I love my wife.
…which is the only reason that I allowed myself to experience a three-hour ‘couples massage’ at a spa in French Polynesia. Really.
Ironically, it took place just a few hours after a three-and-a-half hour ATV ride, which was pretty much one of the manliest couples things I’ve ever done. Rugged mountain riding. Through creeks. Peering over the edge of mountains. In some pouring rain too. The closest thing to being in a biker gang that my ‘biker chick’ and I will likely ever experience.
After such an experience, it would only figure that I’d do what I’ve previously done during two free ‘couples massage’ opportunities in the past. Which is to go to the spa people, explain to them that a man like me doesn’t allow people to touch him in strange places, and then wheel and deal for a double-time experience for my wife…while I go back to the room and watch ESPN.
But not this time. Call it love. Call it curiosity. Call it whatever you want. But I decided I’d enter the dark underbelly of the spa world and see if I could live to tell about it.
Before I get into this expose piece, let me first just explain that I’m the anti-massage guy: the one who bolts out of his seat, ready to fight, whenever any kind soul comes up behind me and starts to rub my back/neck/shoulders. (Usually this ends our friendship. But that’s a price I’m willing to pay. I just absolutely don’t like people touching my back and shoulders.)
And so we entered the spa at the Hilton Resort in Moorea, French Polynesia, the hotel where we were staying. There we met two kind French-speaking, barely-English-speaking young ladies who would be our massage therapists/masseuses/hygienists/torturers. We filled out forms that asked us to circle the places where we were tight (for me, pretty much my whole body) and where we would not like to be touched (for me, pretty much my whole body). I explained to Laly, my person, that I was extremely sensitive around my neck/back/shoulders and my thighs.
In hindsight, I would have said, “Laly, if you ever touch the back of my calves in a high-pressure way, you will never get a Christmas card from me.” But my foresight was not as good as my hindsight.
I also checked on my sheet that I understood that my massage could end prematurely due to any “inappropriate guest behavior.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but figured that—in a pinch—I could get myself kicked out if I just yelled out ‘OW—QUIT IT!’ enough times.
I was taken to a dressing room (for masculinity purposes, I’ll call it ‘the locker room’), where I was allowed a few last requests, and then shown the towel that I would wrap around myself over my shorts. This was a very lonely few minutes for me, wondering if I’d ever be able to re-enter the world with my head held high as a post-massage veteran.
After my pre-game ritual was over, I emerged from the locker room, where Laly showed me to our dark candlelit funeralesque spa room (which probably has a fancier name that I pride myself in not knowing), where Lisa was already lying facedown on her examining table. Soft music played, something along the lines of Sade with a drum machine.
Oh, so I should mention that part of my agreement to do this deal was that Lisa would always be right next to me, ready to defend me and my honor in the event of any kind of abuse or maltreatment. (In a streetfight with two French Polynesian massage therapists, my money would be on Lisa every time.)
I was invited to lie facedown on my table, putting my head into the head-holder, which had a hole in it to breathe and to stare at the floor. (A TV on the floor, I think, would have made the time go faster.) At this point, Laly began to rub down my body with papaya stuff, which had a real sandpapery quality to it (except that no sandpaper I’ve used has ever smelled like papaya), and apparently Laly got extra points for rubbing it in extra hard. At this point, I realized that on my pre-game form I also should have mentioned that ‘my toes are ticklish,’ but didn’t feel like it was appropriate to lift my head out of my head-holder to say so. Surely Laly must have noticed that my toes squirmed a whole lot during this point. I noticed from a few feet away from me that Lisa didn’t seem to be squirming, wincing, or generally uncomfortable. Interesting.
After turning over onto my back and getting the front of my arms and legs and belly rubbed down, I was pretty much a giant human papaya.
I’m not sure what the papaya scrubdown is officially called. But I like to refer to it as an embalming. If I should die in the next few days, I think that the funeral home would say, “Wow, that’s convenient. He’s already ready to go. And papaya-scented too.” And hopefully I would not squirm quite so much.
So after the papaya scrubdown, I was allowed to “shower off…before the massage” (wait a minute, I thought that whole papaya deal was the massage. How long is this thing again?). And so after de-papayaing, I put my shorts and towel back on and went back onto the playing field, suddenly realizing that the whole papaya thing was only like the pre-game warm-ups.
Soon enough, my head was back in the head-holder again. Staring at the floor.
Before I tell you about the massage, let me mention that I’m not much of a stretcher. I have been a runner for quite some time now—even a distance runner—and know the value of stretching out before and after a good workout. And yet my pre- and post-workout stretches usually totally about 30 seconds combined. I’m just not that much into stretching out my muscles.
Which should have been another clue that what was to come was not going to be as much ‘fun’ as everyone else seems to think it is.
Immediately upon my facedown re-entrance onto the examining table, Laly began to rub the back of my calves. Hard. It seems that there is some kind of pressure point on the back of my calves—which apparently no one else has—that is similar to a second funny bone. If you push it (and no one else really has occasion to, I guess), it hurts like crazy. Bad nerve pain. Ouch. Never knew.
I don’t speak French—at all—but have determined that wincing in pain, even fairly loudly, doesn’t mean anything in that language…because the more I did it, the more Laly seemed to think that she should rub these nerves down even harder.
I suppose that it’s just the general massage philosophy that tight muscles are supposed to be loosened up. No matter the cost. And so all of my wincing was most likely communicating to Laly, “I want the back of my calves to be rubbed even harder. Oui.” I should have tried, “OW—QUIT IT!!!” but didn’t want to face the consequences at home of getting kicked out of a couples massage.
Unfortunately, the same dynamic was in play that occurs whenever I brush my daughter Danielle’s hair, which I’m admittedly not good at. A standoff, essentially, in which I say, “I can’t get these painful tangles out of your hair until you hold your head still and stop crying,” and in which Danielle says (in not so many words), “I’ll hold my head still and stop crying when you quit painfully brushing through the tangles in my hair, thank you.”
At the end of the day, Laly was simply going to keep torturing the back of my calves until they quit being so tight, and I was simply going to tighten up even harder as long as she kept torturing me.
I don’t like to think of myself as a wimpy guy who couldn’t tolerate a couples’ massage at the spa. Rather, I like to think of myself as Jack Bauer—able to endure hours of extreme torture at the hands of foreign assailants…without cracking.
Let’s just say that there were no winners in this hostage situation.
The rest of the back massage was surprisingly non-painful, even at my neck/back/shoulders area, and after flipping over I was good too.
And then came the surprise payoff.
For the life of me, I would never ever have predicted this—because no one has ever done it to me before—but for some reason I really, really liked…having my face rubbed. Honestly, it was so doggone relaxing that I fell asleep during it. (The soft music, low lights and general lack of sleep from the night before also contributed to this, I think.) My only thought on this is that I guess I smile so much, thanks to our kids, that I just do not have any problematic tight face muscles in my life.
Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. But I’m just declaring to the whole world that the green light is on: anyone is free to just walk up and rub my face at any time. Without warning. (Just don’t touch my back/neck/shoulders please. Ever.)
After the face rubdown was over, basically we were told, “Your massage experience is finished.” Followed by some words of thanks, and then back to the locker room, and then filling out our post-game survey. I gave Laly high marks, except at the place where it said, “I disliked…” and I wrote “…having the back of my calf muscles rubbed (but I think it’s just me; it’s not you).”
To show that I was not bitter, and to avoid war between the U.S. and French Polynesia, we gave Laly a callback for a picture (Lisa’s masseuse Blandine, not so traumatized, was already with another customer.)
Lisa loved her massage. I survived mine. We walked out together, hand in hand, with the grease that had been underneath the skin on our faces now on top of the skin on our faces for the world to see. And yet we were too relaxed to care.
“How was it?” she asked me.
“It was not too bad,” I lied.
But the truth is that my calves felt fine before my massage.
Now they hurt when I walk. Hmm.
I love my wife.