So Tara was coming to town and mentioned she’d like to get a massage. I’d recently spoken to two different friends who had just come back from a place called Olympic Spa, and they both said to me, “I go whenever I can.” One of them lives in Hawaii. If you wake up in Maui every day and there’s a place in Los Angeles you dream about? It’s got to be pretty good.
Going to Olympic Spa would hit on several things I enjoy at once.
2. Massages and scrubs.
3. More stories about being naked near Tara, just in case one day I get to write a book about it.
Both friends had insisted we get The Goddess treatment. Now maybe you’re a good Wonder Killer and already clicked the link and read what happened to us. But I’ll tell you something about me that might surprise you. If I’m going to see a movie or read a book or even go somewhere new, I usually don’t want to know too much about what’s going to happen. When I’m about to embark on an adventure, I like to be surprised. This means I often start reading a book like the Wind-Up Bird Chronicles somehow believing it’s a comedy, only to read pages of people getting their skin flayed. Or, more recently, I went to see a movie described to me as: “It’s kind of about the war, but it’s not really about the war, and it’s supposed to be kind of funny. There’s a pretty girl in it. People seem to like it.” That movie? The Hurt Locker.
I haven’t learned from these mistakes, because when it all works out wonderfully I get an experience like my first night in Bangkok, where I was taken from one place to the next until it’s very late and I’m in a dark room called Titanium Bar watching an all-girl cover band named Unicorn doing an amazing rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” while I’ve got two fists in the air and I’m shouting, “I LOVE THAILAND!”
All I knew going into The Goddess was what both friends said. “You won’t believe how much happens to you while you’re in there.”
This, in retrospect, is the perfect description. But only in retrospect. I probably would have felt a little less shocked if I’d given myself some education beforehand. So, just in case you’re ever in Los Angeles with a little cash to spare and want to spend a day doing something you will most likely never forget, I will explain The Goddess at Olympic Spa for you.
I feel like part of my job here is to do things ahead of time for you so that I’ve pre-dorked the situation. You will do this way cooler than I did. Like, you probably won’t accidentally grab the massage lady with both hands when she comes to take you to your station. I’m naked, she’s in a bra and panties, and I’m clutching her with both hands like this is some kind of custom, and all she could do was laugh at me.
But I’m getting ahead of my naked self.
So you take your clothes off here. Swimsuits aren’t allowed. Which is fine, because usually these places are dark enough that you don’t really care. Not so at Olympic Spa! It is lit like a dentist’s office in there, and it makes people’s flesh look… not exactly human, really. Everybody kind of looked like plucked chickens, walking around, rolling into hot pools, flat on their stomachs getting oiled up. If you had told me this was a scene from a horror movie where people were being prepped to be eaten, I would have totally believed you.
There are several hot baths (including one that’s filled with hot tea) and saunas and steam rooms. You start with a shower. This is where I tell you that you should bring some flip-flops and maybe a little caddy filled with your toiletries, like you’re back in the dorm with a communal shower. I wanted flip-flops and an extra towel, as they give you only one (and a smaller one that I used for sitting places). After the shower you walk around dipping yourself into different things as you try not to stare at all the other women who are dipping and bathing but there’s one woman standing in the center of everybody scrubbing herself like…well, like how monkeys kind of get in there and scratch and scrub because why not? This one woman was just… furious with the state of her inner thighs, I guess. And maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if she wasn’t doing that while looking around making eye contact with anyone who wasn’t starting at her own boobs. I don’t know. It felt like a challenge, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Bathe back?
I am not alone in the “I really should have read more about Korean Spas” camp because I checked Yelp and I feel like I had a way better time than a lot of those girls.
Anyway, eventually you get to stop being a human tea bag when they call your number and it’s time for The Goddess to begin.
It’s an hour and 45 minutes. This is a very long time because you will not be able to fall asleep for most of it, like you might during a dark room spa massage. You start by flopping yourself onto a table that looks like it’s for cadavers, but it’s wrapped with a festive plastic tablecloth.
Then you are scrubbed. This is not an accurate word. You are Silkwooded. You are potato-riced. Oh, I mentioned earlier that I junior-high slow-danced with my Korean Spa lady right off the bat, yes? And I mentioned that she was in just a black bra and panties, yes? That’s how you know which women are supposed to be touching you and which ones are trying to be creepy. If she’s wearing a little black number, she’s going to come at you. And it will hurt. All of it, really. I like painful massages, but if that’s not your thing, this is really not your thing.
So you plop yourself face-down onto the picnic morgue table, the bikini lady dumps a bucket of hot water on you two or three times, and then she puts these Brillo-mitts on and just starts scouring your skin. Hard. I opened my eyes after the first shocking minute and saw two things:
1. Everybody in the cold bath staring at my naked body getting shoved around by dishwashing aids and
2. Pieces of my skin everywhere.
Everywhere. She just kept rubbing all this skin that would ball up until she dumped another bucket of hot water onto me. Scrub, scrub, rub, rub, pink skin, splash. Repeat.
“Turn over,” she said, holding me by the hips so I sort of rolled in her hands like the plucked chicken I was becoming. Scrub, scrub. She put a towel over my eyes for this part, but she saw my face grimace when she started on my chest. I don’t care what you’re into. Getting Boobie-Brillo’ed is absolutely no fun.
“On your side.”
This is when I was like, “You want to WHAT?” And, yes. The answer is yes. She wants you on your side, legs all kind of bent, while she scrubs and scrubs and scrubs in places that make you think, “When exactly is the last time someone’s eyes were near where she is right now?”
So grateful for the washcloth over the eyes at this point, because I can’t even imagine what that must have looked like. If alternate reality me could have come sloshing into that room and seen me there, I’m sure she would have screamed.
Tara probably knows exactly what it looks like, because while I had the bonus benefit of somehow being on a table slab off to the side near the cold bath, Tara was just one of a row of four slabs. Meaning Tara was trapped between women who were also getting splashed, scrubbed, flipped and folded. I don’t know if I could have handled that.
So the scrubbing continues until you run out of skin, and then she has you shower and scrub your own face with some gel. You come back and there’s a new washcloth for your face as you go tummy-down on the slab and get… hand-washed. All over.
HAND WASHED ALL OVER.
More buckets of water, more splashing, and then she sent me to the hot sauna to dry off. I got confused and thought she wanted me to sit in there, so she came to get me, politely scolding me in Korean.
Then came the massage portion of The Goddess, which was very elbow-y indeed. Then you get a mint scalp massage that was long enough for me to come up with the perfect description of how it felt: Thumb-Stabby. It is a credit to my bikini lady that I did fall asleep during some portion of her hour-long massage. Because that place is filled with echo-y, splashy noise. And oh, when she wrapped my head in a towel and pulled? My spine popped from my cerebellum to my coccyx like I was made of bubble wrap. Glorious.
There’s oils and a facial and a mask and rubbing and more oils and then a ten-minute breast massage (prompting Tara to note: “Well, if I have any lumps I should get looked at, that lady is the one who would know.”) and lots of flipping and more oils and at one point my breasts were so shiny and new I looked like I was about to do a Maxim cover shoot. But you know, your breasts work hard all day, looking nice and being present, making a good impression, getting you jobs and stuff. Why shouldn’t they get massaged just like your hard-working feet?
After what feels like an entire day, you are flipped, dressed, patted, and all but hugged as you are sent to the hot room for sixty seconds of self-reflection that mostly goes, “Wow, I think that lady and I are technically dating.”
“No shower,” was all she said. “No shower today.” So you go to this hot platform near the lockers, grab a mat and camp out for a while on a warm floor.
It is truly the opposite experience of Burke Williams, where all the women walk around nakedly taut and tan, like they’re auditioning for something on Showtime, loudly chatting about someone’s party the other night, smacking on apples and bananas while someone in the corner insists on being naked while she’s bent at the waist, blow-drying her hair.
This was more like we were in a women-in-prison movie where the guards are pretending to go hard on you, but once they get you to their little tables they are actually doing something that’s for your own good.
Because I swear to you I am so damn soft right now I’m like a dollop of whipped cream. My arms are glowy in that “Famous Lady on Oprah” way. I always thought it was the lighting. But perhaps it’s because Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie get most of their skin layers scrubbed away by the Korean Spa ladies in lingerie.