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.
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.
As 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?