The City Observed: Wilshire Spa

It had been an extreme winter. I’m not referring to the weather – I live in LA; I’m referring to life and activity. October through December saw a mess of meetings, obligations, rehearsals, online marketing, offline networking, panic attacks and meltdowns, all in preparation for a December performance of one of my original theater works. The highs were terrific, the lows unbearable. Then came Christmas and the New Year, which I enjoyed by ceasing all activity, by sitting in front of a television, alternating my attentions between video games and movies, eating all holiday treats imaginable and drinking cocktails one after the other. Looking back on 2009, and particularly autumn, I felt less than extraordinary, I felt ordinary: easily wrapped up in life’s mundanities, chasing my own tail.

My husband had given me a spa package for my birthday in August, and I’d been holding on to it all this time, waiting for the precise moment when a visit to a spa might save me from utter demise. During the aforementioned months I thought, “I’ll wait until all this over, and I’ll go to the spa to recover.” After the December deadline, I thought, “I’ll wait until the holidays are over, when my body will be all tense from the East Coast cold.” When I returned from the East Coast, I thought, “I’ll wait until after Sundance, when I’ll need some deep relaxation to bring me back to Earth.” Finally, a few weeks ago, I looked at my gift certificate and saw that it was set to expire on February 22. I had to make time to use it. I made an appointment for the approaching Sunday. I now declare that if I had the means, I would implement a weekly ritual of Sunday visits to the spa for the saving of my soul, so cathartic was it.

The entrance to The Wilshire Spa is at the back of a tall, corporate multi-use skyscraper on Wilshire Boulevard. The reception lobby is unpretentious, showcasing no particular luxury or status, showing no signs that it is indeed the portal to an underground bliss. Below a set of stairs, in the sub terrain of the mid-Wilshire district, lies a sumptuous Eden of tranquility.

Basic accoutrements for a pampered experience are provided free by the facility: towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap, q-tips, hair dryers, slippers, coffee, tea, and cucumber lemon water. Two banks of vanity tables give ample space for post-pampered beautification. Behind a pair of doors to the left of the vanity bank sit three tranquil rooms, each heated to a different degree and lined with certain minerals – one onyx, one yellow ochre, and the other mineral salt – each of which, according to descriptions on the walls, has unique calming properties. A set of doors to the right side of the vanities opens on to three baths of varying degrees: cold, hot, and extremely hot. I have a high tolerance for heat, and was pleased when I found myself dripping with sweat immediately upon entering the hot bath; I could only stand five minutes at a time in the extremely hot bath before craving a quick dunk in the frigid water of the cold bath. The proper cycle for getting the most benefit to your circulatory system isn’t something you’ll need to research beforehand – the desire to go from hot to cold and wet to dry will happen naturally. After cooling myself down in the cold bath, my physiological needs led me to the sauna – a typical wood-lined room kept at a controlled heat that I found to be perfectly comfortable, a place where I could lie back and read for quite a spell before finding the pages of my book wet and crinkled from my sweat. The steam room, on the other hand, was far too hot and steamy, even for someone of my high tolerance. I nearly suffocated after a mere thirty seconds in its billows. I removed myself quickly and re-embarked on my cycle of hot bath, really hot bath, cold dunk, and dry room. After a time, a masseuse in black lace bra and panties motioned for me to follow her.

My husband had thoughtfully chosen for my gift the Signature Body Massage after learning that it included two of my favorite things: a massage and a facial. That wasn’t the extent of it, though. My masseuse placed a clean sheet of plastic on a table, splashed a bucket of warm water over it, and instructed me to lie upon it face down. Then, she scrubbed. The website describes this as “a treatment that uses exfoliating cloths to gently remove dead skin cells from your body”; ‘Gentle’ it wasn’t – it was firm and intense. Tension was immediately tossed away – I was like a fleshy mannequin, a pliable material in the form of human only that the masseuse sanded, molded, pushed and pulled into a more perfect form. Entirely nude I lay there, face down whilst she scrubbed me with loofah gloves and cucumber salt. Her gloved hands knew no bounds – every inch of my body received a scrubbing: shoulders, elbows, stomach, inner thighs, groin, and recesses of my behind all received equal attention.  This wasn’t a massage for the modest.  She’d turn me from stomach to back to side to side all with a swift push of the hands. At times she’d scissor my legs open, other times fold them over each other to gain access to all surfaces. The scrub lasted at least thirty minutes, enough time to rub off at least my first layer of skin. When there couldn’t have been another single dead skin cell to remove, she squirted a warm lotion all over me and gently rubbed it in. Then, she poured three full buckets of warm water over me. This was my favorite part. It felt like I was lying on the wet sand of the beach as the tide washed over my spent body. Next came a deep and thorough full-body Swedish massage that the masseuse administered with strong arms, digging elbows, and crisp palms.  Again, she left no stone unturned, treating all parts with equal attention, from my fingertips to my spine to my skull. Finally, she worked a green tea conditioner through my hair, layered cucumbers on my face and eyes, and doused my flesh in warm milk. This pure adventure in beauty manipulation lasted a full eighty minutes. I went in an ordinary human and exited a glistening goddess.

My milky, glowing aura stayed with me a good two days. Now, I appear to the world as the self I’ve always been. With my newfound knowledge, however, that I can be so completely transformed in the underworld of Los Angeles’ Korea Town, I won’t wait so long for the perfect time to visit. Perhaps the more often I go to the Wilshire Spa, the more likely I’ll manifest myself into a glistening, enlightened goddess in my daily reality. Good riddance, stress, I’ve found my spiritual practice.