Take a look at the Indulge package. Swedish massages. Caviar facials. Sheets of Egyptian cotton. This month, I decided to go in the other direction: For 96 hours, I followed the ancient Buddhist practice of enlightenment through agony and sought out pain, discomfort, and anxiety. Yes, I really did all this stuff, but my self-flagellation had one ground rule: nothing involving Navy Pier. I may be a masochist, but I'm not a moron.

My first stop was Great Cuts, a salon on Devon. The stylists there specialize in an ancient eyebrow hair removal method involving the precise twisting of a tiny thread, which traps each hair and rips it out of the follicle. Description: Imagine jabbing the area around your eye with a tiny safety pin. OK, now imagine doing it a hundred times while listening to sitar music.

My eyes still puffy, I went to the Thompson Center, where I hung out for a couple of hours at the DMV with only an organ donation brochure to read. The day's entertainment: a motor mouth decrying the racial inequalities in Cook County Jail. Number of times I heard a city employee say, "Have your documents out and in your hands": 235

That night, after searching in vain for a hair shirt on eBay, I slept on a hardwood floor with no blanket, using David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest as my pillow. Result: Woke up with a back more twisted than the end of The Crying Game.

The next day, my waitress at Heaven on Seven on Rush suggested its hottest hot sauce: Da' Bomb's "The Final Answer," roughly 600 times hotter than a jalapeño. "I've called ambulances for customers who believed it was giving them a heart attack," she said. Shielding herself with a napkin, she brought out the bottle; one sniff set my teeth atingle. Her warnings: Don't touch it with your hands. Don't touch your eyes. And you better move your baby over there. I put a drop on a toothpick, touched the toothpick to a cracker, then ate the cracker. Bad news: A spot on my tongue was chemically seared and I lost the circulation in my legs. Good news: I forgot all about my back.

I took it easy that evening—fixed myself a bowl of homemade flour gruel and watched Gigli and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo back to back. Result: Slept better, but had disturbing dreams all night.

Dragged my body to Lincoln Park the next night, where I joined Bulldog Bootcamp in a wet field for an hourlong battery of lunges, squats, pushups, and abdominal grinders. Made three tactical errors that multiplied the masochism: (1) through my cluelessness, managed to alienate the drill instructor, a tough blonde with legs carved out of granite; (2) forgot to take water; and (3) lay in goose excrement during my first stomach crunch. Got barked at a lot and stumbled home. Was it the most painful hour of my life? Yes.

An hour later, while I was on the bathroom floor weeping softly, Mrs. Closer reminded me that tonight was the night we'd planned to wax my legs. I meekly submitted and she ripped off a section of hair the size of a cigarette pack. I remarked that it wasn't so bad, so she suggested I try a bikini wax. I did. Result: Returned to the bathroom floor for more weeping.

The next morning, I got up, took the el downtown, and had a six-inch speculum inserted in my anus for 30 minutes to remove the fecal matter encrusted on the walls of my colon, courtesy of a deceptively nice lady at Healing Quest Center on Franklin Street. If you don't mind: I'd rather not talk about it.

Thirty seconds inside The Chicago Tattoo and Piercing Co. in Lake View, my new colon and I had to run to the toilet. When I came out of the bathroom, I'd lost my nerve. "One of us is getting a tattoo tonight," Mrs. Closer said. "I didn't get a babysitter for nothing." She then got two birds inked onto the top of her left foot, never flinching, while The Closer stood and watched. I had to. Reason: I couldn't sit down.



Illustration: Ian Dingman/Lindgrensmith.com