To get over the horror of it all, I have recounted this story several times to friends hoping the tingly sensation down my spine would go away. It has not. Here it is.
This funny story begins with a tragedy.
I lost my grandmother. My body was paying the toll. I hurried to my hometown of Scarborough to see my dad who was distraught at not being able to attend his mother in law’s funeral in Manila.
I was happy to be there for him and hold him as he shed a few tears, not so happy to feel a distinct knot gathering in my muscle tissue between my shoulder blades.
I am no stranger to stress-related ailments. My nose did bleed each time I headed into my OAC chemistry class. My uterus was even so smart as to start menstruating right before doing it with Mister Wrong. Talk about a bullet dodged.
But this time, the muscle tension led me right into the lion’s den.
I needed to rush to a massage therapist.
I looked everywhere around my old neighborhood, seeking free time slots with my usual massage therapists in the area. Nothing. So desperate was I that I began looking for any sign that had that words “massage” or “shiatsu” on it. Heck, I would have even settled on “bloodletting”.
To my relief I found a place that offered massage and a variety of other aesthetic services. I parked the car in a 45 degree angle and hobbled in, my hand bag dragging on the ground behind me.
Upon entering I went straight towards the reception desk. Past the manicure station with five nail polishes on it. Past the dollar store-esque fountain and rang the bell.
“How can I help you?” said a tall blond woman behind the desk.
“Do you have a massage slot available?”I said, my eyebrows knitting sweaters. “Anything. Even half an hour. Anything you got.”
“With me? Or with someone else?”
“Ummm...” I had never been asked that question. “Sure. With you. Whatever.”
I was led to a room with an adjoined bathroom. The woman asked me to go into the bathroom to put on my towel. I obliged.
While I fastened the towel around my chest, I noticed a bottle of Vagisil on the sink counter. That’s when I knew: I was in a rub and tug.
Now, before you judge me for being so stupid, I need you to understand the harmless exterior of this establishment. I need you to understand that it looked like any other spa: its menu boasted everything from pedicures to facials. I need you to understand the loose laws in Ontario around the labeling of rub and tugs as “holistic massage centres.” I need you to understand my clueless state: in mourning and in pain. I need you to understand how helpless I was, the heat gathering between my ears, how utterly trapped I felt standing there, looking at a bottle of Vagisil, wondering how, how did I get into this fucking situation and how the hell was I going to get out?
Knock on the door.
“Hello? Are you ready?
“Ummm...” Oh my God, I thought to myself. Most people in the time that it took for me to open the door would have devised a plan, would have somehow MacGyvered some sort of machine to drill through the walls so that they could escape. Not me. I chose denial.
“What kind of massages do you do here?” I said in a please-for-the-love-of-humanity-don’t-say-happy-ending-massage kind of way.
“Well,” the woman’s face suddenly became pointed, her gaze alluding the detection of law enforcement, each word a code. “We do aromatherapy. And reiki. And acupuncture.”
If, in fact this woman did all of these things, my guess her name would not be “Misty” as it said on her name tag. My guess is she would not be wearing spike heels. My guess is she would have diplomas of some sort on the walls of her treatment room instead of landscapes. My guess is she would not need to have a bottle of Vagisil on the counter. All of this escaped me in my state of stupidity.
I was terrified. Neither of us could meet in the middle. Say what we wanted to say. I couldn’t just leave. What would that say about what I thought of the value of her work? And how could she tell me what kind of operation she was running? And if she wasn’t saying what she needed to say, how could I really know this was in fact a rub and tug?
With my shoulders in knots, I told myself that I would simply go on the table, get a massage, pay for it and get the hell out of there. I was sure that by my expression, Misty was certain I wasn’t there to be touched sexually.
I gingerly placed myself on the rickety table, my face looking down at her be-jeweled toenails. I shuddered. Misty proceeded to give me what may have been her very first legitimate massage. It was much like being poked and prodded by a blindfolded mule.
“I’m going to change the music,” said Misty as she played a CD of birds chirping. “Our clients like this.” Made sense to me. If I was some lowdown man in Scarborough getting a hand job, I’d want to hear birds chirping.
I lied there, terrified, my back twisted and knotted, thinking about my Lola. My grandmother. At this time, just after her death, I imagined her floating above the world, checking in on each of her progeny to make sure they were alright.
And there I was, her gay granddaughter on a massage table in a Scarborough rub and tug hoping that she wouldn’t get a happy ending.
To hear an audio recording of this story click here:
Photo above: It was not this obvious. Picture source.