BY CANDY PARKER
Massage (noun): the act or art of treating the body by rubbing, kneading, patting, or the like, to stimulate circulation, increase suppleness, relieve tension, etc.
Most people read those words and immediately think “relaxation.” They think of a massage as a luxury. The word conjures thoughts of warmth, calming aromas, and inner peace. Massages are credited with promoting good health and preventing injury; doting partners surprise their wives with them on Mothers’ Day; people pay a lot of money to get one.
For me, however, a massage ranks among the most stressful events in my life, somewhere in the vicinity of “visiting the dentist” and “going for a pap smear.” Why is that? I really don’t know. I’m just not the strip down to nothing, lie on a table in a dark room, let a total stranger touch you all over type, I guess. Go figure.
As a case in point, a few years back my girlfriend at the time surprised me with a weekend in Atlantic City. She did it up right, booking a room at the Borgata (which the friendly, gay check-in desk guy upgraded to a suite for us once he learned it was my birthday — go LGBT community!). She brought a ridiculous amount of cash for gambling (made even more ridiculous by our respective winning streaks at the roulette table the first night) and made a dinner reservation at Michael Mina’s SeaBlue restaurant.
I was thrilled to be in Atlantic City, my palms tingling and pulse quickening at the mere thought of playing Texas Hold ‘Em live, as opposed to on my laptop. I was thinking “Everything is perfect,” as we unpacked our bags and surveyed the view from our upper-level room…at least until she told me she’d signed us both up for massages the next morning.
She said the words with an expectant smile. (This was supposed to be a good thing, remember?) A massage at the Borgata’s luxury spa! Who wouldn’t want that?
Not being one to want to appear ungrateful, I smiled. A nervous smile, no doubt, as my fight or flight instinct kicked in.
“Baby, you’ve already spent too much on all this. I don’t need a massage.” That was attempt number one to wrangle out of the massage, the ol’ “look-how-considerate-I-am” attempted bow out. It didn’t work. She reminded me she loved massages and the money didn’t matter. It was fine and she wanted to give me that soothing experience.
“I appreciate that, really. But I’d be every bit as happy if you just gave me a massage — and that’s free!” Attempt number two to wiggle out of the trap. She laughed. Come on now, I could get that kind of massage any time; it was my birthday — the massage should be special.
“Well, it is my birthday, I know. And I appreciate you arranging the massages, baby. I know how much you love getting one, but I’d be just as good downstairs in the poker room while you’re at the spa.” Attempt number three to escape the massage lair. This was a slightly more direct approach, implying that there were other activities in which I’d prefer to engage.
Despite the trifecta of attempted extractions, promptly at 10 a.m. the next morning I found myself in the spa, as nervous as a firecracker in a match factory built on a gunpowder island in the middle of a gasoline sea. I was given the requisite plush robe and directed to a changing area. I was told that, once comfortable, I should feel free to unwind in the lounge, from where my massage therapist would later retrieve me.
Comfortable? Who could be “comfortable” sitting in a lounge with a room full of strangers dressed only in a housecoat that didn’t quite overlap sufficiently in the front? I cinched up the belt and tread anxiously into the room where my girlfriend was already sitting in repose, nibbling at one of the free orange slices, sipping the bottled water and calmly reading a magazine.
“Have a bottle of water,” she encouraged, sensing my trepidation.
“No thanks. I’m good.” I stammered, eyes darting around the room as I sat down, all the while clasping desperately at the front of my robe.
She shook her head, shrugged and returned to reading.
As the minutes passed, my anxiety continued to amplify. Though I had showered before heading to the appointment, I began sweating so profusely that I excused myself for a few moments and availed myself of the showers and complimentary toiletry products in the Borgata’s well-appointed spa.
The lavender-scented body wash worked it magic, inducing a temporary sense of tranquility and I was able to return to the lounge area where I continued to await the dreaded summoning. Not long thereafter, I was beckoned.
“Hi, I’m Christy and I’ll be the indisputably attractive stranger in front of whom you’ll be getting naked today.”
Well, maybe it was more along the lines of, “Hi. I’m Christy and I’ll be your massage therapist today,” but, to me, the reality was one in the same.
In the end, I survived my massage experience, the pleasure of the occasion ultimately outweighing my pre-event apprehension, though I’ve not subsequently gone out of my way to book another and my girlfriend saw enough from that visit to know that the spa was a place better visited without me.
Perhaps my massage-induced angst is something to add to the list of possible topics to discuss with a therapist someday. Now that’s a massage therapy session I could get into.
Candy Parker is a humor writer who enjoys sharing her most embarrassing moments with the world and otherwise affirming her mere mortal status.