So let’s say I went on vacation and while looking forward to a relaxing time in a hot springs pool, I injured myself in three different ways, thus negating the healing effects of 105-degree water and instead identifying new effects of walking with a limp. But let’s also postulate that in order to combat said accident-proneness, I agreed to get a Swedish massage. Well, that would probably be memorable, too.
It really started with the couches at the condo rental, up in Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia. Maybe they were from the dreaded IKEA store, where furniture looks great until it leaves the Swede-designed showroom. The middle supports in the loveseats that marked the boundary of the living room area were three inches lower than the parts of the cushions nearest the armrests. In other words, there was no way to sit on the sofas and keep one’s hips even. We took to lying across the furniture at odd angles, vainly searching for comfort. By the end of the first day a small spot next to the small of my back began radiating pain outward, an epicenter of activity that foretold of destruction, soon to follow. I noticed I had begun walking with a hitch as the muscles nearby had held some sort of summit regarding what to do, and had agreed to stiffen up in response to the sore area. I was on my way to a full blown back ache.
Before we’d even left the states Susanne and I had talked about going to get hot stone massages. I’d only ever had a single massage experience, although it’s worth noting that when I was 25 I’d woken up one day unable to move and had scooted my way to a chiropractor by the name of Howard Johnson who had the worst toupee I’d ever seen but hands of tender gold when it came to cracking my vertebrae back into place. Howard had espoused a nasty-tasting homeopathic syrup for me to drink and I schlepped that tiny brown bottle around with me through three or four household moves, but I couldn’t bring myself to think of it as elixir. I’d sooner have licked the carbon fiber frame of my crappy Pontiac Fiero for some relief. Massages I held in only slightly higher esteem than alternative liquid remedies, or as euphemisms for illicit casual sexual encounters. I know, I know, this is a stereotype, but Six Feet Under keeps coming back to my mind when folks in earshot talk about massages.
Still, the single hot stone massage experience of my lifetime pervades my muscle memory and they often call out at me to repeat the transaction. So while relaxing at Radium, Susanne booked us for some spa extravagance, even though the on-site facility no longer does hot stone massages. Damn. I opted for the straight up Swedish massage, and Susanne the deep tissue treatment. Thinking of intense relief from knots and sore points, I walked into the spa happy to hear pan flute music. And I am no Yanni fan.
The receptionist asked for our shoe size and handed us robes and slippers. Robes? I was still in my bathing suit, a change of street clothes 5 kilometers (kilometres, even) away. What was I supposed to do with a robe?
Suffice it to say that I loathe “one size fits all” because by definition, it’s a lie. Unisex, thin synthetic, navy blue and burgundy pelts of fabric with little trailing waist cords do not have much left after covering an ass the size of mine. Such poor cousins to the Snuggie give me anxiety, and true to form, I had a mini panic attack in the men’s locker room as I took off my t-shirt from Seattle and attempted to cover my scant chest hair with the robe-thing. It didn’t even help that my slippers fit perfectly. No way could I remove my swim trunks. Would they make me take off my board shorts?
I came out of the locker room and hid behind two ficus trees while Yanni prattled on, waiting for Susanne to emerge from her room. In a couple of minutes the door opened and it was all I could do not to tackle her with my fears. Did I have to be actually naked?
“Are you naked under your robe,” I asked, trying not to tremble.
“Yes.” I could tell in her answer that she was sizing me up.
“I only have my swim suit on. Do I have to take it off?”
“No, honey, you can leave it on.” She told me not to worry and just introduce myself to the masseuse. I was grateful I’d stopped dripping, but I was probably going to get Radium water on the massage table.
I followed the employee into my private room, through a beautifully sculpted rice screen door with simple lighting designed to put me at ease. She instructed me to disrobe and lie face down. She’d give me a few minutes for this. I calculated how much less of an effect the massage would have on me what with my nervousness at DEFCON 2. I could feel muscle tissue squirming all over my back and neck. I craned my head down to undo my robe tie, and only then I remembered that I’d made a square knot instead of a bow knot, mostly because I didn’t have enough tie length for a proper bow. Now I dug into the material with my fingernails, trying to get it unknotted before anyone knocked on the door. I couldn’t even get a massage like a normal person. Finally the strings gave way and I hurled my robe onto the small guest chair, followed by my glasses.
The cotton sheet and blanket were warmed like they do for newborns on the maternity ward. Finally my heart slowed down, and I pictured the ocean, rolling with wave after wave, beating me down with quiet erosion. When the masseuse took hold of my left calf and started kneading, I was no longer on the earth. I heard gentle guitar music and I saw blue skies and high clouds and mountain streams and flocks of birds sailing on summer breezes.
I need to book another massage next week when I get home.