Hurts so good

We're in constipated Daytona traffic behind two motorcycles. One is carrying a statuesque blond with a big ass wearing only a sheer tank top and black leather chaps. The other is carrying a strawberry blond in a red mesh shirt.

"She hates her," says Elizabeth, drawing a line of animosity in the air between the women. "Red thought she was wearing something revealing. Now she's thinking, 'Bitch.'"

Her realism is why I asked Elizabeth to join me for my first massage. Friends keep saying, "You haaaaave to get a massage, it's the greatest," and I keep thinking, "Yuk." Being groped by some boring stranger sounds oppressive. Even "sensual massage" sounds annoying. If I'm going to have sex I want sex, not to be rubbed like I need a coat of Turtlewax.

Elizabeth goes one better. "I don't want a massage," she says. "It makes me uncomfortable when people comfort me. Can I have my legs waxed? I could get massaged all day and it would not be as good as pain, relief, pain, relief." I understand. She's articulated the pain/pleasure blur perfectly. I book her to have her leg hair ripped out and think what good friends we are.

Table manners

It feels appropriate to come to Daytona to pay to be felt up. We've chosen the new Ocean Waters Spa, a posh place that stands out here like George Hamilton in a lineup of crackheads. Moments after entering Elizabeth is whisked off to her Clinique dominatrix and I to my pupu-platter package that includes massage, facial, and "salt glow and vichy shower," wherein you're rubbed with salt (like cured meat) and rinsed. Yes, the ocean is right outside for free, but there you don't get paper panties. Whether these are meant to protect me from the environment or vice versa, I don't know. But they provide as much protection as the words "pull out."

The salt makes my legs sting, but the vichy shower is lovely, with water jets on a moving bar above the table on which I am laid out. Once in a while a jet will hit you where, if you were a skee-ball game, the 500-points ring would be -- that's the small target with the big payoff. Now I see why my women friends like spas. I wonder if they slip the therapist a fin and tell them to beat it for 20 minutes.

Next comes the massage. I'm shown to the table which has a "face cradle," a circle with a hole in it so you can put your head down and still breathe. I'm told to undress and lay under the towel. As I'm about to put my face in it, I notice that the face cradle looks exactly like a pygmy toilet seat.

It isn't like I haven't had my face in the toilet before. Still, one's hesitates before putting your puss into a padded pygmy potty. But there I am, with my face pushing through an opening that's not quite big enough for it. When was the last time something like that happened to you? That's right, when you were born. This is as close as I will ever come to being born again.

There's the rub

When the therapist pushes down on my back to see how much pressure I can take, my impulse is to sit up and push her back. This hostility proves that I need this, as do the mean little knots she keeps discovering in my shoulders. Mashing them out is painful, perhaps -- it's the Elizabethan pain-is-good idea -- but as they melt away I ease into the process and soon am in a trance. By the time the 30 minutes is up I feel like I might have been asleep for several hours. I'm as serene as the Dali friggin' Lama. This is what it's like to be rich.

Now for the facial. My face has not been truly clean since I was 12 and discovered makeup. There's always a trace of good times, like crumbs on a dinner table. The facialist pulls out a magnifying glass through which, I'm sure, she can see my skull. She's going to "deep clean" my pores, maybe with a vise. She will crank it until the dirt, makeup, exhaust, dreams and evil have been squeezed out like Play-Doh through the Fun Factory. She tweezes my face using an "extractor" and what looks like a table saw but is actually a laser. I imagine all the goop, secrets and bad habits exiting my face like clowns from a little car, free to lodge in the pores of some she-biker, who will do better by them than I.

At the end of the day I'm glowing like one of those fish that lives on the ocean floor. Elizabeth is thrilled. "It wasn't that painful," she admits. "I was a little disappointed." She liked her chatty leg waxer, whose mother often told her, "You can do anything with your life that you want to."

"And she wanted to wax your legs," I say. What kind of person thinks, "I want to pour hot wax on other women, rip it off and hear them scream" ? Someone very like myself. But, like prostitution, it would only be good if you could pick your clients.

We're pleased, but I know what will happen. Soon getting waxed will become a chore, and not being able to afford massages will become an irritant. We will have gotten the discomfort we expected. But in the meantime, we will have to be content to be content.