Every year for the past 5 or so years, I treat myself to a massage on my birthday. Only, I never actually go through with it because once my birthday arrives, I tell myself that I haven’t done enough in the past year to deserve such a gratuitous reward. Its the one thing that allows my friends to say I’m full of shit. Well, that, and any time I say that I’m going to confront someone.
This past November, I really was serious. I had worked my ass off all year and damn it, I deserved a massage! I told all of my close friends so that I’d be held accountable. I even made sure I was scheduled at work on my birthday so that I would have further justification. A day off AND a massage would simply be too much for me to ask of myself. I am my own tyrannical overlord.
When my birthday week finally came, I was thrilled. Nearly every conversation I had ended with “Sunday is my birthday, so I’m going to get a massage!” Anyone listening in would certainly think I came from extreme poverty. The day before my birthday, I treated myself to a much-needed haircut (after work, of course) before attending the taping of “Eddie Murphy: One Night Only.” The event was a lot of fun, although Eddie Murphy didn’t perform. I took my friend Phil and we enjoyed an open bar and delicious hors d’oeuvres while watching a montage of Eddie’s career highlights. Toward the end of the night, Stevie Wonder came out to do a set and Eddie joined him for a song whilst doing his Stevie Wonder impression. On our way out, we met the legedary Sugar Ray Leonard and I got up the nerve to ask him for a photo. It was the perfect birthday gift, compliments of Comedy Central.
Work was more pleasant than usual Sunday morning, mostly because I knew I could get away with giving even less fucks on account of the National Holiday. Plus, I had a party planned for that night and was looking forward to a forced gathering of my closest friends at one of my favorite bars. By the time I got home, I had been on the phone with several friends recounting the highlights of the previous night’s event. I quickly relized that my entire weekend had been filled with rewards, so I couldn’t possibly go through with a massage now! I mean, how egregious could I allow myself to be?!
Although I wouldn’t gift myself a birthday massage, I kept secretly looking for a reason to get one. I worked harder at my career, wrote more and booked more shows. No matter what I did, though, nothing seemed substantial enough to earn a reward.
Over Christmas, I flew to Florida for a wedding and then to Chicago to be with my family. My schedule never allowed me to adjust to the time changes, so I slept through most of the 5 total flights. I got back to L.A. and immediately went back to work. Somewhere along the way, between having slept on planes, couches, a floor, and a cot, and after coming home to work, hike, and paint my room, I hurt my back pretty badly. I knew it was nothing that needed a doctor, but the pain was such that by the 29th, I couldn’t sleep through the night. So I finally decided to go through with a massage. Not as a reward, mind you, but as a necessity. I scheduled an appointment with my friend Michaela for Sunday, December 30, just in time to include it as part of my New Year’s resolution to take better care of myself.
We went to Barai Massage, a place that had been recommended to me for the past three years. When we walked in, we were cheerfully greeted by a middle-aged Asian woman. She was seated low behind a giant counter covered in plants and price charts. I went over my options, confused: Swedish, Traditional Thai, The Combo, Deep Tissue, Aromatherapy, Thai Herbal, and Pregnancy Massage. “Pregnancy massage?” I asked, “Is that the one where they put the baby inside you?” The woman threw head back and forth with laughter, nearly banging it on the desk. I was embarrassed by the over-reaction of such an easy joke. I asked her for a recommendation, confessing that I wasn’t sure of the difference in massages. After a brief explanation, I decided the deep tissue was what I needed. “I’ve never had a massage before, so I’ll do the deep tissue,” I excitedly explained. This must have been the single most hysterical thing she had ever heard, because now her whole body rocked back and forth with laughter. With tears in her eyes, she slapped the desk again and again, mocking “deep tissue…..first time….deep tissue…deep tissue…so funny.” I wasn’t sure which was funnier, that I was an adult woman in Los Angeles that had never had a professional massage, or that I thought deep tissue was definitely the way to go. Once she finally pulled herself together, she told me that I’d be getting the Swedish massage, end of discussion.
Before being taken back into the room, we were instructed to leave our shoes in the lobby/holding area. Michaela was pretty comfortable with the process, but I felt a little strange hanging out barefoot in a room that looked like the waiting room of a free clinic. We weren’t seated long before our respective masseuses came out to retrieve us. Although Michaela later insisted that mine was a woman, I’m still not totally convinced. Aside from very small breasts, there were absolutely no signs of womanhood. He/she had very short hair, wore no makeup, and was dressed most appropriately for an evening of skateboarding.
I was lead through a series of rooms and hallways made up of huge, dark curtains to a back room the size of a prison cell. Next to the massage table was a single lit candle and an analog clock. Aside from that, the room was bare. It felt a little too cozy a place to have multiple people stripping down in. I couldn’t help imagining all that fabric harboring various germs from past customers. I had pictured it to be much more sterile, like a doctor’s office, but with incense. My masseuse left me alone to undress and settle in, but returned to see me only topless, carefully folding my clothes into a neat pile in the corner.
Once it began, I quickly found it to be oddly anti-climactic, mostly because I was expecting to have an near out-of-body experience. For the first 30 minutes, my whole body remained tense from my constant giggling throughout. My childish side couldn’t help being amused by the slapping noises echoing from other curtained caves. By the time I fully relaxed, it was time to turn over. I hadn’t expected the massage to include my arms and legs, and was disappointed that the back portion had ended. For the remainder of the session, I shifted my focus to the constant tick of the clock near my head, which was slowly driving me insane and seemed to be getting louder and louder. My masseuse instructed me to sit up for the finale so that he/she could more thoroughly knead my neck and shoulders. “Ok. done,” he/she said coldly, quickly following up with, “Are you okay?” I paused for a moment before answering. My consciousness matched my posture, which resembled a dead body. I was, of course, okay. Thrilled that I had finally gone through with it, but disappointed that it hadn’t been a just a bit more intense. “Thank you,” I mumbled, and he/she left me alone to regain control of my body and get dressed. Next time I’m definitely getting the deep tissue.