Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's a helluva town

One day in New York City, I was riding the subway downtown.  Across the aisle sat an older couple, clearly tourists.  The man, a jumpy guy in a baggy sweatsuit, nervously fingered his fanny pack while eying the other passengers.  His wife, also clad in sweats, was rooting through the contents of an enormous denim purse.  Whatever she was looking for was hiding.  Determined to find it, she put both arms in the bag up to the elbows, spread wide the zipper, and inserted her face into the opening. 

As we pulled into a station, the conductor made an announcement over the train's intercom system.  The message was completely unintelligible to me and, judging from their confused expressions, to most of the other passengers as well.  The man across the aisle, however, listened intently to the garbled announcement, jumped up, and bolted off the train.

The woman's head resurfaced from the depths of her purse just in time to see her husband exiting the train.  She gathered her belongings and followed him.  As she was about to step onto the platform, the doors of subway car closed.

On the platform, the man turned and saw his wife still inside the train.  His face took on an expression of surprise and, a split second later, sheer terror.  Six inches away on the other side of the glass, his wife's face twisted into a furious scowl.  She glared at him, baring clenched teeth.  Her red, bulging fists tightened around the strap of her purse.

For several long seconds, the train did not move.  The couple stood frozen in this horrible moment.  Slowly, with a soft whirring noise, the train began pulling away from the station.  The woman stood there, clutching her bag and watching her terrified husband grow smaller and smaller as he receded into the distance.

To my side was my own husband.  He, too, had seen the drama unfold.  "Wow," I whispered, "that guy is in big trouble.  How are they going to find one another?  They'll need to return to the hotel to meet up.  It'll take hours out of their day, including the yelling and abject apologies.  Forget wherever they were headed together."

"Yeah, she's gonna tear him a new one," my husband said knowingly.  "Their vacation is totally ruined.  They may as well go back to Idaho right now."

New York is a tough town, for tourists and residents alike.  But it's the greatest show on earth.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Take your chances at Nance's (Mud Macht Frei)

Several years ago, I visited my friend P in Berkeley, California. Just for the hell of it, we took a trip to wine country. What a place! Beautiful scenery, fantastic weather, and the most sophisticated drunk drivers in the world!

To cap off this mind-blowing experience, P and I headed to Nance's Hot Springs in Calistoga. We were tired and ready for some pampering. We entered the office and eagerly paid $55 each for a package of mud bath, mineral soak, and massage. We were directed through a velvet curtain. We entered a long hallway and, after many twists and turns, found ourselves in a windowless concrete bunker. There stood a middle-aged woman in shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops. She was clutching a garden hose. "Take off your clothes," she ordered. Terrified, we stripped and placed our possessions in the burlap sacks she provided.

"Now," she said, "You need to be cleaned." She blasted us with cold water from the hose. "Lift up your arms. I gotta get your pits." Freezing water pelted our underarms and, then, for a long time, our privates. "Time to get in the mud."

I was first for the chop. Waving her hose, the woman directed me to a crude brick structure, much larger than a tub but with similar proportions. It was filled with mud and straw. She dropped her hose and grabbed a large, wooden paddle. She directed me to sit on the side of the tub with my legs sticking out over the mud. Without warning, she jammed the paddle under my ass and shoved me out into the center of the mud bath -- kind of like how pizzas are shoved into ovens. Suddenly the paddle was gone, and I found myself floating on top of the mud. It was very hot and equally smelly. Bits of straw poked at me.

"Now I'm gonna pile mud on you," the woman informed me. "Don't move. The mud is heated from below. If you touch the floor of the tub, you could be horribly burned." This was new and unsettling information. Apparently taking a mud bath is like surviving quicksand: If you panic and flail about, you will be sucked to the bottom and perish. YOU MUST KEEP YOUR HEAD IF YOU WANT TO GET OUT ALIVE!

As the woman flopped hot, stinking mud all over me, I noticed P in the corner. She had been observing everything with a keen eye. Before she had a chance to escape, however, the woman turned on her and said, "You're next." Soon P was in the mud bath next to mine.  The woman plopped wet rags over our eyes and left.

So there we lay -- blinded, up to our necks in mud, and afraid to move. A long time passed. We grew very thirsty.  The hot mud sucked and burped around us.

Finally, the woman returned. She yanked the rags off our eyes and, with the paddle, lifted us out of the mud. My skin vibrated with joy as it met the cool air.

The woman led us to a bare pipe protruding from a wall. "Shower off here," she said. I saw raw fear in P's eyes -- would we get a shower, or Zyklon B gas? The woman turned a valve under the pipe, and water began trickling out. Ecstatic, P and I took turns standing under the cold water. We helped each other get the mud and straw out of our hair and asscracks.

Our survival was rewarded with a mineral soak and massage. These were actually quite pleasant, especially after the trial by mud. We dressed and were permitted to leave. It was great!

Overall, I would give Nance's a rating of 8 out of 10. The location and price can't be beat, but they really need to improve their massage-to-terror ratio.