Sunday at the Spa

What’s a better gift than comfort and relaxation? I’d argue that there’s none. While some people see it as a luxury, others enjoy massage therapy as a part of their regular health and wellness routine – lucky people indeed.  The waiting room at the Well Spa one Sunday afternoon was filled with new guests and regulars: an athletic looking man, an anxious couple, a mother-daughter duo, and an older woman pouring over a magazine. Everyone was whispering and slowly slipping away from the chaos of their own worlds in the solace of the waiting room, where the Well Spa experience really begins. I was cautious to interrupt people, so I began observing with my eyes behind a tattered copy of People and waited for an opportune moment to approach a guest.

As the sleek, all-black clad therapists cycled in and out to escort guests back to their private suites,  Ashley and Michael’s eyes continued to widen. They smiled and peered over each other’s shoulders at the surveys they were filling out detailing their preferences for the treatment. It was obvious that they had no idea what they were about the experience.

So I just had to ask – “Is this your first time here?” Ashely chirped back. “Oh yes, this is our first massage and we’re going in together.”  It was a birthday gift from Ashley to Michael, who turned 24 on Sunday. “Michael was having some back pain, so I thought this would be good for him.”  A romantic couples massage is a perfect gift, in fact, it’s two great gifts wrapped up in one, as the giver also benefits from his/her own generosity.

Ashley and Michael have been dating for five years and married for three. They’ve lived in Milwaukee all their lives, but they’ve never been to the Pfister Hotel. After their massage, they planned to  continue the birthday celebration at dinner.

As more guests circulated out from the suites back into the waiting room, they moved a little slower, stood a little taller and their skin looked a little fresher. They marched back into the real world, hopefully better equipped to combat harsh realities like the weather, work, and stress. Thankfully this harmonious oasis is open seven days a week.

welcome to the Well Spa
Welcome to the Well Spa

Quietude

The first thing seized is the nose. The smell is, at once, familiar and exotic: chocolate, ginger, hyacinth, grandma’s house and ocean breeze. This must be the scent of ambrosia.

Next, the eyes take in the organic symmetry of the room: open and clean lines, recessed nooks and uncluttered walls, multiple sitting areas, oversized planters and ottoman.  The space is bathed in comforting tones of caramel and sand. Soft leather.  Textured fabrics. Brushed metals. Polished glass. The décor is resplendent refined, the livable chic of a Park Avenue apartment (or, I should say, how I imagine a Park Avenue apartment).

I’m in the waiting area for the Well Spa + Salon. One woman is waiting with me.  She is in a sitting area closer to the entrance,  pressing the keypad of her cell phone.  She’s cozy on her leather island and I’m comfy on mine.

A tall woman with the angular limbs of a runway model appears from a hallway. She is dressed in slim black pants and a loose black blouse draping from one shoulder.  Her heels snap rhythms against the hardwood.

“Collette?” she asks.  The cell phone woman is ushered from her private island into the salon behind a frosted glass door.

A young guy with a high and fanning mohawk saunters through the waiting room, his oil dispenser hooked onto one of his belt loops. His eyes face ahead of him, but he wears a faint smile, like it’s carrying a lingering joke. More therapists and stylists criss cross the waiting room: a short, dark-haired woman; a tall, pregnant blonde; a thick-hipped brunette; an average-in-every-way soccer mom; a long sculpted ponytail.  They all wear black. They all wear pleasant expressions. They all move swiftly. What’s most notable, however, is how they all make minimal eye contact.  Each passes with the quiet and deliberateness of a river ebb.

As each guest arrives, I wanted to ask a battery of questions, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to disturb this shared quietude to ask whether this spa trip was a ritual or a special treat. If there was a specific stressor they hoped to have kneaded from beneath their skin. If they were still searching for a stylist to call their very own. Did the therapists approach each landscape of skin with a different sense of adventure. How do they relax when they’re not shepherding clients into zen?

Years ago, I remember sitting in a nail shop, my feet massaged by bubbling jets and my nails drying in painted gloss. The salon hummed with luxuriating customers until one voice began to peel away the soothing ease.

He was perched in the high chair next to me, his girlfriend next to him. One after the other, to seemingly no one in particular, he lobbed commentary about the warm water, the antibacterial spray to his toes, the antics playing out on television, the storm forecast, etc.  I’m sure the couples’ pedicure was a great idea when his girlfriend first thought of it.

“First time?” I finally asked.

He nodded, broad smile.

“Very different from the barber shop,” I said, smiling back.  “You get to just sit back and relax.”

He looked around. The technicians and their clients were leaning in close to trade quiet conversations, if they spoke at all; a few customers bantered lightly across aisles; some murmured into cell phones; most flipped through magazines, sat quietly or gazed up to the television. Understanding dawned on my neighbors’ face. He leaned back and embraced the quiet.

Once again, here in the Well Spa, I share a rich silence with strangers. It feels sacred. Or, maybe, this “right now” is the blessing. Our intersection of lives might have in common a precocious toddler, a fiesty dog, a new lease, an ailing friend or nothing at all.

I retreat into my notebook, welcoming the ease of not having to fill my mouth with words or drawing reluctant sounds from someone else’s. We are cocooned here, soothed with calming sights and smells, cradled in a suspended stillness.  Though I won’t be guided into the skilled hands of a masseuse or a stylist as I leave the waiting room, I ascend the staircase into the hotel lobby feeling wholly renewed.