NEWPORT, R.I. -- My mission: to queer-eye myself through a full spa treatment. Friends saw the mission more pointedly: Could a highly-resistant retrosexual be transformed into one of the metro variety?
Certainly I display some stubborn retro traits that would seem beyond the talents even of the staff at Stillwater Spa at the Hyatt Regency Newport on Goat Island. The velour couch in my apartment, circa 1973, was plucked from an Amvets consignment shop. Many of my shirts -- to the dismay of every girlfriend I've ever had, and to my shabby delight -- are ripped somewhere on the sleeve. Hockey is my game, including a relish for knocking guys off the puck. And though I like a good meal out, it often is bar burgers and pints.
So on New Year's Eve, the night before I was slated for my transformation, I dragged my girlfriend to a Newport pub for just that (along with wings, fried mozzarella sticks, horns, and party hats). Everything would change in the morning.
Had the outdoor saltwater pool on the spa's deck been open for business, I would have started the new year with a bracing swim. Instead, I lolled in the warm indoor water under a high ceiling and ferns, imagining myself in a sanitarium on my own magic mountain, prepared to be a remade man.
The Hyatt breakfast buffet includes a number of unhealthy temptations, ones I've never before thought twice about feasting on. On the way to the berries and yogurt, I sniffed the eggs and lobster Benedict, then averted my eyes from the lustrous piles of sausage and bacon. A waiter offered coffee. I should be drinking green tea, I knew, but my body screamed for the hard stuff. One small retro lapse wouldn't disqualify me, would it?
Because the Hyatt is on an island in Narragansett Bay -- not unlike a landing strip just offshore from downtown Newport -- the rooms offer spectacular water views. My first treatment did not start until 2 p.m., so I took a brisk walk to the mainland, attempting to shake the old-school hangover from my limbs and prepare myself for a new cosmopolitan mindset.
At the spa's front desk I was handed a plush white robe and a pair of rubber sandals, told to undress to my ''level of comfort" and proceed to the waiting room. In the men's locker room, as I disrobed, several trim and tanned naked men entered and exited the sauna. My belly hollered, ''I'm pale, I'm whale blubber, hide me!" I slipped into my robe.
For my first so-called treatment, ''a nourishing herbal body wrap," a young woman dressed in a black smock led me to a private room overlooking the glinting ocean. She asked me to strip and climb under a sheet while she waited outside, a routine that would be repeated before the next two treatments. Upon return she deftly moved the sheet around my midsection -- privates assiduously remaining private -- rubbing down my body first with a loofah brush, then eucalyptus oil. (When a layer of skin is removed, beneath might lurk a more civilized man.) Then she reached into a steel tank, steam swirling as if from a witch's stewpot, and said, ''I hope you're not claustrophobic." Torture was coming.
Using tongs, she pulled out hot wet sheets and wrapped me up like a 21st-century Tutankhamen. I'm thinking, everything is fine, I'm not going to scream, because a metrosexual traffics in self-control. When she left the room, I gasped for air. Fixing my eyes on a circling seagull out the window, I calmed myself.
When she walked back through the door, I would have leapt up and kissed her had I not been pinned to the table. ''This gets rid of all the toxins," she smiled. Noticing my pallor, she instructed me how to breathe properly, something I thought I had figured out. She left again so I could get back into my robe, and when I walked out, she was waiting with a glass of water. ''Drink water all day," she said, ''to get rid of the toxins."
Clearly the toxicity was rolling off me like bad perfume.
Next treatment, the most eagerly awaited, was my massage. Of course every retrosexual daydreams about getting a hot massage from an object of desire, preferably of Scandinavian descent. When Scott, a regular-looking Joe more meatball than Swedish, called my name, my heart clanged like a missed jumpshot. He led me into one of the low-lit rooms, and before long my backside was getting a vigorous rubdown. To this point, the retrosexual in me had regarded the New Age music piped through the spa -- a combination of chants, bird sounds, lutes, and waterfalls -- as impossibly cheesy. And yet as Scott worked me over, mockery was overtaken by a certain spiritual quiet. In and out of sleep I twinkled; in stretches, I believed I was floating. When the hour was up and I stepped into the hallway, Scott was waiting with another cup of water. Maybe there were toxins left in me, but at this point I was feeling like one mellow cat.
Next up, and crucial to gaining metrosexual induction, was the facial. Though I associate them with my grandma, who paid a weekly visit to the beauty parlor to see her ''girls," again I was surprised by the calm that came over me as the attendant rubbed down everything above my shoulders with a series of oils, balms, and lotions. Only briefly was this interrupted, when she covered my eyes with cucumbers and set to work pinching what she tactfully referred to as ''trouble spots" on my face. At first this was mortifying, but then I began to appreciate the close attention. There's something undeniably fortifying about another human being devoting such close, physical, non-erotic attention to your body. Even if it's temporary, the uninterrupted focus that you undergo in a spa treatment makes you want to begin the ongoing project of devoting such care and attention to yourself.
Before I undertook the final two treatments, I climbed into an empty, sweltering sauna. It was so hot I became convinced that the newspaper I was reading might catch fire. Soon I couldn't see the newspaper for the sweat streaming over my eyes. Despite my best efforts, 13 minutes and I had to exit; otherwise, they might have found a freshly-minted man expired on the wooden floor. It was great relief when a spa employee told me that somebody had mistakenly left the thermostat on high all day.
I had spent the better part of my day in the spa; the sun was setting over the bay. With a pedicure and manicure, my makeover would be complete. I was placed on a throne, albeit over a sink, with an apparent subject at my feet. Denise washed them in a bath, then, with a number of sharp instruments, pared back the horns (retrosexual calluses and overgrown cuticles). After a buff and rub with cornmeal and citrus oil, then a coat of matte nail polish -- something I could get scarily used to -- Denise moved on to my hands. Tactfully, she avoided mention of my chewed fingernails and before long rendered them trimmed and elegant. I sat there, content.
After five spa treatments, a trimmed and elegant side of myself, one I didn't know existed, seemed to be peeking through. My nails might be perfect now, but that wasn't where my mind was. I was hoping Scott had an opening in the morning.
Ted Weesner Jr. is a freelance writer who lives in Cambridge.