FOR DECADES, MY PERSONAL grooming approach has been pretty much confined to nail clippers and a loofah on a stick. The results have been mediocre, frankly, though I doubt you would pick me out in a lineup of cosmetological bad apples.
Through the same decades, I've stood by as my more-liberated fellow men beat a path to the salon. On a regular basis, the likes of GQ and Esquire would announce yet another new era in men's grooming, even more unabashed than the last. I have missed them all, waiting in vain for the day of the mature, weather-beaten, wind-swept male - call it the Gandalf era. With a recent spate of men's emporiums opening in the area, it seemed high time I got in on the action.
Plunging into a mango-scented cloud of competition, I chose Emerge, on Newbury Street, and The Black Tie Spa, in Norwell. Though some of the newer joints seem elaborations on the old barbershop, with a frat-house air, I was after something more full-service, even if I didn't quite know all that entailed. And still don't. I was, for instance, intrigued by Black Tie's chest-hair trim. But even after an explanation, I can't say I understand much about the coifed chest (I wasn't able to squeeze it into my session), except that it is a "waxing alternative" that is accomplished with shears or clippers.
So when I entered Emerge, which opened its Men's Club in 2006, early on a recent Saturday morning, I had my moment of doubt. The young greeter was nice enough, but I wondered if she would suggest I was beyond conventional measures and might like to consider simply donating my body to an aestheticians' academy. Whatever her thoughts, she led me to a waiting area, where my mani/pedicurist fetched me.
If you begin your day with an Emerge pedicure, you better not have scheduled anything else more strenuous than strolling down a primrose path. Your totally relaxed feet keep whispering: "We saw the Promised Land; why are we walking away?" This pedal paradise entails immersion in a sort of foot Jacuzzi with vibration, then trimming, cleaning, pumicing, cuticle removing, massaging, and buffing. Most men's feet are so indifferently tended as to resemble root vegetables, so a good pedicure is utterly transformative. Guys, get this done a few times during the coming sandal season, and you'll be walking proud.
Manicures involve similar but not as luxurious mechanics, and the aesthetic result is that your hands look groomed in a circumspect, unostentatious way. If it lacks the me-feel-pretty dazzle of a pedicure, there's still a tycoonish kick to the experience.
Black Tie Spa is in an office park in a distant burb, but once you're inside, it's comfortable and plush. The staffers may be a little breezier than Emerge's but are genuinely gracious, and they certainly know what they're doing. Owner Pat Murray launched Black Tie about 2 1/2 years ago after conversations with workout pals convinced him that a spa for "everyday Joes" might fly.
We started with my hair; my cutter gave me a shortish do that has continued to look good even on mornings when it's more stirred than combed. Trimming my own beard is a thrice-weekly exercise in lopsidedness, but with comb and clippers, she produced a marvel of symmetry and spruceness.
On to the carcass. My masseuse and I decided on a Salt Glow, in which the practitioner scoops up a slurry of sea salt and oils by the handful and thoroughly scrubs your arms, legs, and back with it. It's mildly, delightfully abrasive; the declared aim is to get rid of dead skin. And let me tell you, folks in this line of work are completely opposed to dead skin, not to mention unwanted hair and overgrown cuticles. In a sense, the body is its own worst enemy. We must leave part of us behind, so we can move on. We must quit the old self for the new. We, well, we really must not philosophize on the massage table.
At any rate, the salt rub left my hide wondrously smooth and fresh, the way Adam must have felt on his first day, a grown-up man with newborn skin. This was followed by a shower, a 15-minute steam, and a half-hour massage. By that point, I was physically and mentally as tractable as linguini. So when my facial began with the suggestion of eyebrow waxing, it just seemed the sensible next step and I dreamily assented. (Don't judge me till you've walked a mile in my deep-piled scented towel.) It turns out that the waxing, though it sounds drastic, results in your face just looking discreetly better kept, as a manicure does with your hands. There's nothing remotely Joan Crawford about it. The rest of my facial, I confess, is a blur. I was gently scrubbed and dabbed at, and I'm sure dead skin was broomed away.
I have only one real complaint - the music. Emerge's was soft pop, relentless caramel from Elton and Celine. Black Tie's was meandering and New Agey. But it's easy to tune this out when you're being pampered by people who keep asking, "How's that, is that good? Warmer, cooler? A little more gentle, bit more pressure?"
Ten days later, the pedicure - unexposed to the elements - has held up well, and my eyebrows are still pretty tame. But my back is no longer baby smooth, my beard is again off-kilter; my fingernails dinged and ridged; just look at those cuticles! And then a friend tells me my complexion looks "creamy." I feel myself flushing with vanity and think, if only she could see my toes.