Silver Lake, LA
An avalanche of knees and elbows is what comes to mind when I think about the massage that nearly put me in a coma. Let me start by saying: it’s unfair that there are names for days of the week, and months, but not individual weeks—because last week did me in, and I want to call it out.
It started on Monday when coffee and emails morphed into: my car needing emergency service (nine months overdue!) and then a hottie I met on Tinder “got a last minute audition” and bailed on our date. I cannot even begin to explain how badly I needed to be touched by a man at that point. I was ready to let Toasten do anything to me! Or was it Tungsten? I’m still not sure about the name. He’s got big hands was all I cared about. And big hands mean, you guessed it—big thumbs. But then Tuesday sucked because it rained. Wednesday sucked… it was endless. By the weekend I was ready to collapse.
When I called my mom to tell her about my super horrible life, she told me to stop complaining, because let’s face it: moms are often mean. Although they don’t like to hear that, apparently. But as moms tend to shine bright in the face of disaster, I received a digital gift certificate for a Thai massage at Raven Spa the very next day! In her email she suggested it might help with the “not-being-touched-by-a-man in-over-a-year thing” that was making me “cranky.”
“Make sure it’s a man,” she said, and “tell him you have a sore gluteus,” and “PS. don’t be cheap with the tip.” Part of my fondness for my mother is due to all the tangible love advice she offers.
I booked an appointment for a Thai massage at The Raven on Sunday. Walking in, I noticed it was an amazing retreat with the feel of walking into Thailand, which made me crave beef noodle soup. The receptionist was even speaking in a quiet voice and it immediately put me at ease. I was in a great space to unwind and release stress! I was ready for my authentic and transporting experience! The massage area itself felt like another place. The lighting was warm and soft. The ambiance was soothing. I undressed behind a curtain. Assorted bamboo flip-flops were scattered in a basket beside me. Lavender billowed. Chinese bamboo songs also… billowed. They might have been coming from the same place for all I know. The lights were pretty dim after all. Did I mention the ambiance?!
A tiny shirtless man stood waiting outside the dressing room and led me to a raised platform. He asked me to take off my flip-flops and lie face-down on a mat. “It’s not the size of the ocean,” I thought, “but the…” I forgot how the rest of it went. But the guy had decent thumbs at least.
Within minutes, with my cheek pressed to the mat, I heard a body shuffling into the room where I waited. “Is he going to ask me what’s sore or do I need to offer the information about the sore gluteus now,” I wondered. Then SHE spoke, “Would you like hard pressure—or soft pressure?” I was almost afraid to look, but when I craned my neck, there—with her hands on her knees beside me—was forty-year-old Asian lady, although honestly she could’ve been 100 for all I know, with her hair pulled back into a salt-and-pepper bun. She was already feeling my back for areas of tension.
“Hard please,” I said. I mean this lady had to weigh fifty pounds, tops, she was so little. She probably drank tea from a thimble. One grape and she’d be too stuffed for dessert. “Are there any area that need special care?” she asked. I told her my lower back maybe. And possibly my shoulders.
Soon enough, she was cleaning my feet with a warm wash cloth. Separating my toes and rubbing them one-by-one, inching pressure to the soles of my feet. This alone was making me lose consciousness, it was so relaxing. Little did I know, I was about to become a human pretzel. “Grab my wrist, she said, standing behind me. As I clasped my fingers, she crossed my arms and CRUNCH. How could a human back make so much noise and not be broken into a million pieces?! Before I could catch my breath, she flipped me over and pinned my ankles to my ears (I didn’t even know I could do that!) then her knees tacked my shoulders to the floor. “Ugh,” I said, “ughhhhh.”
I was once again flipped as she walked the lengths of my legs, sometimes bouncing on my calves. Then when her elbows were done digging deep into my lower back, she seized and wrung my body like a sopping wet towel. CRACK. I thought I heard myself say, “Mercy,” but her tiny sadist ears must not have heard me. Perhaps vegetables scream when we eat them raw, too, and how would we ever know? At that moment my spirit animal was a chopped salad with plenty of internal bleeding.
But as clouds part to reveal the sun after the heaviest rain fall, the lady was no longer inflicting pain on my body at some point. “Where’d she wander off to,” I thought, tenderized like a human cube steak. “I am a three course meal,” I thought. “I am a rosewater macaroon.” Then I heard something slide beside me, followed by a whispered, “Thank you very much.” On a tray there was a hot cup of tea, a date, and an apple pared into the shape of a water bird. I slugged the tea, and nibbled around the seed in the date. I got to my feet, got dressed, and it’s only when I got to the street that I realized: that massage was the closest thing to hell I’d ever experienced. Apart from Bikram yoga of course. And if it hadn’t been for my gift certificate, it would have been expensive! Although I definitely felt taller.
Sabra Embury is a book critic for Brooklyn's L Magazine. Her confabulations and fantastications can be found in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Rumpus, Tottenville Review, NANO Fiction and other places. Follow her antics on Twitter @yrubmEarbaS.