Tuesday, 13 October 2015

My massage shame

© Steve Palmer 2015

This is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me; and it was so nearly avoided. Because I had a Sliding Doors moment. I’ve not seen that film, but its title has burrowed its way into our collective consciousness as something that aptly sums up what might have happened, based on something you do or don’t do at a given moment in time.

My moment in time occurred in a massage parlour.

I’d had a stiff neck and Mrs Steve’s attempts to massage it were OK, but neither of us are trained in the art. So, the very next day I had a lovely email from my wife telling me she’s bought me a proper neck massage, from a website where you get things cheaper than they really should be. All I had to do was book it in at the herbalist treatment centre. It was early February but Mrs Steve said the massage was a premature Valentine’s present. After all; it’s what I needed. We’re at the age where giving something practical is much more appreciated than a romantic surprise on the day.

The date of the appointment arrived; a week before 14th February and all its romantic associations. I found the shop in a suburban high street; it had pictures of smiley people looking revitalised. 

Cue immediate confusion on arrival. A woman, possibly ten years older than me, was waiting in reception. Then, a female staff member, about the same age as the other ‘patient’, came out and asked if we were ‘together’. We both said (a little too enthusiastically and defensively, it has to be said for a couple of people who had never met): “No!” So we waited. Another female staff member, aged about forty, came out and asked us the same question, with the same (perhaps increasingly worried) reply. 

Then the younger masseuse summoned me into one of the rooms. So far, so good. There was a massage table there with a hole for the head. She put some mood music on and casually told me to take my clothes off. Maybe I misheard her. I said: “Actually I’m here for a neck massage.” There was no persuading her. She confirmed that this would be a full body event. Clothes were commanded to be taken off. So I stripped down to my undies. Just like I have at many sports injury appointments I’ve attended in the past. 

It gets worse. For Christmas 2014, Mrs Steve had bought me some Xmas boxers that she insists are bigger than my grandfather’s were, because I like loose-fitting garments. They’ve turned into a joke item. Like a pyjama-to-the-knee effect. And I was wearing these for my Valentine massage. Because I was expecting a neck massage and hadn’t attended to the under-garment issue.

And the masseuse came back in and ordered that I drop them.

Yes. At that point I should have walked (or run) – remembering to dress again before fleeing to reception. Except I stayed. But I figured that somehow a bare bottom might affect a better massage. And sure enough, despite her seeing me in the buff, she ordered me to lie face down and she immediately placed a towel over my bottom. I cannot describe the feeling of relief.

Except I was immediately under pressure again as she then asked me if I wanted the massage performed ‘light, medium or hard’. Now, don’t forget, I’m British. And a bloke. And a bit liberal and apologetic about everything. Of course I said ‘medium’ as it placed me firmly on the fence. (Ouch). She then asked me for £8 more because that was the ‘medium’ surcharge. Mrs Steve had only paid £19 for the voucher, which was worth £45.

It was a no brainer. £8 more to get me out of this awkward situation. That makes £27 in total (Yes; even in my - by now - slightly frantic state I could still do the maths) and we were still quids in. Anyway, I felt I was hardly in a position (geddit) to storm off. Then I wondered how I was going to pay the £8. I knew I had a tenner in my wallet (in my trousers, not on my body) and I promised to pay on departure.

But a little boy inside me, lying naked on a table was shouting silently: “I’ll pay you anything. I’ll do anything to get out of this situation.”

And then my Sliding Doors moment. One of the reasons I need Mrs Steve in my life is that she speaks sense and gets to the gist of a problem immediately. She’s often – and quite rightly – telling me not to complicate things. On this occasion I took her advice; advice that I’d so often, in the past, ignored to my peril. 

The masseuse said: “Did your friend buy you the voucher?” Of course I could have replied by saying: “Well; it was my wife but that’s irrelevant because it was for a neck massage which you won’t give me. And it’s an early Valentine present, because the big day’s not for a week. I’m naked and telling you all this...” So I opted for simplicity. And so everything that follows is all my wife’s fault. I replied: “Yes.” And was proud of myself for keeping it simple.

So, with financial and administrative arrangements settled (finally), she set about oiling me up and it began.

It was fantastic.

From the balls (careful) of my feet to my head, this is how you do it. And let’s face it, pants just get in the way of a decent massage. 

The ‘back portion’ took about 40 minutes, but, about 25 minutes in, I started to ratchet up my anxiety levels again. I realised that at some point I’d have to turn over. And there would be a moment where the towel would not be suitably placed. Then I started to tense up and really panic because what if she’d actually said that a ‘medium’ is in fact, not £8 more but £80 more? What if I misheard her and I was facing a big bill? For a massage that I didn’t even ask for in the first place?

And then she started going in a bit too close on my butt cheeks.

At this point your average male may have started hoping that this was all going somewhere else. Not me; I wanted to call out to Mrs Steve to come and save me. The little boy in his short trousers. (Except there were no trousers.) If you’d have defrosted a frankfurter three days before and left it in a warm pantry, you couldn’t compare it to the limpness that I was feeling.

I had to devise a strategy. How about ending it there? How about saying I wanted to re-pant? Well, that would be the sensible thing to do. No; I did another blokey thing.  I didn’t want this to continue but I did want to show at least some, er, ‘strength’. A small offering. Just to prove to this woman, who I was never going to see again, that I was a man. With a modest, yet not inviting, erection.

Instead it turned in on itself. If you’re a man reading this, I wonder if you’ve ever got your tackle, placed it between your legs and said: “Look: I’m a woman.” Just me then? Well, it was like that, but without the ‘wahey’ factor. Not ‘wahey’ – more: ‘ooo’.

Then she asked me to turn around. Tofu time. The most embarrassing element of the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me. And then no towel was placed; anywhere. I prepared myself for the obvious question.

Which didn’t come at first. There was ten minutes where she concentrated on the head and neck. The neck, if you remember, was the whole reason for all of this, but I wasn’t thinking about that. If you tense up during a session, does that actually help to achieve a better massage? I certainly felt great the next day. Not now, though. I knew what was er, coming.

And then she moved to middle of the massage table and put, as an Australian friend describes it, the ‘hard word’ on me.

She asked me if I wanted a ‘happy handy’.

Yes. We’ve got to the bit that you, dear reader, probably saw coming in the first few words of this essay. And that’s when I made the mistake that will keep me on the receiving end of family jokes for the rest of my life. So, when she made me the offer I replied by saying: “I don’t think that’s included in the voucher.”

She was probably just sick and tired of waiting for me to ask for said happy handy. But she was very pleasant about my rejection of her fiddling fingers and confirmed that she would oblige if I changed my mind. She really was a nice person. 

And then it was over, apart from the extra cash payment. She left the room so I could get dressed and I fumbled in my wallet for the £10 note that would save me. Actually;  what was the point of her leaving the room? She’d seen everything. And felt most of it. When I got to reception I double-checked and it was, in fact, only an £8 surcharge. Not £80. 

But, instead of just handing over the £10 and scarpering, I somehow, in my confusion, waited for the £2 change. That took another, agonising five minutes, and I was petrified I’d meet, again, the other (female) massagee from reception from earlier. Goodness knows what happened to her and I don’t want to know. And I don’t know how thin the walls were, and therefore what she heard.

As I walked away I texted Mrs Steve: “God – You’ve got a loyal husband.”

Of course, after the family got off the floor laughing at me, Mrs Steve got a text from the company that first ‘introduced’ me to my masseuse. They wanted feedback. My wife said she was going to complain. I urged her not to, because there might be some people who know 100% what the arrangement is, thank you very much. I don’t want to spoil what could be an important part of their lifestyle. This wasn’t about me being duped by an evil masturbator. 

But it turns out that the question, “Did a friend book it?” was ‘code’. And that my reply in the affirmative translated as: “The wife’s not involved. Go for it.”

This was all my fault. I was deeply stupid. And then deeply embarrassed. And then deeply relieved (not in that way) when it was all over.  

Typing this, I’m safely on the Piccadilly Line now and I can sense a bloke reading this over my shoulder as I type. Mate: I’m sure you would have dealt with the whole thing a lot better. And no, you can’t have the address of the massage parlour.

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