Ay, There’s The Rub
A massage is cause for anxiety
The other day I was perusing course listings for a community college (one should always have a backup plan) when I noticed a class called “massage ethics.” I’d think this would be a pretty brief class. The instructor would walk in, point to the crotch on a mannequin and say, “Stay away from that area, unless you work at the kind of place that stays open suspiciously late.” Class dismissed.
But I’d love to enroll in a class elucidating the etiquette on the other side of the transaction—the rules of the road for the massagee. Because massages involve a bizarre dance of procedure, parts of which I inevitably botch badly enough that I’m more stressed out after the massage than I was before it. And I know I’m not alone in my massage apprehension.
My brother-in-law, for instance, once scheduled a massage at a fancy hotel where you’re provided with disposable paper underwear to don beneath your robe. Unsure of what to make of this item, he initially put it on his head, thinking that the leg holes were for your ears. He got it figured out before the masseuse walked in, or else I bet they’d still be talking about the nude guy with the underwear on his head.
Despite the apprehensions fueled by stories like that, I’m eventually forced back into a spa to redeem a 50-minute treatment that I received as a gift. I’ve barely opened my locker when anxiety sets in over whether to tip. I decide the answer is yes, but the bathrobe doesn’t have pockets. Where should I put my money? I conclude that I should wear my boxers under the robe and tuck the cash into the waistband, thus solving two problems (the other being my apprehension over going commando under a robe that’s been worn by 100 other naked dudes).
Flip-flops donned and cash in my underwear, I head to a darkened anteroom to await the masseuse and experience the mild existential dread caused by being alone with myself. In an Orwellian twist, this potpourri-scented alcove is called the relaxation room. Because nothing relaxes me like sipping lemon-tainted water and listening to whale noises while wondering whether I was supposed to shower. You definitely shower after the massage, but what about before? Two showers? That seems a little much.
After 10 minutes or so, the masseuse fetches me, and we make our way to the actual room, where she bids farewell and instructs me to fully undress and get under the sheet on the table. This should be easy, but now I need to figure out how to hang the robe in such a way that I disguise the boxers. Since I also have no place for the cash, I carefully position it on top of the hook, using the weight of the robe and my boxers to hold the money in place. This robe-cash-underpants Tetris takes so long that when the masseuse knocks on the door, I have to tell her I’m not ready, which doubtless makes her wonder why my naked self is still prancing around her workspace instead of waiting beneath the sheet like a normal, non-weird customer.
That should be it for awkwardness. But now that the massage is upon us, I feel compelled to explain my bodily defects, specifically an ant bite that’s caused my right ankle to swell to twice its normal size. In the center of my cankle is what looks like a zit, and I want her to know that it’s not a zit but merely a severe reaction to ant venom, which I think seems less gross. “I got bit by an ant the other day,” I say as casually as possible. “So you can ignore my right ankle. Not that ankles probably figure much in a massage, right?” She replies, “Uh, OK,” in a way that lets me know that you’re not supposed to draw attention to your physical deformities.
The rest of the massage is swell, except for the scalp part. Evidently it’s considered a normal part of the regimen to rub oil on a guy’s hair while ripping it from his head. I want to tell her to knock it off, but pride wins the day, and I suffer in silence as she accelerates my male-pattern baldness by five years. I imagine that when she’s done she’ll have hairy werewolf hands, and I’ll look like Howie Mandel. So relaxing.
When it’s all over, I’m actually pleasantly mellow and spaced-out—it turns out that I enjoyed the massage, if not the ceremony and whale songs. In fact, I’d like to get another one soon, so I called a less-fancy place and made an appointment. The only tough part will be staying up until midnight.