On Indulgence

Today I went to my first public bath house. Or, perhaps it's better to say I went to my first public hot tub. When I think of public bath houses, I'm inclined to remember Mr. Kanna's cryptic lectures on Japanese history back in seventh grade, or the archeological remains of public baths in the tiny town of Ronda in southern Spain. So I guess I was expecting a slightly medieval experience.

We took the 49 bus all the way down Van Ness, which is one of those epic public transit journeys when you pass from neighborhood to neighborhood as if you were in a plane jumping continents. First the taquerias, then the huge Goodwill thrift mart, then the Civic Center and the Opera House and the hotels and, way off in the distance, that surprising blue-green of the bay. Ryan and I have both been harboring a cold--me for the better part of two weeks, him just for the last few days. We almost walked by the Hot Tubs, its neon sign obscured by an elm tree in front of the bus stop.

Inside it felt like we were walking into a classy by-the-hour hotel. We got a pretty good deal, considering that we'd printed a one-time coupon off their website, and the attendant walked us down the hall past a series of open doors.

"Do you ever go in the baths when nobody's here?" I asked.

"I try to at least twice a week," she said, her ponytail swinging.

She lead us to a small room at the end of the hall. I blinked. It was so clean and sharp. A jacuzzi in the corner, a small boxy sauna, a shower, a radio, even a massage table. All ours for an hour and a half--for thirty bucks.

What followed was one of those stunningly indulgent experiences, much like German chocolate cake or a really swanky restaurant. My whole body seemed suspended in time, and I kept stopping myself to wonder, "Is it okay to do this and not be actively accomplishing anything?" No homework, no exercise, no chores, no work. No--could it be?--worrying. Just floating. Breathing.

There was certainly nothing medieval about it. On the contrary, it was a little private world just outside one of the busiest streets in San Francisco. A reminder that health and health care don't have to be two different things, and there are lots of ways to treat both.