At noon I arrived at Jeju Sauna and Home of Wellbeing. It’s a Korean spa twenty minutes north of Atlanta. Turning off I-85, you lumber past McDonalds, Red Lobster and Chipotle. Like crossing a line in the sand, the advertising all changes to Korean. Big, boxy, right-angle letters. I find a sunny parking spot outside Jeju. It’s a massive cement warehouse—cold war-esque.
It’s noon. At 3:30pm, I’m scheduled to pick up Kate and Ellie from the Atlanta Airport. It’s been 12 days. I’ve gone back and forth about whether spousal time apart is rejuvenating and necessary. I think it is. I don’t know about 12 days. I think it’s circumstantial. However long you/they need. No one size fits all answer. But time apart when there’s a child in the mix seems a different beast. It’s complicated because the time-apart from spouse rationale still applies, but now it’s overlaid with the burden of one party being removed from their child. I kept myself busybusybusy. For the last 12 days, I wrote-worked feverishly. Which is great. But I know damn well I missed subtle growth with EllieRoo.
Inside the stark building, you enter the single-gender area first. A room with lockers, sinks to shave, lotion, q-tips. Then another male-only room. And here the men are. Hot tub, hotter tub, cold tub, wet sauna, dry sauna. Also a station with free toothbrush and paste, urging you to brush your teeth in the shower. I do so. Clothes seem to be prohibited here. Thought there’s no one enforcing anything. I’ve always been a connoisseur of people watching, so this is prime time. Naked muscle, naked rolls, shaved skulls, shaved genitals, wrinkled age, flexed fit. You don’t see this spectrum of flesh on American Idol. Maybe at the Y. If I’m honest, it’s refreshing. Primates soaking ourselves, exfoliating.
I see my reflection in the mirror and it’s different than what I see in my head. I wonder how many other men make phallic comparisons. He’s big. I’m bigger. He’s biggest. Some guys hold towels in front of their reproductive tools. Some let their penises dangle, uncovered. Distracted by all the naked bodies, I couldn’t find the stack of towels so I just strut and pretended to be confident and not manically insecure. After the sauna, with a scorched set of butt cheeks, I learned that the towels were multi-functional—modesty and rear end protection. I’m curious about the average male’s psychological experience of their penis size.
Inside the central spa space, I feel like I’m in some dystopian version of Korea. All spa-goers are given a drab cut of beige unisex shorts and t-shirt, to be worn in the all-gender communal area. Which is where I’m writing now. Beside me is the food court—dark wood tables are six inches off the ground. To my other side, the mineral sauna igloos are surrounded by “benches.” Which are really enormous felled logs, sanded smooth. The logs function as the back of the “bench,” and the floor is the “seat.” Like a post-nuclear catastrophe, bodies and limbs lie in close proximity—sleeping, reading, staring, upright, curled, folded.
Sprinkled in the atrium central space of this ancient otherworldly flesh festival, there are seven mineral saunas. The saunas aren’t wooden boxes like the ones in the male-only space; they’re igloo-like domes and the temperatures are much lower; still warm, but not blood blasting. Lying on a straw mat in the red clay room, my eyes open and close, flirting with unconsciousness. Slipping, I worry I might fall and sleep, snoozing past Ellie and Kate pickup time. This fear keeps sliding annoying notifications into my mindspace.
Other worries do too. I brought the dog with me on the trip because I didn’t want him to be alone all day. I worry about him alone in the car. Then I look at the rippled clay swirls on the ceiling. Think about how this seems to mildly match what others describe in psychedelic trips. The disassociation from body. The self-manifesting of thoughts, particularly repressed fears. Archaic and primitive fears. Like inadequate penis size. Hush. I tell myself hush. I meditate on the quiet and stillness and how the dome shape makes me feel held, safe. Think about how ahhhhhhh it felt to bake my body, broil brain. Then I stop thinking and started slipping….
<<< A note to the reader. Thanks for being here. This thing you’re reading is called something. We have to name things, I guess, both as way for the thing to exist in human cognition but also as a FB page requirement, lol. I called this The Alt Dad Diary because at the time of its inception, it was the 4th quarter, with 10 seconds on the clock, and there was still sixty yards of field to cover before the game needed touchdown could occur. No that was last night’s Vikings game. I called this The Alt Dad Diary because EllieRoo was overdue and we were waiting waiting waiting. And I started writing publicly on FB. Now I suppose the focus has evolved, or grown to include my headspace generally. Which is something that does include Ellie, but it also clicks clicks clicks on many other links, sites, feelings, emotions, and mental docudramas. That’s one note. The other note I have for today is more personal and I suppose, and more important. All this honesty and disclosure, rawness and real talk, is nutritional for media meddled minds, I think. But for Kate, it means her life is scribbled about too. Every day. Even when I’m just writing about my trip to Jeju and my curiosity about male penis psychology. That gets cast on her. Her friends, players, co-workers, family—anyone who reads—knows that about me, and because we’re married and intimately connected, they know that about her. Inevitably, what I write effects her reputation. I haven’t mention this here before, because I haven’t really taken it seriously before. But I think it’s a hard place for a spouse, especially one who has an average level of privacy presence, to be married to a writer whose subject matter is his day-to-day thoughts, actions, and conversations. This can be really invasive. And so I just wanted to cross that bridge—and not just say THANK YOU to Kate for being supportive and for having the really hard blow-up-the-Honda-Element about shit like this. But also to acknowledge what I haven’t before: that me doing this, me writing this, really is a family matter. And I think maybe I’ve been so focused on the writing, on the sharpness of the words, on increasing the temperature in my truth-talk sauna, maybe I’ve forgotten that whole point of this is to cut against taboo and be honest and open IN ORDER TO feel more authentically YOU. Or in this case me. But part of my authentic self is a husband. And now a father. And part of the process, a part I’ve neglected, is the how the writing part of my self may impact the husband/father part of myself. Anyway.
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