A Gift of Zen from Sven


Maybe it was that story about the sterling silver rat earrings that Sven gave me as a gift that did it.
Or it could have been the one about the surprise Christmas bowling ball.
Possibly it was the ear wax removal kit that was wrapped and under the tree that I happened to tell the world about that pushed him over the edge.
Whatever the case, when I turned the big six-oh, my sweet Sven had a surprise for me.
"What is it?" I said, looking at two fancy red ribbons tied into two fancy red bows on two beige and red glossy cardboard envelopes.
"It is what you love," he says. I got you two, so you can take a friend."
"This is for two pedicures?"
"Millie what is it that you love?"
"No. You love massages."

"Oh. Yes, I do. I do love massages."
"These are spa gift cards. You can take a friend and you both get a massage."
"Pretty good, huh?" he says, patting himself on the back.
"But, I like the massages that I have with Joe. And those are chair massages."
Sven stopped patting his back.
"I mean, I love it," I said. "I'm just surprised. This is really, really cool. Thank you, honey."
My eyes popped out at the prices in the brochure. This birthday gift cost more than some of the cars he used to drive.
"I pick you," I said.
"You come and have a massage with me."
"What? No. I am NOT doing that."
I invited my sister Louisa.
We scheduled our appointments to land on her fifty-ninth birthday, which happened to be last Sunday. It was perfect. She had no plans. Her husband was going to be out of town.
How we managed to set them up for 8:00 AM is another story.
None the less, my alarm rang at 6:00 o'clock and Louisa was at my door at 7:00 o'clock and Sven snapped this picture before we shot out the door for a day that we will remember.

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Louisa should be looking at the camera when someone is taking her picture, but she is fifty-nine, so I doubt she is going to catch on at this point.
We knew how to get to the place.
That is why we almost made it there on time.
You see, we knew everything except how to 'exactly' get there. My phone kept displaying that red marker on google maps and our car was a blue arrow, and that blue arrow kept on driving past that red marker.
"Louisa, try that road up there. The one the left," I said. We had tried everything else.
There it was.
After filling out forms at the front desk in the hotel lobby, and signing our names on the dotted line, noting that we would be QUIET, in the quiet areas, we were escorted down a dimly lit hallway with piped in music.
It's true that the very kind woman with the foreign accent had to show us how to open and lock our lockers more than once. And it is also true that after we were dressed in our robes and spa sandals, we had no idea which lockers were ours.
Luckily the kind lady was able to point them out.
And then there we were, in our room, on our cots, under warm blankets, wearing our birthday suits, faces resting on hollowed out pillows.
For the next fifty minutes, nobody had to tell anybody to shut up.
The sandalwood oiled hands, working out every part of every part of our bodies, seemingly timed to the drifting music, made our lifeless limbs grow heavier and heavier. A whisper to turn over, sheets strategically tucked, music, hands, sandalwood, drifting, drifting, drifting, would be the definition of heaven. Even better than the nitrous oxide incident during that dental procedure I once had.
Floating and semi-conscious I had a notion that heaven was going to fall apart and that soon, I was going to have to rejoin the universe.
The hands were on my face.
The hands were behind my neck.
The hands were rubbing sandalwood and oil into my scalp.
These instructions were softly whispered into my ear, "Come out of the room whenever you are ready."
The hands left.
The music continued.
A door closed silently.
Louisa and I pulled the blinders off our eyes at the same time.
"Holy shit, you should see your hair," I said.
"You should see yours."
"I love your sweet Sven," she says.
"Yeah. Me too."
And then, back in our robes, we were guided to the quiet room.
Louisa laughed right out loud, in the quiet room.
So, we left.
We found our lockers and changed into our swimming suits and went to hang out with the other rich, professional, spa people.
We scrubbed ourselves with the sand they gave us, and we rinsed off under warm rainwater. We stepped into the steam room, and we sat on a bench.
Just about the time we realized that we were not alone in the steam room, we decided to visit the cold water, for like, one second.
Next it was hot tub time. The jets were serious about jetting. My suit blew up and was in my face and it was impossible to sit with our backs against them. They shot us right off the ledge and into the heated 84-degree swimming pool, which was under a perfectly clear, blue, April, morning sky.
We sat in front of the fire next to the pool and we talked softly.
And that was enough Zen for us.
We found our clothes and our workstations, and we reapplied our faces and blew dry our hair.


This is what a Zen selfie looks like.

The Dells is a tourist town. There are places to eat on every corner.
We found a restaurant with an outside patio.
No one came to wait on us.
Louisa went inside.
She returned with this.

"The guy said we can't order food for a half an hour at least. There are about a hundred soccer players in there."
The weather was divine.
There was not a cloud in the sky.
There air was clear and still.
Hang on.
There was one single gust of wind on my sister's birthday.
Just the one.
And that gust totally reminded me of that day that my mom and I were getting ready to paint the insides of the cupboards that Sven built for our new kitchen in our new house. But on that day day there was gust after gust after gust. It was so windy and gusty out that we decided to drag the picnic table into the new garage instead of being pelted in the face, arms and and legs with the stinging airborne particles of sand that were coming from the ground that we hoped someday would be covered with grass.
In order to protect the redwood picnic table from our bucket of white paint, we placed a large piece of cardboard on top of it and then we set the bucket of paint on top of that cardboard. Before we even had a cupboard picked out to paint, we watched a single gust of wind pick up that piece of cardboard with that bucket of freshly stirred paint on top of it and in slow motion it threw that bucket of paint onto the ground, which had been until that moment, a virgin concrete floor. The cardboard flew to the back of the garage like a magic carpet, hit the wall and landed on the cement.
The gust of wind on my sister's birthday brought that memory to mind when my Bloody Mary, pictured above, happened to be sitting on top of a large, laminated menu when it came through. And I watched that menu turn into another magic carpet, and it gave that Bloody Mary of mine a ride and flipped it off and into the air before it landed upside down, in my crotch. And that menu did a few more flips and flops before it hit the wood deck behind me.

Image 25

Remember the famous shot in Basic Instinct?
This is how it would have looked had Sharon Stone been wearing blue jeans instead of that short skirt and had she been covered with tomato juice, vodka and horse radish.

Image 26

Louisa's son Rupert lives in the Dells.
"You're Mom and I are going to stop in to see you in a few," I texted.
"Oh. Great." he writes back.
"All we want is one beer and one hug," I typed.
"I have both," he answers.
Now, Louisa had been to Rupert's new place once before, so she knew how to get there.
"When we get to the three roundabouts, we are almost there," she says.
"Oh, my."
We were getting really dizzy on those roundabouts.
"Damn it," she says, pulling into the same parking lot we'd already been in a couple times.
She calls Rupert.
"Mom, I can see you," he says.
"He can see us?"
Rupert directed us in from his deck.
"Get in the left lane. No, the left. Turn there. See that road? Evergreen? Jesus. You guys are on your own if you miss it this time."
"Oh, there's his place," Louisa says. And we pulled into his driveway.
Rupert's pad smelled like an herb that is not legal in the state of Wisconsin.
Not even for medical reasons.
"Oh that?" he says. "That smell came with the place."
I think it came with his two pink eyed friends who were sitting on his couch wolfing down potato chips and laughing uncontrollably at his last statement.

Image 27

Next stop.
Ho-Chunk Gaming Nation.
A man handed us these tickets in the parking lot.

Image 28

That was our only win.
We watched live televised action-packed-ferry-thriller-car-line-up-episodes, going on right outside The Ferry Crossing, while we enjoyed their deep-fried chicken strips and jalapeño poppers.

Image 29

We waved to the ferry camera, had a photo shoot in front of the stay back sign and hung out in the park while the ferry went back and forth for a couple of days.


The ferry landed on the other side and the draw bridge went down.
We disembarked and took a left.
It was time to see Le Mere.

Image 22

It was time to open presents with Maxwelle Smarte and Morrie Amsterdam.
And then it was time to go.
"Hi," says Sven as I approached him on our front deck.
"So. You really liked it?" he said.
"Damn it."
"So. You really didn't like it?"
"I left my workstation in Louisa's car."
"What about your day?"
"Son of a bitch," I muttered. "My workstation."
"Well, I am glad you had a good time," he says.
My phone lit up.
It was Louisa.
"Christophe is taking me out for a birthday dinner. Your bag is in my car. We'll drop it off on our way to Hookers."
While Sven and I were walking Hunter through the woods, and I was telling him all about our day and his gift and how much we loved him and our Zen life and the sandalwood and the pool and the Bloody Mary's landing in crotches, Christophe, Louisa's son pulled up, she jumped out, ran into the house and dropped off my workstation on the island.
"I left my purse there," was a text from Louisa while Sven and I were in our Sunday evening couch positions, staring at the TV.
"I wonder what she's talking about," I said to Sven.
"What's up?" I said when she walked in the house at 8:30.
"I left my purse here."
"You did? I haven't seen it."
Christophe shrugged.
This is pretty common.
I once babysat her kids for an entire weekend while she and Pierre spent their wedding anniversary in Milwaukee.
As much as I loved her darlings, I was sick to death of sitting inside all those forts we made in the living room with all of her furniture, cushions and sheets. And the last thing I wanted to hear that Sunday evening, when I thought they would be home any minute because they called before they left Milwaukee, was, "I left my purse at McDonald's and we have to go back to get it."
The McDonald's was in Milwaukee.

"Okay, Louisa, on the count of three, look straight ahead.
Look into the camera.



Louisa's purse was at her house.
Right where she'd left it.
Her foundation was at the Spa.

Thank you, my sweet Sven, for the gift of Zen.

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