Los Angeles Times

In LA, spa days can stretch into night

LOS ANGELES - The landscape of the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, a concrete universe of slightly less than three square miles in Mid-City, is a bilingual-signed jigsaw of strip malls and squat high-rises, barbecue restaurants and porridge joints. It's about as far away from John Cheever's Westchester County, the setting for many of the writer's stories of mid-20th century East Coast suburban ennui, as his mannered cocktail parties are from L.A.'s soju-fueled karaoke bars. Unlike Cheevertown, L.A.'s Koreatown is an oddly soothing quadrant of the city if you open the right doors - a neighborhood filled not with angst but with a network of spas that cater to locals in need of a soak and a scrub, maybe a nap on a heated floor. And if you traverse Koreatown for palliative reasons, from strip-mall sauna to underground bathhouse, you'll find it possible to link up the neighborhood much like Neddy Merrill did in Cheever's masterwork of a story, "The Swimmer."

As Neddy swam from pool to pool, he navigated his disintegrating life, awash in chlorine and gin. The journey from spa to spa is instead one of restoration: a slow mineral cure. Steeped in barley tea instead of alcohol and pathos, a

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