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?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

In a Fix

If what I write in this column has the same effect/power as those things that come out of my mouth, the likelihood that my kids will read this by choice ranks up there with the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series or woolly mammoths roaming the Arizona desert. With that said, however, if anybody out there chooses to tell my kids what I’m writing about today, I won’t be responsible for what I do next – atomic wedgies and wet Willies come to mind, though.

Our dog Lola is dying. A few months ago, we took her to the vet to have her “fixed” (what a euphemism!) and the vet ran some type of blood panel. The results came back, and the vet told us that there may be something wrong with her liver. She then told us that other factors may have been creating a false positive so we should bring her back in a month or two for an additional test. We did, and the results came back with even more severe indications that her liver isn’t even working. To look at Lola, said the vet, you’d never know she had anything wrong with her. She’s energetic and rambunctious; she eats well and sleeps well. With the results of the second test, the vet indicated that Lola’s condition is beyond the help of medication or even surgery. (I have to say here that surgery for an animal still seems a little kooky. “Sorry, son, we couldn’t send you to college because the dog needed surgery. Sure, the surgery was a success and all, but dogs only live so long.”) Erin and I haven’t told the boys yet about this development, and since learning about this it seems like Lola’s just a ticking time bomb. The reason we haven’t told the boys is Lola may be that exception – our fingers are crossed – that defies medical reason and lives to a ripe old age of 97 dog years. It’s a baseless hope, I’ll admit, but it’s what we’re holding onto.

I have to pause here a moment and make something clear. I may have given some people the impression that I don’t like dogs. That’s just not true. I was against the idea of getting a dog because of the costs associated with dog ownership and the slim possibility of something like this very thing happening. Although I freely admit that I find surgery on dogs a little kooky, I’m not a heartless person. It’s not my inclination that a dog should be put to sleep at the first hint of problems. For the very reason that I’m not a heartless person, I didn’t want to get a dog because I didn’t want to be placed in a position of needing to decide a life-or-death question for a small, furry animal.

With that said, I must make a further admission: I love this darn dog. I love the fact her tail wags like a juiced-up metronome when you walk into the room. I love the fact she’ll jump up onto the couch and do a face plant on the side of the cushion because she misjudged the height – and then she’ll try it again without a hint of embarrassment. I love the squinty-eyed look of contentment she gets when you scratch her in just the right place. I’ll admit it: I’m a nutball.

My sister has a cat, George, whom she adores. I’m not sure why because it always seems to be lying under the bed. My mom and dad have a dog, Gus, who goes everywhere with them. In fact, my mom will take Gus through the drive-thru at Jack in The Box when it’s raining to get him a sourdough bacon cheeseburger. Again, the reason my parents find so much joy in this dog eludes me because he mostly just lies around and emits strange smells – I can’t imagine the sourdough bacon cheeseburger helps with that. Nevertheless, these animals bring some of my loved ones unequaled joy. Who am I to question that?

My heart aches for Lola as I type this. Please let her be the exception! Please! Whether she will or won’t be remains to be seen. In the meantime, hug your kids a little longer and give Fido and Mr. Kibble an extra treat now and then. It’ll make YOU smile.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Virtue of Amnesia

Thomas Wolfe once wrote a book called You Can’t Go Home Again, the title alluding to a universal truth that you can’t recover the past. (Interesting side note: the book was published after Mr. Wolfe’s death so it might just as well have been titled I Can’t Go Home Ever.) This knowledge of an irrevocable past produces in us a degree of melancholy when we think back on particular happy moments that have long since passed. However, we quickly come to our senses and realize how liberating it is that we’ll never have to relive thousands upon thousands of experiences we suffered through originally in years gone by.

I would imagine my oldest brother is pretty happy that he’ll never have to wear a corduroy suit that our mom made for him for his graduation from Junior High School. (He’s not completely blameless in this matter – he willingly went along with mom’s foray into haute couture, which is French for “one arm of the suit is slightly longer than the other”.) Locking myself – on accident, of course – in the bathroom of a Greyhound bus at the age of four isn’t something that necessarily gets me misty eyed. Neither does having my other brother sitting on my chest and pinning my arms to the ground while he would let a big loogie drip from his mouth in a spider-web-like string and dangle over my face before sucking it back up. (Sometimes he’d just spit and let it spread over my face while I couldn’t move.)

My sister Kim, I would be willing to bet, isn’t rushing to relive the moment when she was learning to drive and my two brothers, along with their host of friends, sat in the backseat and laughed like hyenas each time she cut a corner too close or applied the brakes a tad too hard. (The braking would later be immortalized by the term “Kim stop”, which we still use today, and can be re-created by violently throwing your upper torso forward and hitting your head on your hand as if it’s the dashboard or seat in front of you.) Those were good times for us (the brothers), but I’m happy not to be sitting in the back of a 1975 Chevrolet Kingswood station wagon without a seat belt and my sister behind the wheel again.

This sanity-saving knowledge of the past is further enhanced by our ability to forget odds and ends that are either emotionally crippling or, more importantly, embarrassingly incriminating. The former is usually a result of the mind protecting itself, while the latter is the result of denial – a denial that you were once immature, foolish, and even carefree. When your son or daughter comes home with a note from the principal informing you that your child has been engaging in shenanigans frowned upon by civil society (i.e. lighting a girl’s ponytail on fire with a Bunsen burner in Chemistry class or pasting a photo of the Social Studies teacher’s head on the torso of a donkey), you conveniently forget that you laughed until you nearly peed your pants when you had devised and executed a plan to mix a laxative into the brownies in the Teachers’ Lounge and then put plastic wrap over the toilets in the Teachers’ Bathroom. You have to forget about that or else the world would go to Hell in a hand basket because rather than disciplining your child you’d be comparing notes and trying to figure out how to pull a better prank and not get caught the next time.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me: no good can come from reliving the past. It’s best that we look to the future and try to forget about those uglier moments of days gone by – like acid-wash jeans, leisure suits, and the Mullet.