The address for the insurance-approved massage therapist was a residential home. As I pulled into the driveway, not two minutes before our appointment, the therapist knelt in the garden outside her house, weeding.
The woman’s bushy gray hair was damp around her temples. She wore an oversized t-shirt bearing the insignia of a high school baseball team, its colors dull with age. The material over her generous bosom was grass stained. And she was barefoot.
“Hi. Sorry, I think I have the wrong address,” I said.
“Here for an appointment?” she asked and wiped dirt on the front of her shorts.
“….Yes,” I said, hoping my voice didn’t betray my disappointment.
I shot one longing gaze back at my car, knowing I didn’t have the courage to flee.
The massage room was the first on the left, and it was the room equivalent of a junk drawer. Boxes piled from floor to ceiling. A desk was cluttered with knick knacks, paper, and memories. The floor was littered with lampshades without their lamps, frames still in their boxes, a desktop computer from the 90s, yarn, a violin bow, wrapping paper, vintage Coke advertisements, yellowed newspapers, a bicycle wheel– and then, pushed up against the wall, a massage table, upon which stood a cat, kneading his claws into the table’s cushion, glaring at me as if I’d barged in on his precious alone time.
“Any allergies?” the woman asked.
“Just cats,” I said, maintaining eye contact with the pissed off tabby.
“Well, he probably hasn’t been there too long,” she said.
I need better insurance, I thought. Especially considering my insurance was only providing a ten dollar discount, which really wasn’t much considering I was probably about to be imprisoned and experimented on by this eccentric hoarder and her irritated feline.
The consultation was conducted at her kitchen table, where she had me write my name, phone number, and address on a blank half-sheet of paper, its bottom torn and frayed. I waited for her to excuse herself to change into a more sanitary, and certainly more reassuring, outfit. But after a rinse in the sink that was hardly thorough enough to turn the dirt into mud, she said, “Let’s get started.”
As well as hosting enough crap to fill a neighborhood of garages, the massage room contained four buddha statues, two incense sticks, and a star-shaped chart of the five elements: water, metal, earth, fire, and wood. I was beginning to suspect this wasn’t going to be a typical massage.
“I’m a practitioner of Eastern Medicine,” the therapist explained. “It’s my life’s passion. There’s no limit to the positive effects of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and massage. That’s why I spent so much time in China. I went to study. To train. It’s where I learned everything that I know about Traditional Chinese Medicine.”
“That’s pretty cool. How long were you in China?” I asked, and placed my face in the table’s pillow hole.
“Oh, two weeks? When?”
“About thirty years ago.”
It showed. The next fifty minutes felt like either the Eastern Medicine massage of a person who had two weeks of training thirty years ago, or like the Eastern Medicine massage of Ross Geller.
She spent five minutes striking a tuning fork beside my ear, and then waving it over my body. After she finished with this exercise, she concluded, “You either are about to have your period, are having your period, or just finished it.” Her voice had an upward lilt, as if to say, “Am I right?”
And although she named three out of the four possibilities for a woman in a month– no, she was not right.
Despite having defeated accuracy’s odds, I was curious how she might explain her “spooky” intuition, so I asked, “How do you know?”
“I don’t know anything,” she said, finally stating something I could believe. “The fork knows. It told me.”
She continued the massage using aromatherapy, the relaxing properties of The Beatles, hot stones, cold stones, room temperature stones, and cups. Cup massage entails suctioning bulbs to your skin that will cause round welts to glow red for two weeks. I’d like to explain the practice in more depth, however, when I asked the therapist about them, she said, “It surfaces toxins or something. I’m not sure how it works exactly. I just know it works.”
That is not what you want to hear from a person who warned, “Now this is going to leave some ugly marks.”
Toward the end of the “massage”, she asked, “Any fun plans for the weekend?”
“Actually I’m going to Ireland,” I said. “That’s why I came. I wanted to get those knots out of my back before the long plane ride.”
“Ireland? That’s wonderful. You know, I’m a travel writer. I have been for years.”
“Yes, you can read my reviews on Tripadvisor.”
If a two week trip to China thirty years ago makes you an expert in Eastern Medicine, then I suppose writing reviews on Tripadvisor does indeed make you a travel writer.
At that point, I was just waiting for the experience to end. I gritted my teeth as she circled the table, carrying the incense stick between her fingers while humming along to Hey Jude, smelly smoke trailing behind her. I gnawed my lips with each pop of the cups being pulled from my back. And when it was all over and she left the room, I yanked my clothes back on as if the clutter around me had been doused with gasoline and the crazy lady was about to drop a lit match.
I paid her in cash, and before she could count the money, I was halfway down the block.
After I relayed the ridiculous episode to Phil, I didn’t think much about it or the massage therapist for several days– not until we were on the plane to Ireland and Phil asked, “Hey, is your back feeling any better?”
Within the confines of the seat, I bent right, left, leaned forward, and arched back. My brow furrowed. “You know, it’s the strangest thing. It feels great.”
Phil reclined in his seat. “I guess we should look that woman up on Tripadvisor.”
Oh, and did I mention my book is out? Check it out here!