October 11, 2009

People love to think a massage will solve everything. Whatever the problem - a massage will help! And lately I've noticed, there are an infinite number of places where one can test it out. Massage chairs are ubiquitous. At airports for instance, they now have "Express massage" outlets. I've always thought the point of getting a massage was to relax. Is there any environment less relaxing than an airport?

Even if you plan well so that there's time to kill, how can you enjoy a massage before your flight without thinking about the security queue ahead of you? Not to mention the whole time you're listening to the gate announcements and flight delays being called out.

I'd take new age music over that any day.

The only place worse than getting massaged at the airport is getting a massage on the streets on Manhattan. Who would do this? How desperate do you have to be for a neck rub to be willing to get one on the sidewalk in front of pedestrians who are walking their dogs and picking up dog poo three feet from your face?

There are rows of leather massage chairs set up on Sixth Avenue in an area where the smells alone are enough to make anyone pass out. It's a combination of incense and grilled horsemeat. I see people facing the gutter in these chairs, noses practically touching the ground, while they inhale exhaust fumes from the bus. On a sunny afternoon, people are lined up. Some don't even look like they're tourists.

Are our lives really that much more stressful or is it indicative of the human condition - people need to feel special - so special they'll pay a stranger they've never met and who may have no qualifications to put their hands all over them in the street. How qualified are they really? You could end up with a dislocated disc.

Every Manicure-pedicure salon has the obligatory massage chair now too. Just because I'm getting a manicure, doesn't mean I've gone to a spa. But they try to make it seem that way so they can change an outrageous fee for a fifteen minute pounding session. I think it's so that the people who work there can take out their aggression on the obnoxious customers.

The problem I have is that not once have I ever seen anyone in those salons wash their hands. There was a woman rubbing the bare feet of a man who looked like he hadn't bathed since the 80's. Five minutes later she'd moved on and was messaging a woman's neck. Why not just spray her with foot fungus?

For years I've been telling my father about my back problem and his answer is always the same. "Get a massage." It's his solution for everything. I could have a broken computer or broken back; it doesn't matter. "Get a massage" will be his advice. Of course he lives in Bali, where getting a massage costs less than a Starbucks latte.

Then the other day I found a gift certificate that was about to expire. For my birthday (which is in January) I'd been given the gift of relaxation. A 90-minute massage. 90 minutes? It made me impatient just looking at the card.

I went to the day spa where I was handed a clipboard with a form to fill out. It was three pages long. At one point it said: Please describe what you hope to get out of this massage. What do I hope to get out of it? I have a crick my neck. I'd like it gone. That's what I hope to get out it.

I suppose people have really high expectations for massages. Not me. All I wanted was 90 minutes of silence and even that was a challenge.

Every two minutes the masseuse had a question. "Too hard?" "How's this?" Or a comment "You have a huge knot in your shoulder" which would lead to another question. "What's your work station like?" There was no good way to ask her to stop talking so I pretended to fall asleep. Then, just as I actually did fall asleep, she woke me up. When did the relaxing part kick in?

The music was too loud, the air was too cold and the candle was too vanilla. As soon as she was through. I jumped off that table with more energy than I've felt in years. Maybe that's the point. The best part about getting a massage is when it's over.