I had a few free hours and my shoulders were sore. I had heard about a local massage school that was easy to schedule with at the last minute, and had heard that it was affordable, so I thought why not. I jumped on my laptop, found the school’s website, and clicked the link that instructed me to book online.
The first box asked ‘How many guests?’ and I clicked the ‘Just Me’ link, then I selected ‘Massage’ from the drop down list of services that also included Facials, Body Services, and Hydrotherapy. Then a long list of styles of massage popped down and I had to select the type I wanted. Swedish? Craniosacral? Deep Tissue? Hot Stone? Japanese Shiatsu? Lomi Lomi? Lymphatic? Mineral Foot, back and Reflex Scrub? PEDI massage? Prenatal massage? Thai Yoga massage? The comprehensive drop down menu had different time increments on these as well as a choice between a student and a licensed therapist, all with various prices associated.
Choosing a style from the lest felt vaguely like taking a multiple choice test. This was a school. Were these people really trained in all of these various styles? I pictured a group of students sitting in the backroom acting bored as they waited to get their certification hours filled. A red light clicks on as the principal calls out, “Jennifer, you have a Thai Yoga waiting in room 2.” Jennifer rolls her eyes. “Another Thai Yoga! That’s my third one this week! Why don’t I ever get a Craniosacral?” The red light clicks on again, “Jordan, a Lomi Lomi in Room 12.” Jordan enthusiastically fist bumps his neighbor. “Yes! My forearms are saved!”I click deep tissue, then another drop down box has me answer ‘With Whom’ I want the massage, a male therapist, a female therapist, or anyone?
Now it has nothing to do with being gay, but I have always preferred male massage therapists. Then again, maybe it is a gay thing. Or maybe it’s a guy thing. Most straight guys I know would prefer a female massage therapist—if a straight guy is going to be touched by someone, they don’t want it to be a dude! Gross! They’d prefer an attractive female. (The exception being, perhaps, a straight guy who is married to a woman who doesn’t want another woman touching her husband; these straight guys likely just avoid massages). In a similar vein, I would rather be touched by a guy. And, men being men, we generally want the most attractive person to be the one touching us. Women, be they gay or straight, likely prefer female therapists. Come to think of it, male massage therapists have a rough gig—are gay guys really the only ones who seek them out? Hm. Regardless, I also tend to prefer male massage therapists because they have a stronger touch, a deeper pressure, when doing the massage. If I’m going in, I want to feel the work being done, and I definitely prefer the stronger touch.
So I select the male therapist button, and the prompt instructs me to choose the therapist I want from the following selections. But then there is only one selection. I’m sure there are more students, but in this case there must be only one male working at the time I am getting the massage. A first name flashes on the screen, and I get a look on my face like I just took a sip of curdled milk.
Bernie? Do I want to get a massage from a guy named Bernie? I picture an overweight moustached man with an extra chin. I imagine he has terrible pepperoni breath that I won’t be able to escape from during the massage, and I imagine beads of sweat forming as he works on me, dripping down his nose and onto my neck. I give a little shudder. Bernie? I try to reason with myself. I know nothing about this person. Maybe he is a perfectly good massage therapist. But who would choose to go by that name? If my name was Bernard, I would go by Bernard. If my name was Barnaby, I’d go by Barnaby. Or maybe I would just use my middle name instead. Then again, maybe his given name IS Bernie. And maybe he doesn’t have a middle name, or his middle name is something worse, like Orville or Seymour. What parents out there would do that to a child? Who would name their son Bernie Seymour? Poor massage therapist probably had no choice, and he couldn’t afford to change his name because here he is in massage school, paying tuition. I feel bad for the poor guy.
Which, despite all my justifications, is the exact reason I can’t select him. He may not have pepperoni breath and maybe he is perfectly nice, but I feel bad for him already, and I’m here to relax, not do therapy. When people find out that I’m a therapist, they automatically feel some sort of duty or obligation to tell me the deepest darkest secrets of their lives, whether we are on a plane, in a grocery checkout line, or the next table over in a restaurant. It has happened to me even while being massaged. As the person spreads oil over my shoulders, they give little speeches. “It wasn’t my daughter’s fault her dad left. What can I do to get him to want to have a relationship with her?” Or “Oh, you do drug counseling? I have a stripper friend who is addicted to Oxycodeine. How can I help her?” Or “I attempted suicide once when I was 12, bet you wouldn’t have guessed that.” This is the life of a therapist. Maybe math teachers get asked about long division and lawyers are consulted about custody trials, but therapists? Man, people will tell them anything.
But no, I’m here to relax, and so there is no way I can pick Bernie because now I automatically feel bad for him. So I choose a female therapist instead. A list of 25 names drop down. I’m shocked at how many more girls there are available. Alicia, Zooey, Jackie, Cheryl. I choose Alicia just cause she’s first and I hope the odds are in my favor.
When it’s time for my massage, I go to the clinic and sign in. I fill out a ‘where does it hurt’ paper, an information and medical history sheet, and a consent form that bizarrely includes the question of how I like my buttocks worked on: not at all, through the sheet, with the sheet folded, or under the sheet. (I picked under the sheet. I got no shame). Alicia comes to get me, a small 4’11’’ bit of fluff. I undress and lay on the table and she starts working on me. She asks what I do for a living, and I think about lying, but instead I tell the truth, and she, right on command, launches into her sad story about how she had a messed up childhood and always wanted to be a social worker herself so she could figure out why bad things happen to people. I’m not quite sure if she is touching me or not. Her pressure is so light that it may be that she actually just has her fingers a few centimeters over my skin and is moving her hands around. I give her a few requests to deepen her pressure, and my skin feels the resulting force of a cotton swab for a few seconds before Alicia forgets and goes back to her non-touch. She seems to have a memorized routine of some kind, like she has choreographed a massage number that can’t be interrupted, but it just isn’t good. One-and-two-and-barely-touch-and-three-and-rub-and-circle-up-now. While she rehearses her amateur number, she tells me about how she moved here to get away from her abusive boyfriend. I do my best to will myself into unconsciousness until the massage is over.
After my 50 minutes, I dress, leave, tell the attendant that the massage was just what I paid for, then drive home. I wonder if maybe I was all wrong. I’m sure Bernie would have had pepperoni breath, but maybe he had a great childhood.