AK is taking this class where she’s required to put herself in culturally uncomfortable/unfamiliar situations and write about them. I clearly don’t totally understand it, because every time I suggest something (“Ooh! I know! Take that improv class you’ve been talking about!”), she tells me, No, it’s not like that.
But somehow we ended up at a Korean spa at ten p.m. last night because one of the “spheres” she can investigate is race/ethnicity. All I knew about Korean spas was that they’re really naked, and Margaret Cho got kicked out of one for having too many tattoos. Sure enough, there was a sign at the front desk that said: We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone with offensive tattoos or infectious skin conditions.
|The pride parade committee was not offended.|
I kept my swimsuit on, which seemed like the lesser of two nonconforming evils. The place was quiet and steamy and full of good shampoo smells. We had our choice of Hot, Warm or Cold hot tubs. Only a big-time masochist would choose anything but warm, which was actually pretty hot.
I’d just opened the new issue of Redbook to get tips on flattering fashions from Khloe Kardashian when the manager looked up from disinfecting a surface.
“No…” she said, gesturing to her chest. No swimsuits allowed.
I wish I was the kind of fierce Margaret Cho type to whip off my tankini top right there and confront her with the reality of me—but it’s kind of like why I would never find it funny to fart on someone. If it’s your body that’s freaking someone out, it seems like the joke’s on you. So I just trudged to the locker room with my head hung cartoonishly low.
I returned in my regulation white robe and slipped back into the Warm hot tub naked. No one was around except AK. My big stand was very anti-climactic, which was fine with me.
We checked out the gym, where AK tried one of those exercise belts you see in old movies, and the lounge, where a dozen middle-aged women with face cream lay in Barcaloungers watching a Korean movie.
|Best gym shoes ever.|
This was somewhat fascinating to me. I’ve read my share of feminist sex worker lit, but other than driving down Santa Monica Boulevard, I’ve never seen a prostitute up close. I mean, I’m sure I have, but not an obvious one who’s only recently off the clock. But given that this spa is open twenty-four hours a day and includes showers and futons with the $15 entry, it’s kind of a perfect between-shifts hostel.
It seems a little offensive to be fascinated—it seems like the right answer is Sex Workers: They’re Just Like Us. Then again, aren’t they kind of in the fascination business?
2. radiation: also not a pedicure
This morning I had my first actual radiation appointment. Unlike chemo, which was in a big open room full of spa chairs and friendly staff ready to get you a cup of ice, radiation is all business. It’s in the basement. It feels like a basement. The machine looks like a robot from the 1970s. The staff jostles you around and marks you up with Sharpie while telling you to stay still. They say things like, “Now we’re putting some permanent marks on you” and one second later you have three freckle-size tattoos that feel much more offensive (to yourself) than anything Margaret Cho might have on her body.
|How about you respect me, huh, radiation?|
The machine comes close but never touches you, like a tentative cat. Behind its glass face are metal teeth that position themselves according to your Treatment Plan, you suppose, although your Treatment Plan perplexes you at the moment (why are they radiating the lymph nodes in your neck? You had no cancer in any of your lymph nodes). The machine’s moving teeth remind you of a player piano. One that only plays smooth jazz.
Then it’s over and a very pregnant nurse is talking to you about skin care, and you’re thinking, Since the last time I saw you, before chemo, I lost all my hair and you created life. You’ll have a little permanent tan, she says, but no major long-term side effects. Radiating the clavicle lymph nodes only increases your risk of lymphedema by a little bit. At least, she thinks so. But the doctor’s not here today, you can talk to her tomorrow.
What you know now that you didn’t know six months ago: You can lose and lose and lose and still be you. If you have the skin of an eighty-five-year-old and an arm full of fluid, you will be okay. What you also know: This knowledge is a shitty consolation prize.
You drive to work. There’s a construction-related detour that lasts longer than your radiation appointment. Beneath your sweater, you’re still covered in Sharpie.