Body Shop
(Not a Car Story)

At a tiny craft fair held in a Hollywood hair salon, I spotted a white T-shirt with a purple-for-wisdom chakra symbol on it which I thought Mom might like but it looked a little small. I hung it against my own body and saw it covered only a tiny portion of my torso. I looked at the tag and read "One Size." The T-shirts I wear all have two or three Xs on their labels, but I like to think that if I put my mind to it I could slip into a "One Size." Not this one, though. I wasn't confident that I could put my head into any of its openings and hesitated to imagine what other body parts might do to the stitching. Still, Mom is less tall and more slender than I, and I do have a history of misjudging clothing sizes (which is partly why Partick's ex-wife's shirts kept ending up in the toddler pile on laundry day), so I thought I'd get a second opinion. I held it up for my splendid cousin Evelyn (whom I was visiting) to see and asked if it would fit my parent.

"Well," she said, "She could put it on. But, ew."

An image popped into my brain that made me drop the shirt on the salespersons' table and back away from it muttering, an image that launched a thousand episodes of Ricki Lake and Jenny Jones, an image of my gentle mother decked out like a waitress at Hooters.

Now let me emphasize, Mom is plenty svelte. She certainly could have worn that shirt, but if any one of you would not prefer to see your mother (or aunt) dressed in something tasteful that drapes and blouses please keep it to yourself.

"I don''t understand...," I stammered. "The tag says 'One Size'!"
"It's this town," Evelyn's good friend Jude (who made that cunning green and black glass bead necklace I wore last week) explained. "I have a friend who keeps herself so skinny that her doctor told her she couldn't
have children unless she put on a few pounds, and in the shops here she wears a medium."


I hate to make generalizations or employ cliches unless they strike me as funny at the moment, but the grim, hackneyed truth is that LA County dresses like the habitues of Axis/Radius on a Saturday night twenty four hours a day. Body consciousness is The Law. By the time the woman in the booth next to Jude's (a stranger to us all) stripped down enough to flex her newly empowered triceps in our direction I was ready to buy and wear a nun's habit forevermore if only I thought there was a chance of finding one my size in that town.

As we have learned from The Thin Red Line, there is opposition in all things (no wait--that was The Book of Mormon) and so the LA hyper-awareness of physique has an upside. And that is the population gets bored tormenting their bodies and occasionally will pamper them. I'm not in the LA area much, and I certainly don't visit to jog or eat lentils. But I have to confess this pampering business hadn't really occurred to me either before Jude endorsed the services of a masseuse who was working at the craft fair. She was only charging $15 for fifteen minutes, which I was given to understand is a very good value. Evelyn was convinced, and though it is my habit to follow her example slavishly whenever I am in town, I hesitated. As a rule, I do not like to be handled by people I know, much less strangers, but at some point in my journey from Scottsdale I pulled a muscle in my back and it nagged. My friend Pam, who is a licensed masseuse always recommends grabbing the sorest spot and applying as much pressure to it as possible. (My brother Partick, who is a licensed masseur, never touches or gives any massage advice to family members as he considers it creepy.)

Anyway, my back hurt and the more I suffered the better massage sounded, so Evelyn and I put our names on the list. Evelyn let me sign up first, so when the masseuse was finished with the client before me I started hanging around the barber's chair she was using that night. She refused to acknowledge me. I walked back and forth as close to her as I dared and tried to catch her eye, but she was even better than I at passive aggressive exclusion tactics (impressive). I drifted back to Evelyn and Jude and asked if I was exuding fear, or distrust, or was maybe looking particularly untouchable that day, and Jude told me to relax. The masseuse was just taking a break, resting her hands, becoming reenergized, anyway, don't take it personally. Which turned out to be the case; she called me over when she was good and ready.



She had me sit and told me her name, which was Lune. She had a Balkans accent that moved me to respect everything she said and not ask questions. She went on to say she used a combination of Swedish and shiatsu massage.

She paused, so I said, "Great!"

"I will find and direct your inner energies," she said.


Then she started with the poking, kneading, and squeezing. She got me in a half-nelson and interrupting my flashback to childhood traumas asked,

"How do you feel?"

Great, great.

Finally she released me saying my energies were sufficiently redirected. I was willing to believe they would flee under her grip, and I did feel...different? better? Something like that. I made a couple of tentative inquiries to Evelyn and Jude hoping to confirm that everything had gone as it should, and my impression was it did. In fact, they wanted more and Jude had a gift certificate for they place they could get it: Burke Williams--Beyond the Spa. Excitement built as they discussed the various treatments, and though it sounded more like something for Fraiser and Niles than little me, my back was feeling better and I figured I could go for some more therapy.

The craft fair ended Jude's husband joined us for dinner, and all the while Evelyn and Jude pronounced and extolled the impending wonders of Burke Williams. When the dinner party broke up and Evelyn and I returned to her home, she produced a Menu of Services from BW, and described each in rapturous detail. We both selected the hour long Spa-Style Facial, then rested up in anticipation of the procedure. Unfortunately, Jude would not be joining us as she couldn't find her gift certificate which wouldn't normally be a big deal but this was the second one she had lost this year and it was getting ridiculous. So Ev and I set out alone.

Burke Williams is located in an alleyway, which sounds shady but is quiet and private. When you enter, you can't hear noise from the street, only the ancient sound of trickling water in a fountain. A black clad attendant greeted us in hushed tones, and assured that Evelyn knew the routine, waved us back to the depths of the salon. The rooms got dimmer and dimmer as we progressed until we reached the dressing rooms, and there the darkness was a blessing as this adventure was to take place in the semi- and not semi-nude.Fortunately, what light there was was warm and flattering, and we were to wear olive drab towels and robes bound to make our complexions glow in contrast.

I changed more quickly than Evelyn, so I wandered off to explore. No Roman bath could have been better stocked. Everywhere I looked was a pile of neatly rolled towels, a bowl of fruit, a pitcher of water with citrus sliced into it, a mirror, or spigots which ran with any skin or hair product you might want. I was working my way through the skin ones when Evelyn caught up with me and suggested we proceed to the sauna.

"Dry or steam?" she asked when we got there.

Dry sauna to me is my car on a summer day, so that was an easy choice. We hung our robes, dressed in towels, and went in for some pore expanding. We had a nice chat and got some good sweating in. Then I got a steam burn on my shin and we decided we had had enough of that indulgence and moved to the Jacuzzi. This was the most interesting part of the journey for me because in the Jacuzzi nudity is compulsory, and remember I am vacationing in Boob and Bod Central. But it was nothing like the shameless streets and clubs, or like the painting above (sorry, that was a bit of a tease). Absent bustiers (not to mention implants), miniskirts, and, you know, that sort of pump, everybody's body fit into a comfortable middle area. No marble goddess nor Oprah grotesquery blew the curve. Evelyn and I looked slightly better than everybody else, though.

Cookie, my designated spa technician, fetched me at this point for my Spa-Style Facial. We got along famously. She protested when I apologized for the repulsive condition of my skin, and was good enough to gross me out with anecdotes of far worse hygiene offenders. She gave a shoulder, neck, and foot massage that was instantly recognized as correct by my unrefined sensibilities. She even offered to wax my pits for free the next time I am in town, that's the kind of sport Cookie is.

Speaking of wax, a feature of the spa which you really must try is the paraffin hand dip. Send all those wax museum horror movies and homemade jam mishaps to the back of your mind, this treatment feels wonderful and left my scaly mitts smooth and soft as a candle. I reluctantly left Cookie's ministrations at the end of the hour, and returned to the Jacuzzi to await the end of Evelyn's session. We sat in the tub for a while, then moved to this wonderful misty chamber and luxuriated like a couple of nymphs on a rock. I never imagined I could feel so relaxed stark naked in a public place.

Comfort within my own skin was as exotic as the green-lit waters of the Jacuzzi and the painted and engraved sandstone walls in that bubble of luxury, and nothing I ever expected to find in Southern California. It couldn't (and didn't) last forever, but I now know where to find it when I need it.

(Written by Sharon C. McGovern)

From Volume 15
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