As I began saying, a long time ago, when our kids were still pretty young, Sylvia's brother gave us a very generous gift. He had decided that a trip for two to the spa and mud baths in Calistoga, CA would be a wonderful idea. Sylvia was on cloud nine...I was appreciative of the thought. Let's face it. I am a guy. I have a motorcycle. I like to shoot guns and pool. I make band aids out of paper towels and electrical tape. I eat meat and potatoes. And I'll eat bacon anytime, including when it is covered in chocolate. A trip to the spa is purely for Sylvia's benefit. I get that. I also understand that if I always lean toward the manly side of things then Sylvia would not be a happy camper, and neither would the kids, so I try to have balance especially if it could be funny. A trip to the spa just oozed with the possibility of "funny." I should also say that I have been known to put on Minnie Mouse ears, complete with attached blond wig and 'Princess' sewn into the front to be funny, just so you don't think I am descended directly from cavemen.
It took us a long time to finally use those gift certificates, my fault. We even had to call and ask them to extend the year's expiration date so we could squeeze it in. Then we figured it would be easier, since the kids were so young, to bring Sylvia's mom and dad along and get them a hotel room so they could watch the kids while Sylvia and I sat side by side, holding hands in our separate mud baths. Candles lit, a glass of champagne in our hands. Sylvia would have cucumber slices on her eyes and I would be asking for extra cucumber on my roast beef sandwich, with a side of corn chips. It would be very romantic. Sylvia would love it and that was good enough for me.
When the time got closer for us to go I started talking about it at work following the usual, "What are you doing this weekend?" questions. Being an elementary school teacher, I work with primarily women and my reply of, "Sylvia and I are going to a spa/mud bath weekend." was met with several exclamations of glee and more than one, "Lucky Sylvia!" I thought, "This is going to be fun."...until I talked to my friend Lauretta. Apparently she had recently done this trip and it was fresh in her mind.
She was telling me that there were no side by side, husband and wife mud baths. There were side by side facilities so that the men all got their treatments together and likewise the women. But wait! Calistoga is overpopulated with these spa places! Surely she hadn't gone to the same one we were going to! No such luck. But surely they had separate places for couples! Bzzzt. Wrong. Crap! Oh well, Sylvia would still be happy with the pampering. I'm a team player. Let's go.
Then Lauretta explained what to expect. She said, trying to ease my worries, that it wasn't that bad. She said that the worst part was showering afterward because, "mud gets everywhere." LALALALA I can't hear you! Happy place happy place!!
Now I am going to try a little experiment with all of you...DON'T THINK ABOUT ELEPHANTS! What are you thinking about? Elephants! Of course. I was clearly uncomfortable thinking about a)showering communally, and b)trying to get mud off that had "gotten everywhere." Lauretta had cut herself short while describing the whole experience but not before she said, "But don't think about me. Ha Ha!"
The weekend came, the kids were safe with Sylvia's parents, I resigned myself to my fate, and we signed in to be spa'd. I kissed Sylvia goodbye in the lobby and they brought me to a room that was covered in tile. There were several holes in the ground overflowing with hot thick brown smelly mud. They explained that first, you shower so the mud remains clean. (don't try to understand, it only gives you a headache) Then you walk over to the sunken tub of mud and wiggle in. (No cannonballs!) You have to wiggle because the mud doesn't want you to go all the way in because it doesn't want to "go everywhere" but eventually I got in and got myself covered.
The attendants came over and asked, "How are you?"
"Umm, I am sitting in a giant tub of mud."
"How does it feel?"
"Like I'm sitting in a giant tub of mud."
"Ok. We've set a timer and we'll be back. Just relax."
I would like to say that, in the time I sat in the tub of mud, I finally got it. I could feel the stress and pressures of life flowing from my recently widened pores into the volcanic mud and peat. I would like to say that. But all I kept thinking was, "I'm sitting in a tub of mud. I hope Sylvia is having fun." Secretly, back in the dark recesses of my mind, I thought that a mud bath was just a prank that women played on their husbands and they never actually go into mud themselves. They just all sit around and watch their husbands on closed circuit TV. They giggle as we do everything the attendants say, "Watch watch! He's gonna really get into the mud!" And then they all laugh! My theory is that women concoct this plan during their group trips to the bathroom.
And then, when all of the women got tired of watching me sit in mud, and listening to me sing my, "I'm sitting in mud" improvised song, they sent in an attendant to say that the timer had gone off and I should shower. I'm going to try to keep you from getting an image of me washing off mud that had "gotten everywhere" by saying, "Don't think about Lauretta!"
When I was all clean and walked out in my little white robe they explained that I would be going to the sauna next. Now, to me, a sauna just sounds like an afternoon in the deep south, in the summer, wearing a tuxedo. I vote pass! When I explained that a hot humid place is what people go on vacation to get away from they took me to the hot tub. Ok, hot tub I can understand. It would be better if Sylvia was there, with maybe a glass of wine, and a roast beef sandwich, but I can deal with water. I got in and then they forgot about me. I sat, and sat, and sat. Then I sat, and sat some more. The place was clearing out. I was the last guy in the place when finally someone came over and said, "Are you done in the hot tub yet?"
"Ummm, you tell me. I'm just waiting for someone to tell me what to do next."
"Oh, Ok. Go ahead and get out and we'll give you your massage. You are the last person here and we didn't know you would stay in so long."
I've never been a massage person. Just didn't seem like something that I would appreciate. And then we went to Jamaica on our honeymoon. The resort we stayed at gave each of us a complimentary half hour massage with our package. Sylvia and I were side by side, the beach just footsteps away, and we each drifted off into our own little world of bliss as the petite island beauties used their magical hands to relax us. I even slipped into sleep. That is not what happened at Attila's House of Torture and Mud Ridicule. I suspect the ad this establishment placed, while looking for massage terrorists (I mean therapists), read something like this:
Wanted: Sadist (If you are actually "wanted", that's ok) Former linebackers, frustrated full contact extreme fighters, and enforcers for the mob welcome. Must weigh more than 290 pounds and be able to balance on one elbow in the middle of someone's back. Rage issues and desire to inflict pain a plus. If interested send resume, a picture of your brass knuckles, and a 500 word essay about the joy you feel by having people pay you to torture them.I went into the massage area expecting to be greeted by a petite girl and met a petite gorilla who would be home with his lady gorilla except some guy stayed too long in the hot tub and now he had to stay late. And his wife would need to start bench pressing 300 pound weights all by herself. The next twenty minutes involved, grunts, groans, snaps, crackles, pops, and eventually defeated whimpers. And as Forrest Gump would say, "That's all I'm gonna say bout that."
They allowed me to retrieve my clothes and walk out to meet my wife. Turns out, she was already in the hotel room. She looked refreshed, she was energized, and it looked like she had recently had cucumber slices on her eyes. She wanted to go out to dinner. I wanted to report a mugging. People have told me, since, that I was given a "deep tissue" massage and that I could have asked for a relaxation massage. What do I know. Like I said, I am not a massage guy. Live and learn.
I spent the next two days walking around in pain and I felt like I had been beaten up. The only things that kept me from being completely upset about the whole experience were, that I didn't pay a cent for any of it, and Sylvia thoroughly enjoyed herself. But fair warning. If we EVER get a gift certificate for two spa and mud bath treatments in the future...Sylvia is going twice!