Against my better judgement, I’ve decided to take part in a growing fad; Dry January. If you haven’t heard, Dry January started as a public health campaign in the UK. Concept is simple; don’t drink alcohol for the month of January. This will, in theory, benefit your health and wallet. Start the year off right! One article I found on Reuters claims the participation has grown from 4,000 in 2012 to 4,000,000 in 2018 in the UK alone. Now it’s global. How are they tracking it? I’m also skeptical of the claims that folks who even just attempt Dry January and falter, (every article includes this quasi-fact) still receive health benefits all year long. Report where and to whom, and these are already health conscious minded people, right? So…? Scientific studies on the health benefits of Dry January are inconclusive. But it sure sounds like it should help! Okay, now that I’ve voiced my New Yorker cynicism, let me also say, of course, there are positive aspects and the movement is clearly growing. Dry January has entered popular culture. It has it’s own Twitter handle and is a popular trending hashtag! The most common benefits reported by participants are clearer skin and better sleep. Also, many people complain they thought they’d loose weight and didn’t. That gives me a giggle. Personally, while I understand the idea of jump starting the new year fresh from holiday indulgences, I think cold, bleak, rainy/snowy January is maybe the worst month to be sober. Just my seasonal affect disorder talking? It would be so much easier in June! Sigh. Why as I playfully take aim punching holes into this modern temperance movement am I a participant? I guess like everyone else I’m looking for something. So, shocking my system to start 2019 by throwing myself in a metaphorical ice bath sounded like as good an idea as any. Today, I’m headed into the opposite of an ice bath. I’m heading towards heat. To embrace the Dry January detox I am en route to Koreatown, I’m heading to to Wi Spa.
Wi Spa is a Korean style spa in Los Angeles. For $25 you can slip away from all of the city’s hustle and bustle and treat yourself to a day of relaxation. Or, night; Wi Spa is a 24 hour operation. I wonder who’s here at 3AM. There are no windows, once you enter, the world outside is meant to fade away. Upon check-in you are provided with what looks like a watch, but instead is the key to open your locker and used to make any purchases during your stay (food, beverage, massage or other offered spa treatments). I quickly change, store my bag and street clothes in my locker and head to the gym. Decent sized gym with all of the equipment you would want and always the loneliest place at Wi Spa. As I hit the weights today there are only three other people in the gym; two women chatting on treadmills and one lady who is wearing jeans, winter coat, and hat, sipping coffee and pacing in circles around the ellipticals. While I pump iron, let’s give you a glimpse of what is to come. Wi Spa is four stories of Zen. The basement is the Women’s Lockers and facilities. The first floor is the gym, check in and Men’s Lockers and facilities. I say “facilities” because the lockers open to showers, whirlpool, sauna, cold pool, grooming showers (small stool in front of a mirror with equally low shower head), relaxation lounge (lazy boys in quiet room), sleeping room, body scrub area and more. The second floor is for all your acupuncture, massage, body treatments, nail and skin care needs. The third floor, dubbed the “jimjilbang”, (which translates to sauna) has a large common area, five more saunas, kid zone, computer area, small library and restaurant. There is also a roof, but I forgot to check it out. The roof, gym & jimjilbang are coed; the rest is segregated by gender. Now that I’ve finished my workout and given the rundown, shall we head inside?
Inside is into the lockers and then spa area. I rinse off at the showers quickly as requested before making my way in. I start by jumping in the whirlpool. Too quickly as fate would have it, so I do a little twisting and wincing as my body tries to adjust to the heat faster then it wanted to. I guess now is as good a time as any to address the elephant in the room (which is really unfortunate phrasing in this situation), Wi Spa’s facilities are all nude. Towels are provided but they are little bigger then a face towel. We’ll have to find a lady scribe to tell you how this plays out in the Women’s Locker Room, but oddly, maybe even awkwardly, I am now going to talk about the Men’s. You’re welcome. While I am comfortable with my body, I am not a “naked guy”. Showering, adult fun time with a lady = when Johnny is gung-ho for naked. I don’t feel like I am missing anything. I don’t want to be a naked guy. And I think, as an American, this is highly cultural. We aren’t as comfortable with nudity or our bodies as many places around the world. Heck, we were founded by Puritans who thought the Catholic church wasn’t hardcore enough. The cultural differences play out like a brisk farce at Wi Spa. Rough estimate; 65% of the clientele is Asian. Everyone else is white. I saw one black dude and no man who looked anything else. From my observations, the Asian men waltz around in their birthday suits completely at ease. They appear ignorant to what they clearly should be feeling; shame. My caucasian brethren, it’s a different tale. There’s the; eyes on the horizon, head held high, arms stiffly at my side, pain in my expression, with methodical march as though to my death, approach. The hurried walker. The brutally self aware guy who tries to wait for a quiet opening, then with twisted form (as if that would help), scurry between places. The, I just happen to be casually holding this tiny towel in front of my junk while I walk, guy. And then the two faced coin of inappropriateness; the strutter, who aches to be viewed and finally, the leer-er.
I’ve got a killer story about a leer-er. Want to hear it? Sure you do. Someone please mark this as the moment Johnny looses his blog audience. Yes? Popcorn? And we’re off. When I was in my mid-twenties I belonged to New York Sports Club. One day I was working out at one of their midtown locations. 46th and Broadway, if memory serves. When first in the locker room a leer-er was burning a hole into me with his eyes. Chubby, hairy, balding guy, hard to forget. I fled to the gym floor and forgot all about it vanishing into my workout. After, I wrapped a towel around my waist and decided to pop into the steam room before my shower. Leer-er is in the steam room. Him and one other dude, but across the steam room, not together. I find a spot with some distance and try to ignore it. I even close my eyes. Relax. After some time, in my head, I start to think how he was in the locker room when I arrived and now an hour later and I never saw him on the gym floor. Was he in the locker room this whole time? I open my eyes, casually look over and when I do, he’s eyeing me. Movement attracts my attention. He’s jerking off. Wait for it! When I turn to the other guy in the steam room for shocked support, he is also jerking off starring at me. What did I do? I burst out laughing. Which, clearly, they did not expect. And for a moment, they froze, while I, wrapped in a towel in a steam room, with men on either side holding their dicks, doubled over in belly laugh hysterics. Next I stood up and announced “must be going” and sped out. I’ve told this story to a number of friends and it always pulls in yucks. Hope for your sake it’s not all in the delivery.
…Back to Wi Spa. Unless you need a minute? Who’s pumped I told that story? NOTHING like that happens at Wi Spa. NOTHING. And signs warn any inappropriate or sexual behavior results in lifetime ban. Please do not infer any gay panic or bashing. No no no. And while I would never start jerking off, if the spa was filled with naked women, I’m afraid I’d turn into a leer-er myself. Heck, the craziest thing I find is, you can’t help but notice guy’s dicks cause when do you ever walk around in a room where everyone is walking around naked?! All this behavior, the good, bad and comical, really is our cultural differences on display. Literally. The idea of going for a day here with a friend (which plenty of folks do) I can’t imagine happening. I don’t know if I/we should “get over it” or if it is simply who we are and differences are just that. Neither good nor bad. I do always drape said hand towel over my crotch when I sit in the steam room or sauna so I can unconsciously fully enjoy the benefits. And I do. I do find the heat, dry or wet, to provide relaxing and healing properties. That’s why I made this pilgrimage. Not thinking anymore about who’s naked. I take deep, Dry January breaths. Change in, toxins out.
Is he still talking about penises? No, I am not. The spa section of this entry is over. Together, we survived. We are going to move out and on, there is so much more to discover. I find a robe and go sit in the relaxation area. As I mentioned briefly before, it’s a good sized room with a bunch of lazy boy’s and a big TV playing ESPN on mute with closed captioning. I stretch out on my lazy boy and spend a little time with my book, We Stand Alone, the story of the tragic battle in the valley of Dien Bien Phu, the final French stand in Vietnam. Part of my Dry January resolve is to read more. I poke my head into the sleeping room out of curiosity. Opening the door spills in light to the otherwise large dark room filled with men lying on floor mats trying to steal some shut eye. One rolls up and grunts at me. Next, I change into my Wi Spa attire. Everyone is given the same beige shorts and men beige shirt that says “Wi Spa”. The women’s shirts are yellow. Disposable sandals are also provided. This isn’t just a suggestion, it’s mandated dress code. I start my climb up the stairs to the jimjilbang mindful of how much I detest wearing sandals and struggle to comprehend why others enjoy. Fun bizarre fact about Johnny; I strongly prefer wearing footwear I feel I could take off running in at any given notice. I’m serious. It weighs in heavily when choosing footwear. Fucking sandals. They fall off 4 times in 3 flights of stairs. I have to curl my toes to hold the damn things on
Jimjilbang! It’s funny to see a room full of people all wearing the same beige shorts and beige/yellow shirt. It feels futuristic somehow. The outfit is flattering on no one. The main room is crowded today. The floor is covered with mats, sleeping and relaxing patrons. Many on iPhones or iPads. Kids are hanging out with their families. Friends are talking. Reunited couples are cuddling and sharing harrowing tales of rampant nudity. There are several TV’s playing playoff football, the news and Korean game shows. It has a rainy down lounging on the couch feel. Along one side of the room are five saunas: Bulgama, Jade, Clay, Salt, Ice. The Bulgama is a circular stone sauna, the Jade has healing minerals in it’s wall, in the Clay sauna you literally lie on a sea of small clay balls, Salt the same but you’re lying on large chunks of salt and Ice is a cold sauna. I most enjoy the Clay sauna, though it’s never quiet inside because of how much noise people make getting in and out of and adjusting on lots of little clay balls. Still, it’s fun to sink in and be relaxed by the heat. The Salt sauna has a TV inside playing a Korean news program. I start thinking about tequila so I get out. For a second I wonder, how does no one die? So many people appear to be sleeping and no one is monitoring how long folks stay in these 130 degree rooms. Morbid? Just me? Jimjilbang!
I wait in line to order food, sufficiently cooked and tenderized for the day. The couple in front of me is asked to leave the floor; they’re wearing their street clothes which is not allowed. I order a bowl of Beef Pho. Things come off the rails a bit here. The Pho takes forever. The small cafeteria is packed. I wait at a table. It’s about two feet high so I am sitting cross legged on the floor. My calm, jello demeanor begins to vanish as I wait and wait and wait. When the food finally arrives it’s fairly bland. I’m annoyed but I guess you can’t win them all.
When I exit the doors of Wi Spa, the parking lot is wildly overcrowded. I hear honking horns on the street. I’m thrown back into Los Angeles. Inside is an escape to a different world where the only goal is relaxation. It seemed a logical pairing with my Dry January endeavor. Whatever health benefits I may or may not be getting can only be aided by lots of sweating. I have to wait as the valet plays car Tetris before I have a path to exit. I chug some water and start up my Sirus XM radio. How many days left? And away we go.
If you want more of a visual, enjoy this skit from Conan’s visit.