The women moved noiselessly in their mocha-colored, oversized robes and dark brown plastic sandals. They appeared to be so anonymous that even their faces began to look alike to me—all white, mostly plump with dirty blonde hair. Large chaise lounges filled the room; a bar with a variety of drinks and snacks lined the wall. I was the only person wearing a face mask.
Occasionally, a young woman would come by and collect the used glasses and cups, or an employee would step out from behind huge wooden doors and call the name of a woman sitting in the “relaxation room.” I watched as one of the ladies got up and followed her through a set of doors. As I settled into my lounge chair, I noticed two more rooms—one behind a set of large wooden doors labeled “quiet room” and the other down a narrow hallway, which was set up with café tables laden with chocolate-dipped strawberries and bottles of wine. That room was off limits.
Increasingly, I felt like I was in a scene from The Handmaid’s Tale. I was there for a facial but, as I stared up at a large chandelier made of deer antlers, I began to feel uneasy, as if something more nefarious was awaiting me through one of those big sets of doors.
I was up in the North Georgia Mountains for a week-long retreat from the stress of everyday life in Covid-19 America. My first mistake was bringing a news magazine, The Week, to the cabin. My second mistake was not bringing ice cream. Instead of regaining my lost optimism, I discovered that being inside my head, despite the spectacular mountain scenery, was like inhabiting a bad neighborhood. I didn’t want to be there alone. The facial was an attempt to quiet the feeling that I was slipping into a morass of depression.
I told the girl who was collecting used glasses that my esthetician had to wear a face mask. I used the excuse that I worked for public health, which made me “over-sensitive and cautious.” After all, I was in Trump country, and I knew first-hand that its hospitals were full!
Finally, I heard my name called and a woman, unmasked, escorted me through another set of doors leading to a hallway of more doors. A young woman, in her mid-thirties if I had to guess, stood, masked, in the doorway at the end of the hall and welcomed me. She was pleasant, conversant, and not at all put out by having to wear a mask. In fact, I think she was relieved.
An hour later, after my Ultra Facial treatment, I definitely was relaxed. However, I looked like a scary clown in a horror movie, with my hair standing on end. But my face glowed. Never mind the hair.
There I was, feeling my muchiness, except for my hair. I suddenly had a craving for a steak and headed to the nearest grocery store. OMG. Rib-eye steak now cost $17.00 a pound, so no rib-eye for me. The butcher kindly suggested “heart of chuck,” which cost only $10.00 a pound; he would package a five-ounce piece for me. Was the $2.39 per pound price for chuck steak that long ago?