I’ve been really stressed lately. And not in the “oh man, adulting is hard” stressed, but in a way that’s slightly more concerning, like “maybe I should buy a bus ticket and disappear forever” stressed.
I confessed this to Melinda because I knew she’d know what to do. And she did. The next day, she booked me a massage.
Now, I’d never had a professional massage, so I had no idea what to expect. I spent the whole day antsy, looking at the hands on my watch click closer to my appointment time.
At 3:45, I arrived for my appointment, and I was so nervous I swigged some Listerine in the car, just in case…what, exactly?
The receptionist came outside and took my temperature and asked me a few questions that she read from an iPad.
“We’re not currently doing scalp or facial massages, but if we were, would you be comfortable with that?”
I didn’t really know what I should be comfortable with. Obviously I wasn’t interested in any sort of genital manipulation or happy ending, but in my head, there was a line that separated the normal clients with the freaks. The problem was, I had no idea where that line was.
So I just said yes to everything.
“Are you okay with a massage of the quads and calves?”
“Pecs, abs, feet?”
The receptionist noted my responses on her iPad, then she explained to me what was about to happen. My masseuse — I guess they call them “therapists” now, the same way stewardesses are called “flight attendants” — would lead me to my room where I’d undress to my comfort level and lie on the table face down. Then he’d come in and get to work. “Any questions?” she asked.
“I do have one,” I said. “You said undress to my comfort level. What is my comfort level?”
She blinked. “I’m confused at your question.”
“Look,” I said, “I’ve never done this before, so like, what do most people do? Am I supposed to go down to my underwear, or should I be naked or what?”
She said underwear was fine but that some people got naked. “You’re under a sheet, so it’s not like you’re lying out there exposed.”
After a brief wait outside, my therapist, Mr. Gamal, led me through the reception area and down a darkened hallway with doors on each side that reminded me of a scene in Hostel where they are at that sex dungeon place.
Mr. Gamal spoke with a warm accent, and though I tried for the duration of my visit to pin his ethnicity to a particular region, I could not. Was he Russian? Persian? Pakistani? Impossible to tell. He was a generic old foreign man.
“I will push hard,” he said. “If too much, like real pain, tell me STOP, too hard.”
“Okay,” I said, half expecting him to give me a safe word.
“But only if real pain,” he added.
Great. Now I was going to spend the next hour debating whether the pain I felt was real enough to protest.
Mr. Gamal stepped outside. I stripped to my boxers, which I decided was my comfort level, and I got under the sheet and put my face into the donut on the table. Mr. Gamal tapped on the door, and I was faced with my next dilemma. Should I tell him I’m ready? Ignore him and let him go to work? I had no idea.
I went with somewhere in the middle, not giving him permission to enter but raising my head when he opened the door. “All set for you, sir,” I said. Mr. Gamal grunted. Then he went to work.
The experience was not unenjoyable, but it was the type of thing I knew would be more rewarding in retrospect, like when you’re exercising and it sucks and you know how accomplished you’re going to feel when you’re done.
I don’t know what the protocol normally is, but I kept my eyes shut the whole time. I did it for the same reason I close my eyes at the dentist’s office, because I hate the idea of having to stare at the technician while she scrapes tartar off my molars.
As such, I could only guess what Mr. Gamal was doing through sound and touch. I know for a fact he used his elbows as a tool quite frequently, and that he squeezed an arm or a leg between his thighs a couple of times to get sufficient leverage.
I tried my best to breathe and relax, though at some points that proved to be quite difficult. Your instinct, when someone is digging their knee into your shoulder blade, is to squirm away.
I only had to yell Uncle once, when he screwed a pair of knuckles into a spot on my right calf and I felt the muscle slip away from his grasp. “Oof, too much,” I said, feeling embarrassed that I couldn’t hang tough.
Mr. Gamal’s tone was curt and forceful through the session, giving me instructions about where to push and how. He seemed disappointed at times that I didn’t follow his directions properly. “No no no, stop. Relax,” he said after I failed to push toward the door with my forearm and the wall with my butt. “Here with this —“ he slapped my arm “—and here with this” — he pinched the skin on my lower back.
I mustered a nervous laugh. “Sorry,” I chuckled. “I’m new at this.”
“Hmmm,” he replied.
When the session was over, he gave my legs one more antagonizing tug, and then the warmth returned to his voice. “Thank you, sir,” he almost whispered. And with that, he disappeared through the door, leaving me to wonder what was next. I needed to dress, sure, but was I supposed to walk of shame my way to reception by myself? Or should I wait for Mr. Gamal to escort me? This same thing happens to me at the doctor’s office sometimes, when the nurse isn’t super clear on the closing instructions, so I just sit in the exam room waiting for her to come back, and the sun starts to set and finally the janitor comes in with the mop bucket at the end of the night and says “oh my, I didn’t realize someone was still in here.”
But he did come back in quick fashion and led me down the Hostel hallway toward reception.
Melinda had already pre-paid for the session, so all the receptionist had left to do was pitch me on a $150 monthly membership. “Your first time was good?” she asked, handing me the brochure. I said it was. “I’m glad you enjoyed Mr…”
“Gamal,” I said.
“Oh wow, you had Mr. Gamal? That’s pretty extreme for your first time.”
“It was good,” I said. “I only had to tap out once.”