Relaxing massage, anyone?

The last couple of days were spent in a Pennsylvanian resort, part of my team’s annual “retreat”.  I wasn’t looking forward to it. A curmudgeon since birth, I don’t do ‘groups’. And memories of past retreats did nothing to cheer me up. The last one involved a group of fifty or more people divvied up into groups, literally running up and down another resort, in hunt of some lame treasure. We didn’t want to run, but since at least one boss-type individual was in each team, we had to demonstrate suitable levels of enthusiasm. 

This retreat ended up being closer to its definition. Each of us was allowed to pick an “activity” in advance. Choices included horse-back riding (which ended up being mule-back riding, or ass-back riding, depending on whether or not you signed up for it), shooting, fly-fishing, and an hour at the spa. I chose the one activity that involved the least amount of exertion, and the least amount of company – a massage. In these days of hedonism, it is embarrassing to admit this – I’d never had a massage. When the lady asked me when my last massage had been, I felt not unlike being at a doctor’s. There, I usually answer questions that begin with “do you have a history of …?” or “when was the last time you …?” with a raised eyebrow. It works like a charm. On the off-chance that the person asking the question fails to notice the color of my skin, the raised eye-brow makes them look up my name from a chart, the sheer un-pronounceability of which lets these inquirers know that not only are they being perfectly silly in asking me these questions, but they are potentially offending my spiritual and cultural sensibilities. 

But as I said, this usually unbeatable cultural advantage didn’t seem to help with my massage-situation. One is expected to “pamper” oneself these days, no matter what part of the world you hail from. My idea of pampering myself consists of washing my face with some fancy soap I purchased a few months ago. But my gut told me that this wouldn’t satisfy the massage-lady. So I bit the bullet, and told her the shameful truth. She was nice about it. And proceeded with a smile to torture me for the next hour. From my sole experience of this er, relaxing activity, a massage has three essential components: 80% is excruciating torture, 10% is serious concentration at not giggling, and 10% of feeling taken care of that almost makes up for the remaining 90% of un-fun-ness. 

I suppose I could’ve told her she was hurting me, but am always confused about whether it’s OK protest.  Whether a dentist or a masseuse, by my understanding, the contract by default involves a certain amount of pain. Doesn’t complaining about it make you something of a sissy, or worse a drama queen? And there’s also the “it’s good for you” sort of pain – the idea that present agony is going to save you untold future agony… all hogwash, if you ask me – because all they’re saying is that you’ll be in pain no matter what. But even the pain, I could take. It was the not-giggling part that was the toughest. Once the thought entered my head that giggling would be unwelcome (c’mon! one is supposed to be “relaxing”, soaking in vague mood music, breathing in aromatic oils – giggling does NOT belong in this environment), everything felt ticklish. But, determined as I was to survive this version of the comfy chair, I gnashed my teeth and thought of community banks. 

At the end of the hour, I emerged, feeling and looking like an oily rag. People waiting for their own massage commented on how relaxed I looked. I was too tired to protest that having used up all of my energy in trying not to scream or giggle or both, the slacker look was all I was capable of. Instead, I nodded along and let it be known that I felt wonderful. 

After a shower, I felt somewhat human again. I took out my book, sat in a swing by a lake, and spent the rest of the afternoon there. A couple of colleagues attempted to fish nearby. I watched in horror as these two cut some poor earth worm into little bits and hooked it on to their rod. They didn’t catch anything, and essentially spent the afternoon feeding the fish in that lake little bits of worm. I got up and walked around a bit, in an attempt to soak in more nature. A dyed in the wool city-girl, I can’t help thinking that nature’s a bit overrated. Sure, it’s pretty and peaceful (if you call replacing honks with cheeps and other scary noises as peace), but there seems to be nothing but dead pieces of assorted beings all over. Bits of worm left over from my colleagues’ ill-fated fishing expedition, a pair of claws from what I assume used to be a crab, discarded by some predator… In fact, I saw more partial creatures than I did whole ones. Whenever am away from a city, I ask myself if I’d be happy living in this valley or that neck of woods… and the answer is what it always has been – yes, but for no more than a few weeks at the most.

Dinner consisted of a whole baked potato, some sour cream and some ice-cream (there was lobster and chicken and beef, but what good was that to me?) Thankfully the massage had so tired me out that I fell asleep at 10:30, something I haven’t done this whole year, if not longer. The next day, we had a two-hour session on ‘time management’, at the end of which we concluded that none of the advice the nice lady gave was going to be practical. After the session, a few colleagues and I walked for a couple of miles to go see a water-fall, and then it was time to get on the bus to get back to the city. 

We’ll pay for this little retreat, when we get back to work on Monday, as work’s been piling up since Wednesday. But Monday’s still 24 hours away. Hopefully, that’s enough time for my body to recover from my relaxing getaway… At least the next time I’m asked when my last massage was, I’ll have an answer.

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