Whenever my wife gets mad at me, which is often, she threatens to "soften up my rough edges." But as a professional adventurer I can't afford to get too accustomed to creature comforts. In a typical day I am usually baked by the sun, bitten by insects and covered in salt, so rough, tough skin is an asset.
When I was approached by a local public relations executive to do a story on a "Gentleman's Spa Treatment," my initial reaction was "no way."
But looking at the menu for available services, I noticed one that caught my eye, a Bern's Bourbon on the Rocks pedicure.
It sounded more like a cocktail than a spa service, so I asked, "Do you drink the whiskey, or wash your feet with it?"
A little of both, I was told.
Spa Evangeline, at Tampa's Epicurean Hotel, has an assortment of treatments designed for men. But once I got to the counter, I started to have second thoughts.
"What if somebody sees me here? I am an outdoors writer," I said.
Melissa Ratkovits, the spa's director, tried to calm my fears. "We have a lot of professional athletes that use our services," she said. "Baseball, football, hockey … they all come."
I tried to explain that the only strangers who have touched my legs and feet are trauma surgeons. And my feet … well, they are kind of gnarly. "I wear flip-flops to work," I said. "It's in my job description."
Sensing my nervousness, my beauty consultant, Rachael Flynn, stepped in and took control.
"Can I offer you a drink?" she asked. I looked at my watch, which read 10:09 a.m., and responded, "I usually don't start drinking whiskey until noon, but considering the circumstances, that would be great."
A little Maker's Mark in the morning is good for you from time to time, especially when somebody is about to mess with your feet.
"Just sit back and relax," Flynn said. "You're not ticklish now, are you?"
The Bern's Bourbon on the Rocks Foot Treatment is the spa's signature warm stone pedicure. It starts off with a spiked molten bourbon scrub followed by a Clarisonic foot-smoothing ritual. Then my nails were "groomed," which was an entirely foreign experience for me.
"What are you going to do with those electrical pliers?" I asked.
"They are not electrical pliers," Flynn responded. "They are cuticle scissors."
"What's a cuticle?" I asked, not really looking for an answer, because by now, the bourbon had kicked in, and all I really wanted was a nap. Then she "buffed" my toenails and gave my feet a warm agave nectar stone massage that was so enjoyable I felt guilty.
"How are you doing?" she asked.
"Great," I said. "My feet have never been treated so nice. They are going to get spoiled."
After 50 minutes of favoring my feet, it was time for the Back to Nature Face & Back Treatment, which, I had to admit, was badly needed. I don't spend much time on my personal appearance (I know, it's obvious) but I try to use sunscreen and shower daily if I can.
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To me "back to nature" means taking a dip in the Gulf of Mexico, not getting rubbed down with something I might find under my wife's bathroom sink. But as Flynn explained, this deep-cleansing treatment was designed for men. She promised I would not leave smelling like a girl — not that there is anything wrong with that — but any hunter or angler worth their salt will tell you that an unnatural scent is a surefire way to scare away prey.
Deep down I knew that after 50 years of hard living my face, neck and back were probably in dire need of detoxification. The treatment also involved "exfoliating," which is a fancy way to describe scraping dead skin off your body. Supposedly it improves "overall skin texture and appearance," but the latter might be stretching it.
Flynn explained everything she did each step of the way, but to be honest, with the soft music and low lights, I really didn't pay attention. I was just glad that for once I wasn't cold, wet and tired, stuck on a sandbar somewhere, waiting for high tide.
"You still awake?" she asked.
"I think so," I said.
It took a few seconds for me to respond, because I had to think about it. I'm still not sure if the whole thing was real, or just a really sweet dream.
Contact Terry Tomalin at firstname.lastname@example.org.