Secrets Of The Olympic Spa: Mugwort Pool, Salt Sauna, Sisterhood, My Tattoo

4 Apr

On the eve of my departure to L.A., Ithaca Elizabeth told me that I HAD to go to the Korean Olympic Spa in KoreaTown. “They scrub the bejeezus out of you. You come out like a new woman!” she extolled. The new woman part sounded good, but strangers in their underwear  scrubbing my entire naked body didn’t sound like one of the reasons I was going to L.A. Upon moving here, I met a second Elizabeth, and she ALSO told me that Olympic Spa was a Must Do. Two dear friends who don’t know each other with the same name telling me  to go to the Olympic Spa…it was a conspiracy, surely. Some secret Elizabeth society thing.

 

Olympia Spa

I do what I’m told, especially by the secret society folks. But I didn’t want to do it alone. So I had to wait for my former student Melissa to come to visit. She’s a few decades younger than I, took four of my classes, quite possibly admires and respects me. An easy mark. I pretended that I’d already been to the spa: “Oh it’s just heaven, they scrub the bejeezus out of you and you come out like a new woman.” Melissa was a bit worried about the hygiene  aspect. I reassured her, “It’s so clean. They bleach the bejeezus out of everything.” What did I know? One thing I did know: all clients are naked, all the time. No fuzzy bathrobes and slippers. Both Elizabeths had told me that. This had to be kept from Melissa; all that nudity might be just too weird for my fine young friend.

Melissa on bday

But when we walked in, she read the policy sign: Women Only, No one under 14, Swimsuits are not permitted.

“No swimsuits? But there are robes, right?”

Our names written down, and the fee was paid.

“Not really.”

Into the locker room we went. Suddenly I was nervous. Melissa and I were friends now, but once upon a time I had graded her papers, and she took notes while I talked about cultural representations of self. How would she respect me after we walked around naked together, dipping in and out spa pools? I am not ashamed of my body (well, most bits) but then again when you’re naked, you are naked. You don’t need to be a literature professor to know that means that you are naked. No one is thinking about that brilliant point you made about Emerson’s transparent eyeball when you are hoisting yourself indelicately out of the mugwort pond. Melissa and I solved the problem by just not looking at each other below the neck.

Well there we were, trying out the various versions of whirlpools and ponds in a dark steamy room with about forty other women. Women who were large, small, dark, light, hairy, shaved, old, young, in between, naked all. And believe it or not, after a few minutes I stopped judging. She’d be gorgeous if she worked on her core; she has the best breasts I’ve ever seen. . .my stupid little mind just stopped that shit. I felt a sisterhood. It wasn’t sexy the way men might imagine it. No one was being sexy. We were soaking. We were quiet.   Spa sisterhood.

I thought about  the female communing going on. Some mother daughter pairs, some friend pairs, a lot of women on their own, sitting next to other women on their own. Comfortable. Peaceful. I haven’t seen a lot of that. Much of the bonding LA women do is  about manicures, talking about men, shopping, shopping for men.

By contrast, male bonding. . .is rarely about appearance,  or women. Guys play or watch a sport together, right? Then there are  those secret male societies. . .the Masons, Skull and Bones, Bohemian Grove. There are rituals, there is networking, there is money, and  there is power. And at the super exclusive club-for-the-filthy-rich Bohemian Grove they pee on trees.

I was at Bohemian Grove once, as a guest obviously–“Ladies Day.” The men refrained from al fresco relief, but the networking and power and money were in evidence. Every conversation under those big old (peed on) Redwood trees seemed to have a message encoded in it–an  old boy “I got your back, and I got your balls heh-heh” kind of thing. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry. I was told not to write about it.

For Melissa and me, the nakedness seemed to signal the end of the Teacher/Student relationship and to welcome in the Friends, Naked configuration (we were still looking at each other neck-up, only). It came time to have the bejeezus scrubbed out of us, so we went to our separate scrub bed cubicles and lay down for the Scrub Ladies to do their thing. Dear Reader, if you’ve never been, you can’t quite imagine how great it is. You’re being treated like a baby, handled and tossed about with care, like a little naked person who doesn’t know what’s good for her. Who can only lie there and be scrubbed and turned over and scrubbed again. And then there is the head massage. It’s about as close as I’ve come to serenity.

Forty minutes later, we met in the salt sauna, dazed and blissed out.

“THAT was FANTASTIC, Melissa breathed.

“Yeeeaaaaaaah,” I breathed back.

“I like your tattoo,” she said, something I never thought I’d have heard from the mouth of that sweet Freshman I met in Intro to American Literature several years back. Especially since I don’t have a tattoo.

“What?!” I squawked.

“Wait, weren’t you lying in the next cubicle? Wasn’t that you?”

“No. I was in cubicle at the very end.”

“So you don’t have a heart tattoo on your ass?”

I  looked at her with my You-Didn’t-Do-The-Reading Professor glare.

“Oh! Is that why you weren’t answering me while I talked to you! That woman looked like you from behind. She had a tattoo.”

“OK, I know we’re friends now, but Melissa, I am NOT  your friend with a heart tattoo  on her ass.”

“Right. Got it.”

“If I had a tattoo, it would be a quote from Dorothy Parker, for God’s sake.”

We crawled out of the sauna and drank some herbal tea and shared seaweed soup. Spa Sisterhood.

Nods to the Elizabeths and their secret society. I’ll bet they have matching tattoos.

Please share an unusual bonding story!?  That came out wrong–keep it clean, folks, this is family de-tox show.

 

 

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7 Responses to “Secrets Of The Olympic Spa: Mugwort Pool, Salt Sauna, Sisterhood, My Tattoo”

  1. Sherry Thomson April 5, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    I love this piece. I started laughing with the admission that one couldn’t do this alone and why not choose a former student who could hardly say no to an admired teacher as a companion. I continued laughing right through the Bohemian Grove peed-on trees and the heart-on-the ass tattoo. This is the funniest entry since our visit to the plastic surgeon.

    Like

    • kwasson2012 April 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

      I’ll take that as a yes. To attending the Olympic Spa with me. I couldn’t say no to you. Name the date!

      Like

  2. elainemansfield April 6, 2014 at 3:23 am #

    Love it, Kirsten. You only take me to the best places. Do you know if there’s a Korean part of town in Ithaca? There’s lots of kimchi in the health food stores, but I need the scrubbers.

    Like

    • kwasson2012 April 6, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

      Thank you, Elaine! We all need the scrubbers. And the sisterhood.

      Like

  3. robinbot April 11, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

    you almost have me convinced I need to try this

    Like

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