This old column is not about “us” or divorce but a massage that I had some time ago. It’s a little silly, but you never know, it might make for fun bedtime reading.
I’ve just had a massage. It’s the third one I’ve ever had.
My first massage was at a hotel, on a business trip. I expected some leggy busty Swede to ease the stress of high-level business negotiations as she gently kneaded my muscles; except that I was in my early 20s and the closest I got to high-level business negotiations was choosing the brand of beer to supply at my birthday parties. Also, Grant was not a she, nor even a Swede. He might, however, have had an enforcer background, in the sense that the enthusiasm with which he attacked my body tended to indicate he might not have needed payment to assault me so thoroughly.
My second massage was some years ago. I won it at the local Fitness Club where I play tennis weekly. When I turned up, I wondered whether there might be an Ulrika or Astrid available for me. Instead, I was told that I would be seeing “Bob”. An energetic fellow, Bob spent most of the time talking as he worked. He claimed to be an aspiring drummer and banged out rapid and complex, but nevertheless painful, drum patterns on my body. He described this as “the relaxing phase” of the massage. Perhaps he mistook me for a music mogul who might find him a place in a band.
It was with more than a little trepidation that I contemplated the prospect of this most recent massage. I have had some chest and back pains for the last few weeks. They’re the kind that comes from sitting too long in the one position during some unusual and extremely long working weeks, including some 2:00am and 4:00am starts to the day. A doctor friend recommended a massage, amongst other things, to loosen up the muscles.
Today, Monday afternoon, was a long-overdue day off, and I was at a friend’s Fitness Club. The kids were taking either tennis or swimming lessons and I had 90 minutes to kill, so I checked to see if I could fit in the recommended massage. Despairing of the possible answer, I asked who was available.
The guy at reception said that “Astri-mumble” was available.
“Did you say Astrid?!” I asked eagerly, my mind in overdrive.
“No, Astri-mumble”, he replied. “He’s Russian, and I can’t pronounce his name.”
“Oh,” I said.
“He’s very vigorous. I suggest you only take a half-hour.”
“Oh,” I said.
“And he hardly speaks any English, so his sister translates for him.”
“Uh-oh,” I said.
“He’s free now, you can go in now.”
“Oh … darn,” I said.
I reluctantly presented myself to the Massage Center, resolving to have stern words with my doctor ‘friend’. My masseur’s extremely sturdy sister appeared and asked me a lot of questions about what parts of my back and chest were hurting, how I did it, and so on. She sounded very professional and passed on what I hoped were precise instructions to the bulky ex-KGB type standing next to her. It was never explained to me why I could not have her as my masseur.
Armed with my full instructions, the masseur set to work. I have to say right away that, after seeing the size of my masseur, I had expected this to be tougher than my previous massages. I was quite wrong. Wrong in the sense that being bitten by a rattlesnake on sensitive male anatomy would not be described as being worse than being bitten by a week-old puppy on the arm. It would be described as being MUCH worse.
His first move was to massage my neck. I hadn’t mentioned any neck pain but I assumed that this was all part of the upper-body thing we had planned. I later realized that he was actually just dislocating my neck, thereby disabling me in case I tried to run for it.
Having me partially paralyzed, but still able to feel pain, he moved on to massaging my back. I discovered that his concept of Deep Tissue Massage meant to push right on through the ribs and massage internal organs, like my liver, directly.
Years of hard manual labor, possibly in a gulag, left Astri-mumble with hands rougher than glass sandpaper. What was really needed for lubricant was the engine oil they advertise on TV, the kind that doesn’t break down under the extreme temperatures of Death Valley conditions. Apparently they had a shortage of that at the Fitness Club, but ordinary massage oil was clearly not up to the task. To say that I was rubbed raw is like saying that a Thanksgiving roast turkey has been lightly plucked. I was rather disappointed to discover that he did not have a barrel of salt handy to rub in my wounds and stave off infection.
I thought it a mark in his favor that he would occasionally ask “Pain?” (one of around four words in his English vocabulary). I naturally assumed that he meant “I’m worried you might be feeling pain, so YES means I am doing this too hard and I should let up a little, whereas NO means I have been considerate enough not to hurt you.”
It was some time before I realized that he actually meant, “Your yelping seems to have died down somewhat, and your back is arching less frequently. I’m worried you might not be feeling enough pain, so say YES if I am still close to the right level and only have to seize your flesh a little harder. Alternatively, say NO if I need to ratchet up the effort until I have collapsed a lung or snagged the aorta.”
After my chest had been shredded as thoroughly as my back, I stumbled into the Club bathroom for a long and agonized scream in the shower, any worries about my prior minor back and chest pain behind me.
I need to warn you that I might look a little different the next time you see me. I am fairly sure that I will need a skin transplant and there’s always a chance the donor is not Caucasian.