At one point, while I laid on the floor of the Gold Pyramid room, sweat dripped from my knee and ran up my leg until it reached the point where all the other sweat was gathering, as if joining its long lost party members and ordering a martini at the pretend bar.
Mind you this was not sweat from the back of my knee which most of us have, probably, experienced. No no. This was sweat from the top of my knee because that is what happens when you lie on the floor of a room that is 135 degrees Fahrenheit with the intention of “emptying your body of toxins” and “activating positive thoughts and concentration.”
Truth. In the Gold Pyramid, I decided to become a Buddhist and forgive my enemies. Which doesn’t make much sense because I was wearing pink and clashed badly with the in-room decor. Also if the point of suffering is to suffer, I could only list “absurd amount of boob sweat” as a point of contention. Otherwise, no suffering.
But first things first… The Naked Room
First, though, we got naked on the women’s side of the building. And I don’t mean “change from clothes to swimsuit super quick” naked. I mean, “You are going to be completely naked, walk around, take your first of approximately eight showers, bathe in three pools with other naked people, and the ‘towel’ they give you is smaller than the chamois people use to dry their car after washing it.” I mean, honestly? I could have chosen to cover ONE boob with that size of towel. No more, no less. So yes, embrace nakedness. Nakedness is the key to three hot baths, one bath that is approximately the temperature of freshly melted snow, and then a sauna that made me feel like I might sleep until 2020.
Then it’s sort of like camp…
Once you are done introducing your naked self to everyone else there, you go back into the locker room to put on your “uniform” (sans any underwear of course). Men get a very bland, relaxed shade of gray. They look like a very boring soccer team. But we women get pink. Light pink shirts with bright pink around the arms and collar. Pink shorts that don’t necessarily match the tops but at least identify us as the Pink Brigade in case we decide to rob a bank and the cops need a tip.
The thing about these outfits is that they may be the most comfortable clothes I’ve ever worn. They were just the right thickness to aid in the process I was about to throw myself into and yet roomy and relaxed so you never felt constricted. The spa has little footprints directing patrons to the gigantic center of the facility where all the different rooms (and movie theater) are located. I thought the movie theater seemed like an odd idea, but I came to understand its brilliance. [Editor’s note: The day’s showings included “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Quantum of Solace,” “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” and “Contact.” Little something for everyone there.]
Then came the rooms…
We started with the Amethyst Room for no particular reason. It seemed like a good one to ease us in because it said it had infrared rays and yellow soil and wasn’t so hot I thought I might die. The process was simple: Walk into room, lie down on floor, and sweat. They warned us to not be in one room longer than 15 minutes and then provided no clocks in any of the rooms. So essentially it became an endurance test. How long could I lie there in silence and sweat? [Editor’s note: She has considered going to silent retreats before; this is the closest she will ever get. Yoga is quite enough.]
After each room, we went to the Ice Room. This 33 degrees Fahrenheit space really helps stimulate blood flow. Also it has a blacklight. This is an amazing development while wearing neon pink and especially if one has bleached hair and we act like 8-year-olds.
We tried the Salt Room (not hot enough), the Base Room (so hot we had to lie on protective towels), and then got to the Gold Pyramid which became home base for the rest of the day. It was the only room that I had no problem being in for long stretches of time. There was a peace there. There was also an incredible amount of perspiration that I hoped would cure my spiritual bankruptcy. It did a pretty nice job.
I must note, though, that each room had a warning to not engage in any hanky panky as it is a family establishment and all I could think was, “Who on earth caused them to put up those signs?” They probably had to put them up after some couple tried to make out and passed out from breathing rapidly in rooms that were 140 degrees. My god.
We tacked on a massage…
We both get regular massages back home with one of our very best friends. They are wonderful and refreshing. We talk and laugh and relax and I always feel better when they’re over. I highly recommend massages to people for whom talk therapy doesn’t work. It is a wonderful addition to self-care.
However, the 90-pound woman who took me into the massage space on Friday made it quite clear very early on that we were not friends. We were not there for relaxation. We were there to work.
I am fairly certain that it was when she jumped up to the standing position on my back while holding the bar overhead and proceeded to spread out my spine with her heels that I decided I needed to stop fighting because I wasn’t going to win this. She stretched my hips and hamstrings and then slapped my ass down to my calf muscles to “wake them up” to which I thought, “I AM WIDE AWAKE!” Then she called me, “Miss Lady” when she needed me to change positions. She also caused a part of my back to crack that I didn’t know could happen. When I was done, I felt like I could sleep for a month.
The cafeteria called to us though…
All this sweating and muscle breaking and confusion about what planet we were on made us hungry. They were ready for us in this realm with a plethora of food that basically smelled like the best possible sustenance available to humankind. I had sweet and sour chicken; my wife had dim sum and fried rice. We ate like we were at a spa where we had to run all day. You guys — lying in hot rooms is hard.
Calmly snoring in an oxygen room…
Upstairs, there is an ionization room and an oxygen room which are just fancy words for “come take a nap here.” There are mats and recliners and small beds. It is clean, refreshing air and everyone is asleep. The one thing I would have done differently on this day’s excursion was go upstairs to sleep instead of eat right after the massage. I’d probably still be there.
Then it got weird…
It wasn’t a dare, per se. Our friends who recommended that we visit this spa had immensely enjoyed their experience so we were going to take it at face value. But then one of them mentioned, “Maybe you could spring for a V steam.”
You may be trying to convince yourself that “V steam” does not mean what your immediate thought was. But it is. It is exactly that. And we are nothing if not “pioneers of strangeness” in that we will try anything totally odd once. (Boring things like “run a 5K” or “do a sit-up on purpose” or “ride the El silently” or “don’t ask the guy ahead of you at the game where he got his hat that said “Butt Snorkler” and then befriend his entire group” do not apply to us.)
So obviously we were going to sit naked on a chair and have steam shot up our hoo hoos. [Editor’s note: Don’t be afraid of that link. It’s just informational off the webpage.] Who could POSSIBLY pass that up? I had made sure to tell enough people we were going to do this that we couldn’t possibly chicken out once we were there. And truthfully, I thought this would be a five minute adventure where I could return and tell people about this oddity.
It was 38 minutes.
Here’s how it goes: You wander back to Nakedville and sign up for the steam. The woman who runs reservations tells you what time works. You come back to the V steam room at said Naked O’Clock and this very nice woman gets your steam ready. It is a concoction that smells like some sort of tea you would probably never drink but your super-organic-health-obsessed friend swears will cure you of all ailments if you do.
You sit down on the chair with the hole in the bottom and the woman covers you with what looks like a tent that has a cinch opening that she closes around your neck. This is to keep the steam contained and focused on the correct area. Or to make you feel like you are in the most uncomfortable sleeping bag ever. It did have arm holes and you’re given a fan to help cool yourself for THIRTY-EIGHT MINUTES. There is nothing to look at except a window into the bath area and there is no way to feel like staring at that is the best idea so you look everywhere but.
If your hoo hoo gets too warm and you simply start squirming uncomfortably, the nice lady will lift the tent up and, well, fan the steam from below without having to be asked. It is really a full service event. For 38 minutes. It is a long time.
When we had ten minutes left, two other women who appeared to be on a very nude friend outing sat down. They giggled uncomfortably and I said, as an experienced V steamer, that there is no way to make it feel normal. So don’t try.
“Just think of it as steaming your clams,” said a person I may or may not be married to. They laughed with us. There is literally nothing else to do at that moment.
Finally, a little James Bond…
After having experienced a wide array of new ways to feel sweaty and cleansed and exposed, I tapped out and went to the movie theater and watched some James Bond with my eyes closed. That was its purpose. Just check out and watch Daniel Craig do his thing and wonder how you can maintain the idea that “all suffering is born from trying to avoid suffering.”
We will go back every time we are in Chicago. It cost $30 a person and blows a regular spa out of the water in every meaningful way.
But I’m gonna go out on a limb and say my V only needs one steam clean per lifetime.