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The law of the spa

BY Rachael O. Phillips

I usually avoid places that try to improve me. So I had never visited a spa. But my daughter gave me a gift card. My days of tacky contentment were numbered.

I wanted to be an educated client. (Translation: I did not want to look like the hick I am.) So I explored websites beforehand and learned the Number One Law of the Spa: the ickier the treatment, the more special the event. Weddings require the worst. No bride should marry without six months of paraffin dips, seaweed slimmers and rutabaga yogurt soaks. Every groom should experience hot stone and lava massages administered by guys in Scotch hose.

I considered the treatment in which Baby Boomers like me peeled all weekend, then returned to work pink and skinless as an Oscar Meyer hot dog. Correct me if I’m wrong, but does this process mimic all the fun aspects of leprosy?

Or had anyone considered the “new, vibrant” face and body under the top layer might bear a distinct resemblance to Gollum of Lord of the Rings fame?

Despite doubts, I rendezvoused with my daughter. Together we entered a serene universe in which prices rose whenever someone mentioned the word “European.”

The specialist surveyed me with compassionate eyes. I told her I wanted a facial. Suddenly the talk became businesslike. She discussed “repairing the damage,” as if I were a house totaled in a tornado. Maybe she wanted to talk homeowners’ insurance?

Or perhaps HMOs? Because the conversation morphed into a medical discussion of “extractions,” and she led me to a seat resembling a dentist’s chair.

“Relax,” she said.

Relax?

Not even this grotto of flickering candles and background synthesized ostrich calls could help me relax in a dentist’s chair. Only knock-out drugs.

When I requested them, she said they were included in more expensive packages. But at no extra charge, she would be glad to put me out with a soothing European rock.

This dental chair included blankets. Despite my facial expert’s glowing skin, our chitchat revealed she was my age. How could one member of the Hot Flash Club in good conscience cover another with a sweltering blanket? Most of us have trouble keeping enough clothes on in public to stay out of jail.

So when she swathed my head in hot towels, I sent those blankets skyward.

Still, I liked lots of things about the spa. I liked the shining brass fixtures, the fresh flowers. The smooth song of cellos and flutes that unknotted my tired mind and spirit.

And I liked the massage. The masseuse coated my face with 31 lotions that smelled like a blend of Pine-Sol and lemon meringue. Her strong fingers warmed my face and neck with true magic. I experienced the quiet ecstasy I feel when someone other than “self” pumps my gas. When a waitress pours coffee that bubbles in my cup. When a grocery bagger lifts my milk jugs without asking if I qualify for the senior discount. I knew I could lie in this dentist’s chair until my next gift card arrived.

Then she attempted to reposition my nose. Perhaps it did not fit the feng shui she was trying to achieve. Maybe “extraction” meant more than I thought.

I almost asked for the European rock.

A few minutes later, however, she re-anointed and patted my face with gentle hands. She handed me a carved wooden tray containing the bill and suggested products.

I suggested that I did not want to pay another $100.

My skin did feel super-soft and fresh. My wrinkles had even fled into hiding. Maybe the magic worked, even in a losing cause. For a really special occasion, I might return.

Until I remembered the Law of the Spa...