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ME VS. THE WORLD

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While I dutifully spent last week loading up on duct tape and Evian in preparation for that looming terrorism attack, I forgot to prepare for a code red of another kind: Valentine’s Day.

So upon awaking alone with a hangover on the morning after my least favorite holiday (at least this year thanks to an ill-timed split-up), I decided to treat myself to something special: a day at the spa.

After slipping on my sneakers, I headed to Bay Ridge, where a man named Stuart proceeded to massage my naked body by candlelight with the sweet scent of lavender and apricot in the air.

Now this was more like it.

Stuart, of course, was a trained professional and wasn’t providing such a service out of the goodness of his heart. He did, however, approach his task with vim and vigor, and when he was finished I was left feeling relaxed - sated, even.

Still, the grim reality of getting more action on the day after Valentine’s Day by a man you hardly know and having to pay for it did leave a certain sense of, how shall I say impending doom.

But I digress.

I arrived at Pilo Arts Day Spa and Salon on Third Avenue and 84th Street at the ungodly hour of 9:30 am. That way I figured I could have my blackheads extracted and still make it to Manhattan to check out the thousands gathering to protest that pesky showdown with Iraq.

When I arrived at Pilo, which has a salon upstairs and spa below, I was happy to see that my Bay Ridge brethren - war be damned - had also crammed into the salon to have their roots retouched and armpits waxed.

I knew I had come to the right place. Within seconds of descending into the spa, the manager had taken my coat, seated me on a plush couch, and gone to work frothing up a hot, cinnamon-topped cappuccino just for me.

As a newbie to spas, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. And truth be told, I always thought that by the time a Russian woman was dipping my hands in hot wax and wrapping my head in tinfoil, it would mean I had stepped on one too many toes in Bay Ridge.

But these were mere highlights of my facial. After slipping me beneath a white sheath, Bella, my Russian-born aesthetician, massaged my hands with a moisturizer before dipping them into a warm paraffin wax devised to provide much-needed moisture to those wind-chapped extremities.

Bella then began to examine my face beneath a bright light and magnifying glass to determine what sort of facial would suit me best.

I waited for her to "oooh" and "ahh" over my youthful epidermis.

Bella instead looked horrified.

"Your skin is clogged and severely dehydrated," she said.

"I was expecting something more along the lines of ’soft as a baby’s butt,’" I told her.

While I thought I had been doing myself a service by using neither moisturizing cream nor foundation, Bella explained I had left my skin exposed to the elements. And as we know, the elements have not been particularly kind this winter.

We decided to upgrade the Pilo Signature facial ($70) to a Collagen Rejuvenation facial ($130), which is best for, ahem, mature and dehydrated skin.

At Pilo, hot and cold stones are also an integral part of facials; according to Bella, the iron from the stones helps the products penetrate the skin. So throughout the cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing, Bella rubbed a variety of these smooth ebony stones on my face, the effect of which was surprisingly relaxing.

The grand finale of the facial, however, was the collagen mask. A dry cloth made from collagen fibers is applied over the face. Then a concentrated collagen gel is used to hydrate the mask. That in turn is covered with a piece of Mylar to keep the whole contraption well insulated. As a final touch, cold stones are applied to the eye area while a single warm stone is placed on the chest to keep the body warm.

The overall effect was somewhat robotic in appearance. How I was able to breathe, I cannot say.

But I will tell you that when Bella was done with me, my skin was finally as soft and clear as that coveted baby’s tush.

I was next passed on to the masseuse, Stuart, for an hour-long Swedish massage ($80). The details of this are somewhat hazy since I slipped into a blissful coma once the muzak began, and Stuart went to work loosening the knots in my back using a combination of traditional techniques, reflexology and acupressure, paying special attention to my feet - a service I had requested.

Clients are offered a choice between oil and cream (not for scrambled eggs as I had misunderstood) but to be applied to their body. Since I opted for the former, I was led to a steam room and shower at the end of the massage in order to rinse off the residue.

I spent a delightful 15 minutes in the private steam room admiring my rejuvenated skin and relaxed muscles. (Maybe I ought to have paid a visit to the spa a day before ol’ V-Day).

Finally, before dashing off to join the throng of protesters clogging the streets of Manhattan, I downed a quick mimosa in the spa lounge and stuffed the bagful of signature Pilo beauty product samples supplied to first-time visitors into my backpack.

OK, OK, so it all sounds like a rather self-indulgent run-up to social activism. But hear me out: I’d venture to say that depriving yourself of a Swedish massage, hot wax treatments and expensive lotions, means the terrorists - not to mention the ex-boyfriends - have won.

For more information about Pilo Arts Day Spa and Salon, see the Spa Directory.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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