LOS CABOS, Mexico - I thought I knew terror.
I've been turned down for the prom in favor of the strange foreign-exchange student.
I've witnessed the depths of SportsCenter king Dan Patrick's self-love.
Heck, I've seen Donald Trump's hair up close.
But nothing could prepare me for this. Nothing.
You don't know fear until you find yourself walking through a top golf resort wearing nothing but a bathrobe that makes your average hospital gown look like an chador.
A sudden gust of wind - nay, the slightest breeze coming off the nearby ocean - and some little kid or grandmother from Des Moines could be getting a load of something straight out of Borat.
It was an accident, officer. Really, I didn't mean to flash anyone ...
This is what happens when a golfer-turned-spa guy gets cocky.
Like most self-respecting real golfers, I long viewed those spas that keep popping up at golf resorts the way the kids on The Wire view cops. The fancy sweet smells, pastel walls, soothing music - it's all enough to make a hardcore golfer gag.
It's hard for a golfer reared on courses with slope ratings that could make John Wayne cry to wrap his mind around these relaxation shrines.
That was then, this is now. I tried the massage experience - a golfer's massage complete with complex scientific data (i.e. mumbo jumbo) on how it can help your game, but a massage nonetheless. That led to other massages in other sparkling spas.
I tell you, this massage thing is as insidiously addictive as crack.
It starts out with one little massage - research, you know, just to try it - and before you know it you're jonesing for the next, breaking out in cold sweats at the thought that the off-the-beaten-path golf spot you're booked at might not have a spa with a waiting room stocked with gourmet cheeses and crackers.
I recently watched two golf writers from respected publications almost come to slaps over who was going to get the one massage appointment left that day. One was a man, so forget any of that it's-a-girl-thing stereotyping.
Thankfully, it wasn't me. Not that I wasn't secretly jealous of the one who got the appointment.
Along with making you covet your neighbor's stress relief, massages have a way of loosening up your views on that most terrifying type of nudity: your own. I showed up for my first massage in long johns straight from the 1950s, heavy sweats and a bulky winter coat. When the therapist suggested I make myself comfortable, I took off the earmuffs.
By massage three, I rolled in (literally, unfortunately, with that golfer's belly) in my birthday suit - under one of those tasteful, spa-issued thin-mint robes, of course.
This is the spa norm, and it's fine. As long as you don't get upgraded to a beach massage. Then all those spa customs and mores are out the door, and you're just a terrified fool walking into the sunlight, past hundreds of innocent and unsuspecting resort guests and toward (gulp) stairs.
How high is this papier-mache robe going to climb, anyways?
It sounded great when one of the PR people from the Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos explained it: A certified therapist massages your aches away as the waves crash in the background. All worries roll away with the tide.
Showing up at the newly renovated spa only reinforces this sense of upcoming tranquility. The walls in the waiting area are just the right shade of apricot ecru.
(That's a color. Really. At least, in spa world. You try spending some time in this candelight-and-scented-oil universe without picking up a touch of Nate Berkus - Oprah's go-to designer, for you ignorant savages.)
Anyway, the point is, everything's as chill as an iced chai (which you can probably get in many spas). You're in spa mode, under a robe with less material than your average Britney Spears stage costume. That's what sophisticated spa goers do, after all. Clothes hinder the relaxing Zen.
And surely there's a private back path to the beach-massage area.
"Mr. Baldwin? Follow me please."
A 20-something guy who apparently fancies himself the Johnny Depp of Mexico is leading me ... straight out the front door of the spa and down the never-ending levels that lead to the resort beach at Westin Los Cabos.
Past the businessmen here for a conference. Past the middle-aged couple acting like teenagers in one of the hot tubs. Past the family splashing in a pool. All the while, everything's swaying free, under a swatch of held together by a weakly tied knot (damn, I should have paid more attention in Boy Scouts).
Almost there. Oh no, a Spanish beauty in a tight black bikini emerging from the water. Oh my ... baseball, think about baseball. Jim Leyland. Great manager, that Jim Leyland.
OK, there wasn't an international incident. No 10-year-old went screaming from the pool. But by the time I got down to the beach where the spa tables are set up in white-curtained cabanas a mere few hundred feet from the ocean, I believe my blood pressure read 290 over 180.
And I'm sure the therapist looked at me a little funny when she realized I'd traversed all that ground down to the beach sans ... well, anything.
Relaxing? Getting kicked in the face with sand would have been more restfully restorative. This is what happens to a spa rookie who strays beyond his bounds. Some things should stay in the dark, with scented oil in the air and New Age music in the background.
December 4, 2006