C. and I celebrated her birthday at the Largest Korean Sauna in North America. I’ve always loved the mythic sound of “Chicagoland,” how it conjures a shadow empire within the nation, and this effect was enhanced by King Spa, a retrofitted big-box store nestled between Home Depot and H Mart in the northern sprawl of Chicago.

As we entered the changing room, an attendant handed us our uniforms: a drab t-shirt and gigantic shorts. After dipping into icy and boiling pools, we logged time in saunas made of charcoal, salt, amethyst, gold, ocher, and infrared light—each advertising various healing properties: increased blood flow, keener vision, tighter pores, fewer toxins, and a sharper mind. Signs warned against heavy petting.

A game of Uno in the Pyramid Room | Photo by Candy Chang

Some people brought their laptops. They composed emails and entered data into spreadsheets between bouts of mind-blowing heat and bites of kimchi fried rice. Some played cards, and others played chess. Most of us just stared into the middle distance, trying to take it all in.

The decor leapfrogged postmodernism and landed in a 21st-century dumping ground of pleather, plastic, and faux marble. Cottonball clouds hung from the rafters. Stalks of fake bamboo sprouted among black lacquer credenzas, fake pineapples, and massive geodes on sale for $16,500. Propellors spun on the ceiling. A selfie station faced a meditation area with fifty recliners. On the mute flatscreens, Formula 1 cars quietly zipped around a racetrack. The mounted head of a deer gazed down at a golden Buddha and a silkscreen of Audrey Hepburn. 

The clientele was just as eclectic. Hushed voices spoke in Korean, Russian, Spanish, and every variant of American slang. The movie theater was playing Full Metal Jacket for reasons unknown, and we stuck around long enough to watch Gomer Pyle blow his brains out before heading back to the Pyramid Room.

We stayed for eleven hours, reluctant to leave this beautiful polyglot future where everyone wore the same terrible outfit, all of us refugees from the 21st century, searching for some peace and quiet in a hot room.

Wasted Cathedral – Heatstroke Cowboys Ride On

Wasted Cathedral | Dub Ditch Picnic, 2015 | Bandcamp