So this is what it’s all come down to. The plate tectonics of our oversized socioeconomic structure have screeched and scratched against each other one too many times, pressing hairline fractures into gaping voids and smashing the jagged slabs of our seemingly solid foundations willy-nilly across the arid landscape. Ah, the revolution! Let’s just eat the rich and get on with it, OK?
“So, are you here to try the fish pedicure?” an angular smile belonging to Andy, the owner of Orange Avenue’s starkly named Spa beams, then frowns. “Can I get you a drink?”
Jessica and I have somehow winnowed our way into a minnow experience that is set to be the distillation of a national aesthetic trend that has already passed through the lips of Tyra Banks too many times to matter. Jessica, whose head frequently drifts somewhere in the lifestyle-mag aesthetosphere, is already way too hip to this ectothermic exploitation of aquaculture to betray even the least bit of surprise. But for me, still amazed by the dynamics of the Hot Pocket, it all seems a little surreal.
“In what way will this be any different than that feeling of repulsion I used to get when my toes became food for shiners in late-’70s Naples beach vacations?” I nervously giggle some rhetoric. “Moreover, will it veer into that young-backpackers-at-summer-camp, post-Vietnam War-science-of-1978 territory so terrifying in the screen adaptation of Piranha?”
“This is beauty,” Jessica’s face elongates to display teeth. “There is no such thing as too much beauty.”
In a fit of marketing genius or desperation, the Spa has employed marketing consultants to smash the champagne bottle on their latest body-altering endeavor with a “media event.” The idea is to get all of the prettiest journalistas into a room and lavish them with liquor and up-and-down glances, all in the hopes that they’ll take their smooth-as-a-baby’s-bottom feet back to their Carrie Bradshaw laptops and spread the good word of fish therapy. (You, too, can take part in this experience on Fridays for a mere $30, ahem, and this is the only place in Florida to do it!)
There are a couple of girls from the Sentinel here, somebody from Florida Trend and a few other marketing types milling about. In a deft act of mood suspension, there are cocktails featuring Red Bull, vodka, and orange and grapefruit juice – or “jackass mimosas,” a term coined by Jessica’s less-frilly half, Matt – and there is new age music. And in case none of this is quite enough to replicate the apocalypse in my head, there are also giant shards of stone scattered everywhere, because for these Friday happy hour events, the fish bits are taken care of in the adjoining giant stone shard shop. It does not get any better than this.
“So who’s first?” a nice pedicurist named Theresa toes over.
I push Jessica into the water and pretend to scream for help.
“So, um, how do you know that this won’t spread fungus or disease?” she voices the entire room’s suspicions.
It turns out that there’s some intricate, labor-intensive process involving the repeated dumping of said fish in and out of a giant, temperature-controlled tank, or something involving chlorine. Also, the garra rufa – or “doctor fish” – are known for the enzymes on their lips (they have no teeth!) and are only here because somebody in Turkey claimed that they actually cure psoriasis and eczema.
“I had a blister last week,” Jessica gamely tries to make up for the fact that the fish are presently gnawing on one particular side of her foot.
“Me too!” I have a Blister every week.
When it’s my turn, I’m flanked by a marketing type named Clara, who’s a bit Wintour around the edges but funny in the center.
“You know what this reminds me of?” she surveys the nasty, be-fished claws that hold up my ankles. “This is like that early-’80s television movie with Stephanie Zimbalist where she’s dating some guy who has to inject heroin between his toes.”
Clara, you should know, is now my new favorite person. But my Clara-fixation soon fades as all of my senses are overcome by the unexpectedly erotic bursts that these tiny fish are giving my soles. My eyes close, I whimper-wince, the world starts shattering again, and if this doesn’t stop soon, I’m going to need an additional rag besides the one to dry my feet.
“I NEED SOMEBODY TO MAKE OUT WITH ME NOW!” my throat farts.
Just then, my super-hottie mancrush who happens (ironically?) to go by the name Tadpole walks in and plants his kisser on mine – but only, of course, in a friendly, closed-mouth way – and I am just barely able to prevent another unnecessary explosion.
“Thanks,” I wipe up and shift off.
Next door in the spa, Andy’s arranged for a gaggle of stylists to continue the pampering for the ladies of means. Because we can’t help ourselves (and, perhaps, we deserve to be eaten), I opt for a surface-plumping lip gloss in order to approximate my own fish lips, while Jessica goes all out with a Brigitte Bardot face transplant from toothy Mychael with a “Y.”
A few jackass mimosas later, I’m somehow outside in front of the White Wolf Café, while Jessica is still under transformation. At least I think she is.
“Where are you?” she cell-phones with the desperation of somebody who might have just gone too far.
I meet her at the spa door and she grabs my sunglasses, shielding herself from my one brief glance at what Jessica would look like as a craven prostitute.
“You look great!” I stifle what could be my last laugh.
“There is such a thing as too much beauty,” she scoffs, running off in front of me.
No. No, there isn’t.