I am a big fan of a good massage. First, I like the word massage. It is nearly as slippery as the oil, it conveys this lovely, vaguely French experience in which something pressing but irreducible has been resolved, and it is highly preferable to “a damn good rubbin'” which, while very accurate, connotes more than one usually cares to connote.
I’ve got massages on the brain tonight because I just got a great one at Fit to be Tan in Arlington, an early/late birthday present from Jess. There’s nothing quite like getting touched for an hour – real, honest-to-God human proximity for a solid hour – to restore some faith in your body and in other human beings. I have to wonder though, and I was thinking about this so loudly in my brain today that I’m surprised the masseuse didn’t hear me thinking it, what are masseuses and masseurs thinking about when they’re doing their work?
The question followed me into the dimmed room, refused to be hung up on the hangars with my other clothes, and stayed with me throughout the otherwise blissfully thought-free session. I didn’t want to ask the masseuse what she was thinking about – well, okay, I did want to ask her but couldn’t find a non-creepy way to look up from the massage table, her hands on my thighs, and go, “So what are you thinking about?” – so I invented this little monologue in her head about her laundry, what she was going to cook tonight, books she had to return to the library. This was preferable to her thinking about, well, me and the studiously unperfected body I had paid $90 to present to her as a problem to be resolved.
Let’s be frank. It takes some cajones to walk into a room, get naked, lie on a table, and entrust the person who is about to touch you to be present enough to make you feel like a fabulous muscular riddle, attuned to every knot and tautness, while at the same time not notice your shoulder hair of irregular lengths. It must be the same thought that women have going to the gynecologist: “Dear God, what is he/she really thinking?”
I suppose on some level I shouldn’t care. I’ve paid good money for an hour in which my body is the subject of someone else’s attention. But I couldn’t help myself thinking about all my imperfections, all my blemishes and blobs, my blots and my bits, and how, if they did at all, they registered in the masseuse’s brain.
For all that thinking, however, there was one part of this massage that was undeniably, unquestionably, unfailingly and simply good. And that, my friends, was the Hot Towel. When your therapist tells you to go to your happy place, allow me to suggest Hot Towel Land. Nothing quite ensoothed and ensmiled me like getting my shoulders beat to hell and then blanketed by a steaming hot towel. Seriously, these things are wonders of the modern world. All of the low-level chatter in my brain ceased completely, replaced by all my neurons exhaling at once in a chorus of “aaaaaaaaahhhhhh.” Highly recommended.
Also, and let me preface this by saying that massage therapists are in no way prostitutes, but do you know what separates a massage therapist from a prostitute? About three inches. That’s right. Three inches. There is a three-inch safety zone around your hoohoo and your haha – you’re welcome, parents – that the massage therapist wisely avoids. Everything else about this experience, however, might as well be sex. The candles. The soothing music. The application of oils. The rubbing of body parts. The sound of skin slicked against skin. You move in three inches and guess what, you’re in Vegas. But so long as you follow the three-inch rule, you’re safely within the socially acceptable and still insatiably gratifying realm of massage.
Which is another reason why I love that word. What other words take us so close to the brink of the forbidden but instead land us in a place of pure bliss?
I’ll tell you what words: a damn good rubbin’.