After an hour on the mat, I struggled to feel the jade working it’s magic, and as I pretended to imagine toxins leaving my body, I planned an escape. The mechanical bed was fit with pounds of jade stone, apparently blessed with flute music or some mystical nonsense that probably involved a self-anointed priest, eagle feathers, and a warrant for sexual assault. Laying on the bed wasn’t entirely unpleasant, mind you. The whir of the machine under a light pillow-top mattress was numbing, and something firm was playing spaghetti fork with my shoulder blades, concentric circles moving the back-meat around, decades of stress starting to crack and crumble. I stared into the ceiling tiles and tried to concentrate on the ambient music piped through the speaker system, but the whir of twelve other beds with strangers attempting the same was starting to get unsettling. We were all just lying there, silently letting machines play with our bodies, every one of us hyper-aware of the next. It’s times like this when those cowboy booted mustaches have one up on you—a sharp thing always affixed to their belts—and you’ve got nothing but a set of jagged fingernails if things get hissy in here. I look to Allen, who’s nearly asleep. The poor man’s fleeting grasp on danger is going to get me raped, or, alternatively, get me an ear-full on the magics of a four thousand dollar massage bed.
The place is disrupting from the walk-in. It’s a pseudo-massage-parlor set up in a retail strip mall. On your right you can buy a slice of pizza, and on your left you can shop for overpriced almonds and exotic sounding barbecue sauces. When you step in the door, there’s a little folding table there to greet you, business cards and pamphlets carefully arranged. Look to one side, and there’s a television quietly playing an infomercial for the beds, and when you look to the other, there’s a tiny water cooler with those little snow cone cups. Unpacked beds are stacked toward the back exit, standing eight feet tall in cardboard boxes over the gray carpet. I start to think this place is primed and ready for something, perhaps it’s a collapsable environment that turns into a Greek restaurant when the inspectors come, or maybe it’s just what the absolute minimum investment in a franchise looks like—a place that won’t hurt the pocketbook when Dave comes running from the back room in a panic, arms full of cash and dried blood pasted to his scalp. He shuffles up to the folding table and anxiously whispers, “It’s all dried up, it’s over! Get the beds in the truck and I’ll meet you in Poughkeepsie.”
It’s a place that looks hungry for your kidneys. The idea is to show up whenever you want, pop off the shoes, and get yourself an hour of quiet time on one of the dozen or so mechanical massage beds. They make you fill out a little card that’s covered in the dates of your visits, but they assure you the place is a free-for-all. The no pressure thing is true, they never really assault you on financing one of the machines, but I think this is a psychological game. You want them to start in with the gibberish. If they don’t, you feel like you’ve just stolen something, a free massage with nothing in return, not a dime for the hooker. Their glossy waning looks is what got to me. Ushered to a bed and quietly instructed on the dials for the remote control, I imagine after I’ve pulled on the eye mask, an attendant just stands over me for an hour, looking at my forehead and deeply sighing. On your way out, however, there are a few heaping buckets of bullshit to step around. Fruit magic about body toxins, the healing powers of jade stones and floor mats that dissipate the harmful effects of electromagnetic waves in your home. A half-sober trek on Google shows that the place is FDA approved, but only for massage, not the pearl-white dove that’ll fly out of your ass every morning after standing on a heated jade-stone floor mat.
I’d only visited the two times, the place was getting to me in an uncomfortable way. The first time involved a weird stare-down when they’d discovered I hadn’t worn socks to the joint. “You need socks to use the beds,” the older woman behind the folding table told me. “Okay,” was my reply, and then we’d just locked eyes for a few seconds as if to say, “We gonna do this? This gonna happen? Gonna start a slap fight up in this bitch today?” Two wrinkle-lipped frowns later, she fished out those little nylon deals for me that you use in shoe stores, and I’d kicked them off as soon as she left me on a bed. I was the rebel in here today, their sock policy can kiss my ass, and watch out, I might take three cups of water before I leave. I’ll flash gang signs and refuse to wash my hands after using the bathroom. I’m not playing today.
The massage machines felt nice, but after about ten minutes it started to feel like I was trying to take a leak in the middle of a meeting. Pie charts and account discussions are halted while I stand up, unzip, and try to pee all over the boardroom table. Nobody’s grossed out, they’re just aggressively waiting for me to finish, everyone making eye contact while I stand there and try to think about waterfalls. This is all before my wife became an actual massage therapist, mind you. She doesn’t pass out the rub business here at home terribly often, but I can’t really blame her on most days. How many of you want to head home after an exhausting day, and right after dinner, start doing your wife’s taxes, or however the hell you make paper. When the home massages do come my way, they’re not the gentle “Ahh that’s nice,” kind. They’re the big ball buster kind, she goes knuckle keep into my spine, an angry bastard of a massage, where she starts between my shoulder blades and tries to reach my ribcage from the wrong side. I’ll wince and I’ll cry out, but this doesn’t stop the assault. She’s locked on to some errant malady in my musculature, and her programming won’t allow for failure. Right before an electrical hole opens up and she teleports back into the future, she’s taken my clothes, my boots, and my motorcycle, and all she’s left me with is repaired collateral ligaments in my elbows, and an uncomfortable new appreciation for body lotions.