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Being there : Men-Altering Experience

August 27, 1995|Mary McNamara

I am stuck on the freeway at rush hour, and I hate men. I spent the entire day on the phone listening to arguments, excuses and coaxings. All from men. Men I work with, men I play with, men I pay to fix my car. I want to run away to a mountaintop and live with the bears. Female bears.

Instead, I am heading to an unlovely stretch of Pico Boulevard, west of La Brea Avenue, to visit City Spa, which I am suddenly not sure is a good idea. When I saw an ad announcing that this 40-year-old men's club was open to women, albeit only on Mondays and Wednesdays, I thought it would be cool to check it out. Now I don't know. I mean, the place will be crawling with men.

It is. But a different kind of men. From the moment I walk in, I am assaulted by graciousness. Old World, how-can-I-help-you graciousness. After being beamed at and made much over at the front desk, I am taken up to the dressing room, where I change into my bathing suit. Then David leads me downstairs into the sauna area, where men and women murmur and smile and steep. Amid Greek columns and palm trees, there's a hot tub, a pool, a sauna, a traditional steam room and a Russian steam room. David introduces me to Jim, who is going to give me a plaitza . "You take good care of her," he tells Jim, patting my shoulder. "Oh," he says, concern furrowing his brow, "so tense. It used to be only the men had to work so hard, get so tense. Now it is the woman too. It is not right, I do not think."

I am feeling better already.

Jim instructs me to soak in the hot tub or sit in the sauna while, he adds cryptically, "the leaves soak." Easy enough. Then I follow him into the Russian steam room and almost die. Forget Pasadena in the summer, forget Death Valley in the summer, a Russian steam room is the hottest place on the planet. And a plaitza , it turns out, consists of my lying on a mat in this sixth level of helland being slapped with eucalyptus leaves. If this sounds fun, I'm not telling itright. Then someone comes in, throws hot water on the rocks and it gets even hotter--face-melting, brain-cooking hot--and I am outta there. I jump in the pool and I swear for a moment I see God.

David appears. "So, now you feel better?" I do. I really do. My skin is soft and tingling, and I laugh all the way to my massage. In a small, dimly lighted confessional of a room, Hassan rubs and pounds and kneads me for a deliciously long time. Listening to the deep-voiced conversations from other rooms that float past--the languages of the former Soviet Union, the lilt of Yiddish--I never want to leave.

When I walk languidly out to the front desk, I tell them this. The men there laugh and say I should stay a little longer, I should come back soon. I wish I could. I think I will.

I drive away and Pico Boulevard looks like Rome. I feel like a million bucks. And men? Men are wonderful.

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