The first professional massage I experienced took place in 2006 on a cruise through the Caribbean. I was nursing a head cold and my wife at the time suggested I try an “aromatherapy massage” in the ship’s spa. I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend what amounted to a car payment on a fragrant rubdown. But finally I decided: “What the hell, I’m on vacation.”
Two hours later I was laying on a soft table with my face squished into a padded, doughnut-shaped cushion that looked alarmingly like a hemorrhoid pillow. I was naked and nervous, covered only by a thin sheet the masseuse had wrapped around my body and tucked under my arms. As she began to work on my neck and shoulders, I noticed the refreshing scent of eucalyptus. I began to relax and thought this is exactly what I need. But as the eucalyptus aroma strengthened, I could sense a disturbing movement in my sinuses.
At first the droplet of snot that appeared from my right nostril was small and stationary, like a bead of water that might dangle for hours from the kitchen tap. But as the eucalyptus worked its way through my sinuses, more mucus began to flow. Soon I could see a clear stream of snot trailing from my nostril halfway down to the polished teak floor. My hands were trapped under the sheet, so I tried to snort the stream back up into my nose. This only achieved in unstopping the left nostril, and a minute later a second long stream appeared next to the first. “I nee a nissue,” I mumbled into the cushioned doughut hole. “Excuse me?” the masseuse replied. “I NEE A NISSUE!” By the time she finally understood, she had slipped in the shimmering pool that had collected on the floor under my face.
My most recent massage occurred last year in Costa Rica, where a luxury travel magazine had sent me to review a fully staffed private villa available for rent. The staff had lined up a full itinerary of activities, including a “special massage” that would take place by the villa’s infinity pool.
The masseuse was a middle-aged Costa Rican woman who spoke almost no English, and when I arrived she simply said, “Undress, get under sheet, face down.” Speaking no Spanish, I was unable to warn her about my tickle points (feet, ankles, calves, thighs, and sides), so I gritted my teeth when she grabbed my heels and began working her way up my legs. It would be a gross understatement to say I was surprised when the masseuse slipped her hands under the sheet and grabbed my buttocks as if she were a baker working fresh dough. I jerked my head up like a squirrel sensing danger and squeezed my cheeks together so tight it would have been a challenge to slip anything thicker than a library card between them. “Oh, My God!” I thought. “Is this what they meant by ‘special massage?’ Where will she go next? How will I write about this? And, most importantly, how much should I tip?”
After a few minutes of vigorous buttocks-kneading, I fell into a sort of trance, to the point I was almost euphoric when the masseuse worked her way back down my legs to my feet, which curiously were no longer ticklish. By the time she finished with my back and shoulders, my entire body felt like jelly. I was paralyzed. The masseuse lowered her head next to mine and said “Is OK?” I could only whisper: “Do you have any time tomorrow?”