PETER LEO

First spa trip can get under a man's skin

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I like to think I'm sensitive to men's issues, maybe not a hard-core masculinist but a trail-blazer in my own quiet way. This became evident during a stay at the Omni Bedford Springs resort.

Peter Leo

Bedford Springs is 100 miles east of Pittsburgh, but it's really a trip back in time. It was founded in 1796 around the area's health-giving mineral waters and became a magnet for 19th century movers and shakers. Ten presidents have stayed there -- most frequently, James Buchanan, Pennsylvania's lone gift to the White House, the only bachelor to inhabit it and a strong contender for worst president ever.

The resort sank into decline over the 20th century and was finally shut down by a 1986 flood. But seven years ago, it rose again with a fabulous makeover that honored its rich history and architectural heritage and added a luxurious spa wing.

Just walking the hallways puts you in an informal Pennsylvania history museum, with old documents, maps and photographs on display. The library windows carry the artistry of 19th century brides who scratched their wedding dates onto the glass with their diamond rings, while incidentally testing their authenticity. (Millie Schwartzfelder, if you're reading this online from the Great Beyond, the front desk would like a word.)

My wife and I have been to Bedford Springs several times, thanks to Groupon discounts. I'd avoided the splashy spa initially. Too daunting, too female.

But on my recent visit I decided to man up and, more important, expand opportunities for my gender. Does anyone seriously doubt that men are woefully underrepresented at spas?

When I finally peruse my options, the many exotic offerings -- Pepper Lavender Refresher Body Service, Eternal Glow Indulgence Facial, Zensational Pedi-Cure, for example -- are enough to induce fear and paralysis, even without all those capital letters.

I feel the urge to say, "I'll take a Thermal Mud Wrap to go, with a side order of Eternal Youth with Caviar Facial, but hold the Mother-To-Be Massage" and bolt for the bar.

But I can't weasel out of this. And a simple massage won't cut it. Nor will the "Gentleman's Cure," which is not a shot of penicillin, as in days of old, but a facial. No, I must go where no man has gone.

I briefly consider the Sugar Maple Glow -- that's Whipped Sugar Maple Body Butter applied over a Sugar Maple Soufflé Scrub -- but fear I'll emerge as a high-calorie dessert. The Mountain Detox Bath has no-nonsense appeal but smacks too much of rehab.

I eventually settle on the Indigenous Honeysuckle Ginger Dew Bath. It has a wholesome, down-to-earth vibe. And "indigenous" adds a touch of saintly sustainability that should keep the politically correct crowd off my back.

The "bath" is really a wet massage administered on a table. There's wholesale exfoliation (dead skin removal, fellas) with indigenous black walnut granules. Rinse. Then applications of indigenous honeysuckle and non-indigenous ginger dew.

Midway through, I pop the question, gingerly: "Am I the first man to go for the Indigenous Honeysuckle Ginger Dew?"

My otherwise chatty masseur delivers a clipped "No" and moves on. No? ... Oh, wait, I get it. James Buchanan probably got one, and it's classified. But doesn't my man understand I'm talking about breaking through the insidious spa ceiling that, incredibly in 2014, still keeps men ghettoized in the sauna?

Apparently not. So it's left to me to declare it a first, and please, no applause. Because it's not about me. One small Indigenous Honeysuckle Ginger Dew for a man, one giant Indigenous Honeysuckle Ginger Dew for mankind, as opposed to womankind.

Thoroughly exfoliated, I stagger into the Relaxation Lounge. It's open to all sexes, but I see only one guy amid a sea of robed women. They seem like they've been there for years, draped on divans, blissfully reading, sipping herbal tea and nibbling on nuts, berries and those little banana slices that appear to be coated with shellac.

I grab a few berries and head right out. Only so many barriers a man can tear down in one day. Let the other guy carry the load on this one.

By the way, if some metrosexual out there wants to claim he was first, we can settle it over a Pepper Lavender Refresher Body Service.


Peter Leo of Squirrel Hill, a retired Post-Gazette columnist and occasional Portfolio contributor, can be reached at peterleo11@comcast.net.

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