tiny, shakeable bridge on the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge? Extremely charmed. How much more did I shake it than is becoming for someone in her early 30s? Oh, a good sight more.

But I am also a person who went to an indoor trampoline park this weekend and merrily bounced for an hour alongside people a third my age. Or younger. There’s no accounting for me.

division squiggle

When I was very young, my mom presented me with dog tags embossed with her and my dad’s names and childhood addresses. I have always loved ephemera, so I adored these immediately – the texture, the sound they made clanking against each other, the idea of these elements of their lives before each other clanking together now on the same ball chain.

Then I thought about it and asked my mom where they came from. Neither of my parents were ever in the military; military makes dog tags; where did kids get dog tags?

That’s when I learned about the Cuban missile crisis and what threats became part of daily life for a weird period of my parents’ very middle Midwest childhoods.

I still liked the dog tags (see: “I have always loved ephemera”), but I appreciated that I got to wear them without the gravity that had once been attached to them.

99% Invisible (yes!) recently explored the fallout shelter economy and other weirdnesses that sprung up during this surreal part of American history.

Me? I share my mom’s opinion on this. No bunkers, no cement shelters buried in the earth. If I feel the end is coming, I’ll walk out on the street, arms outstretched, content to share the earth’s fate.