Friday, January 25, 2008

800-lb Ninja

Author's note: This will appear in the newspaper in a shorter version. However, for the sake of those co-workers of mine who went to the spa with me, I'm including full detail here. Holly especially might be interested.

When you think of the word “massage” your body should instantly relax, and other words like “soothing” and “restful” should come to mind. But that would be before you actually receive a massage. Once you’ve undergone one, words like “breezy”, “flab”, and “pile driver” are more likely to leap to mind. My first time was certainly an eye opener for me.

After changing into my plush robe and sitting in the “meditation room” – that’s massage talk for a place to read a magazine while making sure your legs are crossed and the robe is wrapped tightly about your body because you’re basically hanging out (no pun intended) with a bunch of strangers in the same state of undress – my masseuse calls my name and introduces herself. Berta, a slight Panamanian woman who could not have been more than 4’8” and 100 lbs. soaking wet, shows me to our massage room and explains that she will wait outside the door while I disrobe, slide myself between the sheets on the table, and lie on my stomach with my face resting on a padded horseshoe – once I place my face in the horseshoe, I am happy to learn that it didn’t appear to have ever been actually used on a horse. Here’s where the fun begins.

Berta calls to me from outside the door to assure I’m ready, and I presume she enters. The reason I presume is that I have my face firmly implanted in the padded horseshoe and can see absolutely nothing but a small spot on the tiled floor below me. (What I forgot to tell you is that the table is completely covered so you can’t see its legs – this is vitally important to the experience, as you will see.) Berta asks me which scented massage oil I would prefer. As I can see the choices don’t include “Stinking Rich” or “Smell of Victory”, I defer to her. Berta recommends lavender, and we’re off.

After sufficiently coating my neck, shoulders, and back in enough massage oil to rainproof me, Berta takes a hot stone and begins to rub it over the aforementioned body parts. I must admit that feels pretty good. However, the temperature of the rock is high enough that if she just lets it sit in one place it can cause third-degree burns, so there’s that unspoken understanding that I not complain lest she duct tape it directly above my third and fourth lumbar vertebrae and walk away. Needless to say, the wonderfully soothing quality of the heated rock moving about my back is immediately cancelled out by the knowledge that this same rock could cripple me – that wouldn’t be one of the selling points you would see on the spa’s brochure.

Next, Berta begins working on the muscles in my back – this is where the table’s legs being covered comes into play. I swear an 800-lb ninja has been secreted below the table and when given the signal, he stealthily slips out of his hiding place and climbs atop my back and begins jumping with precision on specific muscles. There is no way that little Berta has the leverage to push that hard on my back and render me completely without oxygen in my lungs. All the while, of course, I’m staring down at a spot on the ground that’s no more than a cubic foot. For all I know, a whole team of ninjas could have been hiding under that table – sort of the massage world’s equivalent to a clown car at the circus – and they all got on one guy’s shoulders to perform the Pile Driver on my back. Occasionally Berta says something to me just to preserve the illusion that we are alone in the room.

Once the ninja or ninjas go back under the table, Berta begins kneading my skin like bread dough. And as she does this, the less-than-flattering term Doughboy comes to mind. Unless you’re an underwear model and have zero-percent body fat, good Ol’ Berta’s going to find every inch of flab on your body and shamefully remind you of each and every Twinkie and Ho Ho you’ve consumed in your life.

Near the end of the massage session, Berta discreetly reconfigures the sheet lying atop my body to expose my legs, which she does one at a time by tucking the sheet under my midsection and wrapping it around and under my leg. The first leg goes just fine, but as she covers it up and repeats the process with my other leg, she’s a little overzealous and ends up giving me a major wedgie. If that’s not bad enough, in her haste to proceed with this portion of the treatment, let’s just say she comes up a little high – I can feel a cool southern breeze coming across the poop deck, if you will. At this point, I’m truly not too worried that Berta’s ogling me because (1) I don’t hear any laughter, and (2) she keeps her lunch down.

To top off the experience, Berta gives me a scalp massage with, yes you guessed it, the same hands that are covered in massage oil. So, to sum up, this is an experience that people pay for so they can be potentially burned, have the wind knocked out of them, have all their physical flaws indelibly pointed out to them, be given a wedgie, and walk out of the room with hair that looks like Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd. Wouldn’t it just be easier and cheaper to go back to high school for a day?

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