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HEY, MAN, GO WITH THE FLOAT

For a guy trying to make a splash in the relaxation business, Jim Eisenman lives with a lot of stress.

To start with, he runs what appears to be the Valley's only flotation-tank business. During these hours, Eisenman and his wife provide frantic professionals with a few minutes of soothing sensory deprivation. To make a buck--the tank game has been slow lately--Eisenman drives a hack for the AAA Cab Company in Phoenix. The taxi also supports a third passion--coaching basketball, which Eisenman does as an unpaid assistant at Mesa Community College. This schedule would kill a triathlete. "It's called `doing what it takes,'" says Eisenman, age 37, who first started driving a cab about seven years ago so he could take nonpaying coaching jobs (he caught the basketball bug as a college player in upstate New York).

Eisenman's career goals are tied in another way: He first learned about float tanks while dropping off a cab fare at Biltmore Fashion Square about four years ago. Killing time in the mall, Eisenman ran across a book about the brain and became fascinated by the section on flotation tanks. When he learned that the Dallas Cowboys and other sports teams were using tanks, he began a serious investigation. The sensory-deprivation idea first became trendy in the late 1970s. The public's interest has fluctuated ever since, but the basic float technique is mostly unchanged.

Practitioners enter a large horizontal chamber that's filled with about ten inches of warm saltwater. All alone, they then close the lid and float around in the dark. There is one fairly new twist: Modern tanks are equipped with video monitors and sound equipment, so floaters can study golf tips or listen to self-improvement tapes. Either in total darkness or watching TV, the float-tank experience is said to be extremely relaxing. It also is said to be somewhat trippy. Not surprisingly, the concept is popular with the metaphysically minded. That is not an angle Eisenman promotes, though he doesn't seem to be hostile to crystal-huggers. A former seminary student, Eisenman is up-front about his belief system. "I'm a Bible man," he says, "but I don't have the right to be a moral policeman. If people believe they can get in my tank and go to L.A. and back before they get out, that's fine."

The angles that Eisenman does promote are relaxation and personal development. He and his wife took their first float not long after Jim read about the practice in that Biltmore bookstore. "I've always been one to look into ways to maximize my own personal potential," he says. "I couldn't wait. It was driving me nuts."

The experience was rewarding in several ways.
First, Eisenman enjoyed it. "The only word I can come up with is `profound,'" he says. "I really loved it." He now promotes the idea among the athletes he works with at MCC. Second, Eisenman's wife, Sandy, who had been suffering from a stress-related intestinal disorder, found that floating helped ease her pain.

Third, Eisenman, whose background includes stints in advertising, sales, teaching--even some preaching--saw the commercial potential of floating in the dark: "My gut, my business sense, said, `The world needs to relax.'"

Eisenman and his wife now run the Flotation Centers of America, a title that sounds impressive until you know that the business comprises one large tank of lukewarm water set up in the couple's Tempe home. Considering all the stress people are putting on stress lately, these should be more prosperous times in the float-tank industry. But the Eisenmans' float chamber apparently is the only commercial tank in town.

For a while, the couple sold tank time out of a small office in a Tempe industrial park. Eisenman says an attempt to move uptown--into a classy shopping mall near Arizona State University--flopped when the City of Tempe stalled on some zoning paperwork. The couple wanted to open a full-service relaxation store, offering nutritional counseling, hypnotherapy and massage. Eisenman claims that Tempe balked at that last service. "The city was very leery," he says. "They wanted to make sure I wasn't running a cathouse."

While waiting for decisions from the city, Eisenman's cash flow slowed to a trickle, and he was forced to abandon the expansion plans. The tank, now installed at home, has been down for repairs the past several weeks. Stress? You want to talk about stress? Jim Eisenman says he's immune. Despite the cab, despite the coaching, despite the busted-down float tank, Eisenman--ever the salesman--swears he's not stressed out.

"If I didn't have the tank I would be," says Eisenman. "There's no greater place to pray than in a flotation tank."--

"My gut, my business sense, said, `The world needs to relax.'

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Dave Walker