How to Have the Perfect Spa Experience

I know from spas. I have been to many a spa and I have decided that I need to start a spa. The manager will be Bernice, a matronly, middle-aged woman. When you walk in, she shrieks at you “Get out! You don’t need a spa! You look fabulous! How could we possibly help you? You look great!”

When you have to fill out the form and write down your age, she says that you could not be that old and insists on seeing your driver’s license, at which point she cusses out the DMV for taking such an unattractive photo which does not do justice to lovely you. Then she plops you on the sofa, gives you whatever you wanted to drink (coffee, diet coke, daiquiri, shot of tequila….) and goes over what treatment you wanted.

The spa menu is printed (with prices) on a regular sheet of paper – only the treatments available that day are listed. You can call to make an appointment, but they have enough people working so that you can always just walk in to get a pick-me-up pedicure.

You want a facial? Well honestly, Bernice doesn’t think you need one, but if you want one, ok. And if you try to get something drastic done to your hair, she asks you about your love life, your sister, your mom and your work and if there is some problem, she will talk you out of a crew cut with blue highlights.

There are current issues of all trashy and up-scale design magazines on all the coffee tables and romantic comedies on flat screen TVs. There is a manicure/ pedicure room for people who want to chat and a manicure/ pedicure room for people who want perfect silence. No ‘running water’ music that makes you need to pee. The massage rooms have adjustable lights, temperature and music. If you want a body scrub while listening to Shania Twain, no problem. And none of this “couple’s treatments” – if you are getting a massage, you don’t want the significant other anywhere near. Boyfriend should be out hunting a mastodon for lunch, not fussing over his cuticles.

It is called ‘Bernice’s Beauty Spot.’ It has valet parking (for free). When you leave you get a free milkshake – any flavor you want, including vodka. And yes, of course, they have soy milk, almond milk and cashew milk.

Bernice’s Beauty Spot is located in a strip mall – on one side is a dry cleaner, a small shipping store and a take-away restaurant. On the other side is a medium sized-grocery store called Fred’s.

When you walk into Fred’s store, Fred is standing by the door. He greets you by name, then he takes whatever children you have away from you. Small children go to a sound proof play room staffed by certified nurses and PhDs in primary education. Older children are sat in front of TVs playing Smithsonian-produced movies about lemurs in Madagascar.

Then an apple-cheeked, freshly scrubbed 17 year old appears at your side, “How may I help you?” You can send this person on any errand you want – to pick up or drop-off dry-cleaning, mail letters, send packages, pick up take-away dinner. Or just send your assistant off to the milk aisle to get four gallons of skim. You can hand over your cell phone (or your assistant will have his/ her own) to make calls – check if the car is ready to be picked up, get the time the movie starts, call your mother to say you are fine but in a very important meeting.

The store has full-spectrum lighting and NO background music. There are live plants (all for sale) placed at the end of each aisle and tall palm trees serve as a backdrop for the liquor section. There are plates of samples everywhere, guarded by cute college-age workers who flirt shamelessly with you.

After you have put everything you want in your cart, you hand your credit card and car keys to your assistant and walk to the small coffee shop at the front of the store, there are two sections – those who want to chat and one ‘silent’ section.

Your assistant stands in line, purchases your groceries and supervises their packing. All freezer items go in one insulated bag, fridge items in another bag, all extraneous packing is removed and sorted for recycling so that you do not have to take the aspirin out of the box, break the seal and take out the cotton when you get home. You don’t have to deal with shrink-wrapped, tamper evident or child-proof anything.

Then your assistant will bring your groceries to your car, put them in the car (discreetly sweeping out stray crumbs and food wrappers), drive your car to the entrance – put in under the watchful eye of the doorman and come to tell you that you are ready to go.

This is how stores should operate – this is how life should be, but usually isn’t. Going into a grocery store is a soul-draining task: florescent lighting, linoleum floors, bad music and plastic as far as the eye can see, you fight your cart with one bad wheel, you stand in line for ages, you throw things into bags and trudge out to your car to dump everything in the back seat.

And spas can be just as bad – they are supposed to be havens of peace, security and happiness – and what do you get? In Bali, BALI! the mother-ship of spa experiences! I had an excruciating day. The spa did not have (as advertised) lavender body scrub (yum), coffee body scrub (yum yum) or sangria body scrub (yum yum yum), they only had ‘Javanese lulur’ (ho-hum). The massage was useless. The ‘flower bath’ was a few wilted frangipanis, some bougainvillea (which has no scent) and a few twigs in tepid water. The “hair cure” stripped all the color out of my hair and made it so frizzy and dry, I didn’t wash it for 4 days. And the music – plonk, plonk, plonk in irregular rhythms – aural Chinese water torture.

This is not what I and you, special, beautiful, wonderful you – this is not what we were born for; we were born for quiet, for beauty, for tender and kind people telling us gently how lovely and beautiful we are. Bernice knows this – she understands. She had a terrible first marriage, which she will tell you about and make you laugh. Then she will tell you how she learned to be true to herself and met a wonderful partner who brings her flowers on-the spur-of-the-moment, takes her to Thailand for their anniversary, loves to give her foot massages and has been known to go out in pouring rain to get ice-cream.

You go to Bernice’s Beauty Spot for a hair-cut and come out with the name of a good divorce attorney and a healthy recipe for fish that your kids will actually eat. Go in for a facial so you will look good in the coffin, come out half-drunk and clutching a Will Smith movie DVD which will get you through until your next therapy appointment. Go in for a manicure so you look professional for your dissertation defense, come out with the joke which will make the whole committee laugh and forget you messed up your statistics.

Oh give me your tired, your wrinkles, your lost, your split ends, your chewed cuticles, your lonely, your chipped nail polish, your scared, your chin hairs, your underappreciated, your scraggily bangs, your fear, your busy, your stressed and your chaotic. Bernice and Fred will take care of you. Bernice and Fred are here for you.