Death by Masseuse

When you spend a lot of time at a computer, things can get pretty tight in your neck and shoulders. I don’t usually realize I need a massage until I really need a massage, and by then it’s too late. I try to find an appointment, and none are available until the following week, and of course, I’ll be dead by then, so why bother?

That’s the situation I found myself in last week, after a jam-packed weekend full of book events followed by a flurry of activity from one of my freelance clients. So when a friend recommended a place near me that had an opening right away, I jumped at the chance. “It’s not your typical spa,” she warned me. “They do traditional Chinese massage.” Cool, I thought, not realizing that was probably meant to serve as some sort of warning.

I didn’t meet my massage therapist until I was already on the table, lying face down. She came in and, without a word, set about her work. She went straight for my right shoulder, which had been out of whack for a couple of months. Ah, very intuitive, I thought. She knows exactly where I need it most. She started pinching me vigorously across the trapezius muscle, a lot firmer than I expected. Instead of thinking, Ahhhhhhhh, I was silently saying: “Ow. Ow. OW! Ow. Ouch. Oww.”

The rubdown got more and more intense, and before I knew it, her elbow was pushing into my back so hard that I became concerned for my internal organs. My face was contorted in pain as I tried to make sense of what exactly was happening to me, but since I was facedown she couldn’t see my expression.

Nadine and I enjoying happier times at Books Inc. in S.F.

I distracted myself by thinking back over the fun weekend I’d had with Nadine Nettmann the previous weekend. She and her husband had come up from Los Angeles so she and I could do a couple of author events, one in Sonoma and one in San Francisco. Nadine writes the Sommelier Mystery series, and my second book is set in the California wine country, so we had lots to talk about. We asked each other questions, laughed a lot, and—OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS WOMAN DOING TO ME? She had climbed up on the table so she could get more leverage as she jammed her elbow into various body parts with all of her might.

Should I tell her to ease up? Naaaah, I thought. I pride myself on my high tolerance of pain, and if this is what traditional Chinese massage was all about, I was going to go with it. Besides, how much worse could it—aaaaaaIIIIIEEEEEEEE! Ow! Ow! Ow! Okay, just breathe. She’d jammed her thumb or perhaps an elbow or maybe a cattle prod deep into the fleshiest part of my gluteus maximus, and was pressing as hard as she could.

At this point, I was starting to get giddy, which maybe was my body’s defense mechanism. I started laughing silently, my eyes welling with tears. It occurred to me that if someone ever tried to torture me for state secrets, I’d just end up getting the giggles, which made me laugh harder, picturing it.

Thankfully, she moved up to my head. She started stroking my hair, gently at first, then more and more firmly. Soon she was rubbing back and forth with a vigor only heretofore seen the previous weekend, when Nadine’s husband Matt gave my cat what he dubbed a “mega-rubdown.” The cat had enjoyed it immensely, and now I was experiencing it firsthand. I almost started laughing again, and wanted very badly to loudly exclaim, “MEGA-RUBDOWN!” But I didn’t think she’d get it.

The 50-minute massage (thank God I hadn’t paid for 75 minutes) included having my thighs pummeled with her fists; a brisk, back-and-forth tummy rub; and an intimate exploration of my cranial region, in which she pressed on my eye sockets, my cheekbones and the base of my skull as hard as she could.

You know how with a traditional spa treatment, the massage therapist might lightly run his or her hands lightly over the sheet in a reassuring movement that lets you know the massage is coming to a close, followed by a gentle reminder to drink lots of water and take as much time as you need to get dressed?

Here’s how mine ended:

The massage therapist stroked my hair a couple of times, then entwined her fingers in it, then yanked as hard as she could. No, I take that back. The first time was just average hair pulling. The second time was harder, and the third whipped my head back like a move from a women-in-prison movie, right before the assailant slams her rival’s head into a shower wall or something.

Finally, the massage therapist let go of my hair, came around to the side of the table, gave me a big smile and two thumbs up. “Okay?” she asked.

“Okay.” I said.

cryingAs soon as the door closed, I dissolved into laughter. It started out as giggles, but soon I was gasping for air, tears streaming down my face. (Was that an unintended side effect? Or was that a carefully elicited response, meant to release my pent-up emotions, all part of a traditional Chinese massage?)

When you’re a writer, experiences like this aren’t good or bad, they’re material. In fact, when I mentioned to my fellow Chick Ellen Byron that I’d just gotten the weirdest massage of my life, that’s exactly what she said: “It’s all material, right?”

She’s right. I can chalk the whole thing up to research. Who knows when I’ll have to write a scene where someone is being held captive and tortured? Or when I’ll have to describe a fight scene between two women? I definitely think there’s a cozy mystery in there somewhere. (Hint: the massage therapist did it.)

Readers, would you have spoken up? Or just waited to see how it played out? And how long until the swelling goes down?

42 thoughts on “Death by Masseuse

  1. You had me laughing so hard, Marla! Yes, I can see what a shock it could be not expecting that kind of massage. I’ve been going to a shiatsu masseuse, on an almost weekly basis, for about 20 years and it’s done wonders for my chronically bad back. I’ve become friends with her and now we laugh and talk through the entire treatment and once in awhile I can even fall asleep. But, I always come home and apply heat, especially to my neck to keep the soreness in check. It sounds like your masseuse was a bit more rugged than mine though… great material!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. What’s funny is, my shoulder actually does feel better! So in the end, it was worth it. That’s amazing that you found someone you like enough to go back to for 20 years!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s the reason I no longer get massages: low pain tolerance and inability to speak up even when it hurts so bad you think your eyeballs are going to fall out. Because I wouldn’t want to cause a scene, after all. (Unless it’s a scene in a novel, as you say…)

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Maybe they should have a sort of massage where they just pat your head gently and tell you you’re a good person. (Actually, I think I had one of those once!) But yeah, it’s hard for me to speak up!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Lol! Seriously my masseuse told me about a “massage” therapy where they never touch you but instead they hover their hands over your body. She went to a class to find out what it was all about but didn’t see the point in it at all 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I think I should have said something when I was having a deep tissue massage (that should be a warning in itself), and I could see the masseuse’s feet from the opening in the thing you rest your head on. Suddenly I saw both of her feet come off the floor as she is working on my shoulders – of course at that point, I couldn’t talk!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s hilarious! (I mean, now that it’s over and we can laugh about it.) That’s definitely someone who’s putting her all into it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I started out thinking, “Oh, well, that hurt but I’m sure it was just that one thing.” Then after a while I didn’t say anything because I was curious to see what would happen next. But definitely an endurance test.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sorry to admit I was laughing also through your horrible ordeal, Marla! I always make a big deal upfront of telling them I am very, VERY sensitive (I pantomime and make faces if necessary). But I once had a pedicure where the person jammed a greenwood (bamboo?) stick under my big toenail so hard I screamed. They heard it in the next strip mall over, but it did get the message across.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Ha! Don’t feel bad. You’re supposed to laugh! But … sticks under your toenails?!?!? That hurts just *thinking* about it. Isn’t that an actual torture method?

      Liked by 2 people

  5. OMG, this is hilarious! LOL funny. I think Kelsey has to sample a masuesse (or however you spell it) for a bride and ends up in your situation. And then…. masseuse (now I know!) found dead. But was she really a masseuse after all????

    To answer your question, I’ve had massages similar to yours, although perhaps not as organ-injuring. And no… didn’t speak up. Just meekly said “thank you,” and tipped twenty percent. I’m a coward.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Ellen! Yeah, I tipped her 20. She was actually really sweet. I think I just wasn’t quite prepared for this particular style of “pampering”!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Marla, you get the pluckiest Chick award! If she went for my eye sockets, I think I would have punched her as a reflex! I giggle during pedicure massages, but not as a pain response — I’m very ticklish 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I have tears in my eyes and I feel (only slightly) bad for laughing at your pain. It couldn’t be me. First, I have a very low pain tolerance. Second, no black woman worth her salt would let anyone besides her hair stylist touch her hair! Glad you survived.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank God my hair is short and completely lacking in texture so I was able to smooth it all back down again afterward! (I’m glad we can laugh at my pain…)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, Marla, I had a Korean massage therapist, Julia, once who performed that kind of massage. And, yes, it works out the kinks … if you can survive it. 😀

    My current massage therapist, who I started seeing for lymphatic drainage is fantastic and doesn’t have nearly as bony elbows as Julia did but does cupping which is amazing and torture all at the same time. Plus when you’re done you look like you survived a battle with a giant octopus.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Aimee!!! I love you for posting this! That does look like some serious torture. And now I’m off to google the benefits of cupping, because I’m a glutton for punishment.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. The best/worst massage I ever got was like that, but wasn’t called Chinese. Thanks for the heads up on that kind! I walked out feeling like I’d been run over by a truck. And I felt wonderful the next day. Now we know that “no pain no gain” applies to massage.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Hi Marla,

    SOMEONE HAS TO BE THE VOICE OF REASON HERE…What were you thinking! Seriously, the last time I got a massage was about 6 hours after the birth of my son. Yes, I was still in shock from labor and in rolled the trendy masseuse with her massage chair. I obediently straddled the secret torture device–I lasted about 30 seconds then told her I’d had enough. It was the most assertive this timid girl had ever been to that point in my life.

    I learned an important lesson about speaking up for myself that day. Over twenty years later I still feel a little stupid for agreeing to get on the chair in the first place. Someone must have been awarded a grant to offer the service to new moms.

    But I must admit, it is easier to laugh over your adventure than at my own:) Good luck with the cupping.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thirty seconds! Sounds like your gut was already telling you, “Nope!” Most of my massages have been perfectly lovely. But this one was… an adventure. That’s the perfect way to put it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This was interesting. If I’d agreed to it, I probably would’ve trusted the process and gone through with it assuming that in the end all would be fine. I’m not one to enjoy massages in the first place, so I doubt I would’ve gotten this far. The experience could serve a writer well when writing various fight or danger scenes in a work-in-progress. Experiencing some of he emotions and physical jolts could contribute to writing such scenes.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. This cracked me up! Not because you were in pain but because of your thoughts and the mega rubdown! I actually had a similar experience at my last massage where she kept rubbing the top of my head super hard and it was painful but I didn’t say anything. Gah!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I can’t stop laughing, but with you, of course. And I could picture you taking notes for your next book. My weird spa experience occurred when I was getting a seaweed wrap. The technician asked if I was allergic to shellfish. My response – no, but can I kill someone allergic to shellfish with a seaweed wrap? She fled the room and never returned!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Marla, I am so sorry that happened to you, but you turned it into such a great story. I cannot figure out what the hair pulling was supposed to accomplish…maybe it was…nope, I can’t think of anything.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hee hee! While a super relaxing massage would have been nice, this one wasn’t without its merits. I mean, how often do you get the chance to laugh until you cry! (But the hair pulling *was* an interesting twist!)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll work on that! Stressed out bride, Kelsey sends her to get a massage, hilarity ensues… Thanks for stopping by!


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