The Mugwort Tea bath at the Olympic Spa is a big vat of hot brown water where women braise themselves like chickens, letting Chinese herbs brew them to piquancy. I shuck my towel and lower myself in. It is deliciously hot and mulchy-smelling. Within minutes I can feel the coil of anger and sadness I have been carrying inside me un-spring a little. I listen to the women discuss estrogen creams. I look down and see my pale, white skin glowing up through the murky water like a drowned body at the bottom of a lake.
It is women-only at the Olympic, and modesty has no place here. The only non-naked people in the common wet room are the masseuses, and they wear sporty black two-pieces as they pour buckets of milk over naked ladies laid out on tables like poached fish. We are all just blubber and bone in varying proportions. Some parts of us float while other parts sink. Nobody cares. We have all come here to love ourselves.
But it is tough love at the Olympic Spa, where thermostats seemed set to test the limits of flesh. There’s a Jacuzzi so hot you could cook pasta in it, and an icy cold dunk that makes you feel as taut and heroic as a Channel swimmer. Nipples burn in the steam room and delicate tissues sear in the sauna.
I grow faint with heat and park my bare bottom on cool, questionable tile to pant like a summer dog, dizzy from the vascular peaks and valleys brought on by alternating hot and cold. My nattery, trip-wired brain has fritzed, so I just sit and feel my heart thud heavily beneath my sternum.
I used to go to Westside spas, where the tampons are complimentary, the shampoos are infused with Eucalyptus and the women are Pilates-perfect. Those days are behind me now. I bid farewell to all that when I split from my Sugar Daddy. Farewell to the tasteful rattan and the marble floors, the bowls of fruit, and that genteel moment when the masseuse holds up a sheet so you can disrobe on the other side of it unseen. Here the esthetician yanks off my thin, poly-cotton robe and gestures to a table with an itchy blanket. She flagellates me for an hour and I tip her gratefully.
Across town at Burke Williams, you get cucumber water and Enya, but at the Olympic you get a water cooler and a Styrofoam cup. The soundtrack is Chinese television in the relaxation room where women lay stretched out on a heated floor to peacefully nap and fart.
At the Four Seasons spa you are issued a fluffy robe and thick, sanitized shower shoes. At the Olympic spa I get a towel with the dimensions and absorbency of a matzoh, and a pair of disposable flip-flops that tear within minutes. I cast them aside, feeling impervious to foot fungus. I am beyond Purell now.
At the Ritz-Carlton, wads of cool, lavender-infused cotton are placed over your eyes for extractions, so you won’t be troubled by harsh lighting of any kind -- at the Olympic the fluorescent lights snap on when my treatment is done, making me squint. The esthetician helps me back into my robe, yanks the sash tight and sends me out across the lunchroom in my bare feet back to the locker room. I return smelling of lotion and Kimchee.
The lockers in the spa at the Beverly Hills Hotel have programmable combination locks, and you can punch in his birthday as a mnemonic because you know you will never forget it. Here the locker keys are on plastic wristbands that leave a deep, red zigzag on your skin that quickly fades. Forgetting feels like a luxury.
The women at the Olympic Spa aren’t kept – we are the keepers of ourselves. It is my job to love and take care of my own body now, and this place makes it feel doable. This has been a good first date.
I walk out into the parking lot flushed and blotchy, my hair standing out at odd angles -- a woman ravaged by water. I don’t care how I look, I have dredged myself up, I feel intensely alive and grateful to be back inside my own skin. And it only cost ninety bucks.