How I Lost My Full-Body Callus at Spa Castle

Date: 6/13/11
Venue: Spa Castle, 131-10 Ave Collegepoint, NY 11356
Event: A day’s worth of sitting around in saunas, swimming, eating Korean food– to culminate in an assult by a tiny near-naked middle-aged Korean woman with scrubby pads.

The day began as many days of mine begin… with a crazy-ass workout where I do something previously assumed to be impossible (like lift 300lbs). Afterwards, I promised my aunt to go with her to a spa I’ve never heard of, but which she raved about. I’ve never been to a spa before, therefore this can’t be an objective comparison to other such establishments… but something tells me “other such establishments” are far and few between. You be the judge.

The place is called Spa Castle and is touted as a luxurious experience for an unusually low price. In fact, their slogan is “Welcome to Paradise.” $35 on a weekday ($45 on a weekend) will get you into 4 floors worth of hot baths, saunas, food courts, lounges, bars, massage chairs, rooftop bade pools with jets of waters beating different bits of you, a fitness center (for an extra $5) and an opportunity to be surrounded by naked women. If you’re a woman too. Sorry about that… I know some of you just got excited. The place is open from 6:30am until 11:30pm and you can hang out as long as you like once you pay the entrance fee. For more money you can also get a variety of treatments, mostly massages, more on that later.

It all began quite excitingly with me driving back and forth in front of the place not understanding where to park until my aunt finally saw me, and waved me frantically towards the front where an honest to god valet quickly sped off with my car to an unknown location at no charge (I got the car back, just so you know). We finally entered, paid, and were given little magnetic watches, each with a number that served as a locker key as a well as a way to keep a mounting tab without concerning yourself with things like money or cards, or pants in which to carry them.

I am from Eastern Europe and the concept of “banya” is not foreign to me. As a child I was unceremoniously shoved into a small wooden cabin, with everything heated to “almost on fire” temperature, where I was then doused in hot water, beaten with a bunch of sticks, doused with more hot, then cold water, beaten and slapped around some more, laughed at by my naked grandmother and her neighbor who were administering these beatings, and finally wrapped in a towel and shoved outside. That is banya. It seemed fine at the time.

20 years have passed since that experience and all of a sudden I have to be naked in public again. You don’t have to get nude right away, you can technically change in the bathroom or something, but eventually you WILL take everything off, and wander around clutching a tiny towel around your private parts while everyone else struts around like it ain’t no thing. As I wasn’t quite up for it, we instead put the matching PJ’s that are handed out to all and must be donned, were scolded out of our footwear, and started a bare-foot self-guided tour.

We were actually starving, so we ended up going to the rooftop and getting some Korean food at the Sky Restaurant. It was delicious and spicy, although mild choices (rice-based things mostly) were available. We brought bathing suits, put those on in the relative privacy of the bathrooms (only the lobby floor is separated into male and female areas. Everywhere else you can have a curtain or even a door to hide your nudity behind), and hit the Bade Pools. They were awesome. Tile was shaped into a variety of seats, with imported jets beating us from every side and angle, stealing our bottoms, and sometimes assaulting us with surprising power. We spent a bit of time in a hottub, surrounded by bubbles and strangers, and then finally went back to the bathroom to change. No towels were available on this floor, unfortunately… so keep in mind to get those downstairs and keep them with you at all times if you go.

Every level had some sort of food and drinks available. There was even a Starbucks, which is how you knew you were in New York. Everything was a bit pricey (still in New York), but you didn’t need to carry a wallet, so there is that, I guess.

The saunas were pretty amazing. Like multicolored igloos, each had a specific temperature, aroma, and design. Some had straw mats on the floor, others benches. There was even one called “Ice Land” which I absolutely had to visit to try to get my muscles to stop screaming at me a la morning workout. We spent many hours in these, sweating, freezing, sweating some more. You know… what you’re supposed to do there. Then we decided to book massages.

My aunt is pretty hard core about massages and exfoliation, purification, etc. I was thinking the Swedish massage ($90 for 60 min), but she was going to go for the exfoliating scrub, face mask, milk bath AND massage and eventually it just seemed that it made more sense monetarily, since it cost the same as a measly old Swedish massage all on its own. And so, “body scrub with massage” for a total of 95 dollars and to last an exciting 80 minutes of relaxation was booked. As we still had hours to go before our 6pm appointment, we finally went down to the lobby again and indulged in public nudity. This was accomplished in the bathing houses, which is what dominates the lobby if you don’t count the rows and columns of lockers.

Try to imagine all the naked ladies frolicking in Olde Roman Bathing Houses. It was totally like that, but with fewer women smiling as they pour water on each other, wiggling shapely bottoms and thighs. The place reminded me of just how unattractive most people are. It also served to remind me to stop eating fucking cake before I get rolls on my rolls. I stayed out of the central mineral pools because I was intimidated by the large ladies who laid claim to them and instead stayed in the side pools, which were basically bade pools all over again with the same jets, but less open sky.

After a while I got sick of being there and my aunt and I split up. I stayed in the Ice Land “sauna” to get a little alone time. No one else was interested in sitting around a place full of dry ice. I fell asleep for a bit in the lounge. Finally it was time. My aunt and I were told to get naked and wait around for our numbers to be called. I didn’t want to be naked so soon, so we lay around some couches in our “uniforms” until finally two middle-aged Korean ladies in black bikinis demanded our presence. We had to strip at lightning speed though there was a girl using the locker below mine and I was totally freaked out about undressing over her head. This feeling served as an appropriate beginning to the experience that was to follow.

I was invited to lie down on a slippery massage bench with a towel under me. A towel was placed over my face, effectively blinding me, and then for about 20-25 minutes every goddamned bit of me deemed “not an internal organ” was scrubbed almost out of existence. Fingers covered in what felt like sandpaper went where no strange fingers should really go at all. Occasionally she would douse me with water with no warning. At first I didn’t like it, but then my skin cried out for a gentle touch, and this water provided. Very suddenly the torture ended (or so I thought) and… Milk! All of a sudden I was covered in goddamned milk! Sounds luxurious, right? Being bathed in milk and honey is, I believe, the highest aspiration of some culture or another. Well, I just smelled a slightly sour smell and got beaten up while covered in milk.  Then,  after being rubbed down with… soap? I was pulled up into a sitting position and told to go shower, which I shakily did. I soon returned to my torture chamber, which by the way was the first in a row of similar benches with a naked lady being scraped or beaten on each one. Mine was special because it was on display. I guess the idea was to lure in more customers.

Before I knew it, I was being rubbed down with baby lotion.  I know this sounds almost like a porno waiting to happen, but it was anything but sensual. I was essentially meat getting tenderized. A mask of cucumber slime was applied. What started out as the possible beginning of a relaxing massage, perhaps to make up for previous digressions into territory of pure pain, soon became an exercise in finding each of my muscles, poking it, slapping it, shoving elbows in it. I knew she was done with a body part when she punched the shit out of it. I was told to flip over, flip over, flip over, sit up. Then I laid down again, and she attempted to crush my skull, which still hurts and it’s been a whole day. Just as I thought it wasn’t going to get any weirder, I was told to flip on my stomach, and suddenly hands were by my boobs and a moment later there was a Koren lady on my back, smashing me with her knees, sliding her feet along my legs, sliding around in general like I was a goddamned ice skating rink until she straddled me, then she climbed me again and again and repeated the procedure. Hot towels were then applied and once again she hopped atop me and used her entire body to smash me into submission.

Eventually she left me alone, breathing hard, not knowing what to expect. And then she started pulling me off the table by my arms. Slippery as hell I tried to fight her. No! I don’t want to smash to the floor head first, “Watch your hair!” she yelled at me, “Watch my  head!” I yelled back. But there was no fighting it. When she started applying shampoo, I realized I was just getting my hair washed. Oh… OK. A bit more of skull crushing and shoulder stabbing later, and I was finished. I stumbled into the shower again. Bewildered. Unsure of how I felt about this. Feeling mostly like I was just in a methodical, efficient, consensual fight for my life. Which I maybe won.

Since it’s been a day, I have to say that my back isn’t nearly as sore as it was after the craziness in the gym, and none of my other muscles feel sore at all. I was happy and energetic today, feeling sort of renewed. Overall,  I still can’t say I recommend it, nor would I warn anyone away. It’s one of those things where you make up your own mind about being tortured by a mostly naked little Korean woman who will crawl on you like a spider monkey as she donkey punches you into submission.

A piece of advice…  No, not sarcastic advice, real advice. If you do intend to experience the sorts of things described above, go on a weekday. As traumatized as I was, it would have been worse in a huge crowd, which you can expect on Saturday and Sunday.

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