“Are you wearing clown shoes?”
My little brother was referring to my heavy footfalls. In my family, silence was never quietly enjoyed.
Everything and everyone was loud: the blaring TV; my mother’s alto voice; my father’s soprano; my
brother’s trumpet. The greatest racket happened right before dinner, pots and pans clanging on
countertops and kitchen drawers slamming in quick succession. None of us had an “inside” voice -- we
were the people you shushed in the theater, the church, or the library. Whenever we were asked to
pause for a moment of silence, we would burst out laughing at such a ridiculous request.
Silent night? Not in our house. My parents were virtuoso snorers, and we children, their apprentices. It’s a wonder our neighbors never complained to animal control about the family of bears living next door.
Silence makes me jittery and anxious, like an addict looking for the next noise fix. Growing up in New
York, I enjoyed the sound of jackhammers, screeching trains and my English teacher Miss Shapiro, who began every class with a blood curdling “SHUT UUUUUP!” Like most loud people, I never realized how loud I was. I used to host weekly rehearsals for a 17 member choir in my little Queens apartment, without remorse. My neighbors left me angry, threatening notes that I found rude and exaggerated.
Oliver’s family, on the other hand, knew how to be quiet. They walked around like cats in the snow and
spoke like nuns in a convent. Oliver is the tenth of eleven children, but judging by his stories they were
so quiet their neighbors must have thought they were living next door to a mute, single woman with fish
I know what you’re thinking: Why would a self-confessed loud person be crazy enough to open a spa?
Well, I never thought seriously about the whole ‘quiet’ part of a spa. Had I known what I was in for, I
would have opened an air horn factory. Speaking in Spa Voice is anathema to me, a former opera
student. My voice teacher spent years morphing my mouth into a megaphone. “Push the diaphragm,”
Professor Cacnio would say. “You must be heard in the last row. Louder. LOUDER!”
It was softer, softer, at the spa. Oliver, keenly aware of a spa’s silence requirements quickly declared
himself Chief Ninja Officer. In our first year of business, he overwhelmed me with non-stop shushing
and finger wagging. This shattered my ego. I was being asked – no, ordered – to change my essence, to
suppress my identity, to transform into something I was never destined to become: The Quiet Man. I
walked. “Shh.” I talked. “Shh.” I gestured “Shh”.
Under Oliver’s Tutelage of Silence, I learned Ninja techniques so secret I reveal them here for the first
time. There is Softly Closing Drawer Fronts, where you pinch the corners with your fingertips and let go
only at the very last moment. There is Art of Shutting Door, where you twist and hold the knob, draw
the door back into its jamb in excruciating slow motion and slowly untwist the knob. Lastly, there is
Three Ways to Wash Spa Dishes: Loud and Quick; Loud and Slow; Soft and Slow. There are no other
acceptable permutations and, in a spa, the first two are strictly forbidden. Failure in these ancient
techniques would cause the Sensei of Shush to pop out of a treatment room, like a Prairie Dog
with Charles Manson Face.
After many years of effort, I succeeded at being only marginally quiet. I would often slip back to my old,
loud self, to the horror of Oliver and the staff, who would stare me down with bug-eyes like they had
just seen a ghost. Or I should say a poltergeist, which is a loud ghost. I was convinced all my efforts had failed, all the changes I made mere artifice. I reminisced fondly over my native noisiness and raged silently against its suppression.
Slowly though, I learned to accept my new muted way of life. In time, the external veneer of silence eventually
permeated my skin, integrating into my new, inner monk. I remember the day I walked up casually
behind Oliver to ask him a question. He jumped up three feet in the air, the pot in his hand crashing to the kitchen floor. “You scared me!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.
I didn’t mean to frighten Oliver, but my quiet satisfaction was deep, my silent mission accomplished, when for the first time, it was this student’s turn to say to his master, “Shh.”