Get a Life—April 14, 2006

By Jane Lopes

After finishing her massive B.A., my roommate Nora wanted to treat herself to a massage. She asked me to come along because I never say no to things that people want to do—but don’t want to do alone—and also because our last joint massage experience needed to be redeemed. Let me explain: Nora and I traveled around Europe together after our separate study abroad programs in the fall. We ended up in Karlovy Vary, a Czech town built around a natural hot spring, and decided to get a massage at one of the cheap spas that littered the landscape. While waiting for our appointments in a giant infinity pool, we saw a group of nice and professional looking young masseuses socializing at the other end of the room. I was relieved. This being my first massage, I was a little more inclined toward a masseuse of this type.

Enter Gaston. Dun, dun, dun! Okay, so, I have no idea what his real name is. It’s probably not Gaston, this being the Czech Republic and not Beauty and the Beast. But to me he looked like an uglier, scrawnier, older version of Gaston with a mullet and more facial hair. He swaggered up to the group of women, placing his hands on the smalls of their backs, whispering into their ears what I can only imagine were Czech sweet nothings.

“God,” Nora cried, offending my strict religious sensibilities by taking the Lord’s name in vain. “I hope I don’t have him.”

“Ha, ha, yeah, that would be horrible,” we laughed. Ha, ha, ha. The laughs turned into stifled whimpers as he approached us.

“Jahn Lopej,” he read off a piece of paper. I could hear Nora’s sigh of relief. Assuming there wasn’t a John Lopez also waiting for a massage, and resisting my temptation to point to Nora, I timidly replied that that was me. What followed was a buck naked (me, not him—thank God), rather vigorous, full body massage—completely abhorrent to my chaste Victorian sensibilities. Worse still, the room was freezing and European electronica played throughout the whole massage. Needless to say, it was not the most relaxing experience, and I was still eager to find out why people paid money for these things.

Not having a ton of money to spend, Nora and I decided to call the Chicago School of Massage Therapy, which offers hour-long massages for $40—about half what you would pay at a regular spa. The massages are performed by students who have had more than 50 hours of classroom training and have passed a proficiency exam. Furthermore, a supervisor slips in discreetly during the massage to check on the student (I hardly noticed). This means no clumsy rookies, and no pervy clodhoppers.

In fact, my masseuse couldn’t have been nicer or more professional. After filling out forms stating my reasons for getting a massage, particular areas of tension, and any medical concerns, a young woman came and got me from the waiting room. She introduced herself, explained the procedure, then led me to a warm, dimly lit room, aurally decorated with the kind of music that you know was made for the sole purpose of being played in spas and yoga centers. As soon as she started, I knew that this massage was going to be very different from my Czech rub down, very different from Gaston’s cold, grizzly hands. Shudder.

The hour blissfully floated by and before I knew it I was back in another waiting room, filling out a form about my experience (a small price to pay for a cheap massage). I almost wrote them an epic about Czech hot springs, puffy-chested Disney characters, and violent kneading, but in my post-massage sloth I resigned to just circling the highest ratings for each category. Needless to say, it was certainly an improved experience which restored my faith in the practice of massage.

Nora came out soon after me—glowing with that muscles-relaxed, B.A.-finished look of euphoria. She really enjoyed her massage too. And I quote: “Carolyn was a masseuse goddess.” Wow. Masseuse goddess. Enough said.