The agenda for 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17 was only a thinly veiled secret. When my girlfriend asked me to carve out a couple hours at this particular time on my birthday, she assumed I would figure out that she had scheduled a professional massage. It was a lovely gesture after a long fall season involving various frustrations at work, around the house and within my fantasy league.
A pretty typical fall, really.
I was conflicted leading up to it. One one hand, I had overcome the loss of Aaron Rodgers to sneak into the playoffs and win a first-round game in a competitive 14-team league. On the other, an amazing person was doing something nice for me, even after I laughed out loud a few days earlier when she noticed that the NFL began playing games on Saturdays.
(To be honest, I thought it was a 50/50 chance we were going to see the new Star Wars film.)
I decided during the days leading up to my extremely unimportant 38th birthday that I would participate in whatever nice thing she had planned, rather than acting like my usual intolerable self. As such, we drove confidently that Sunday afternoon toward Cincinnati’s inner-ring ’burbs, where the moderately wealthy sip lattes near a Nike outlet store, sometimes rewarding their bodies, minds and souls with 80-minute full-body massages.
My girlfriend knew I would be uncomfortable, so she helped me fill out the pre-experience questionnaire: taking any medications (“no”); injuries to avoid (“not really”); social anxiety (“just skip it, babe”). After filling out the paperwork and choosing a scent of lotion to be administered to my body by someone I had never met before, it was time for she and I to part ways. The moment was somber, as if I were heading into surgery and we both knew there was a real chance I wouldn’t make it back.
After a brief tour of the space’s quaint personal locker room area and an acknowledgement of the free tea sitting on a table next to an electric babbling brook, I was offered an extremely comfortable and humongous robe. I took my clothes off, having forgotten to ask the tour guide whether I was supposed to wear underwear or not. Fearing the worst — unannounced nudity in front of a disinterested women (or man?) — I decided to err on the side of caution. So when I sauntered into the posh waiting area I did so with the confidence of a person unembarrassed by wearing a garment that would make J.J. Watt look small or the fact that I was starting both Doug Baldwin and Mike Davis against the Rams just hours later with a Super Bowl appearance on the line.
The massage room was small but private, the masseuse professional and polite. I had checked “no talking” on my entry form, so the only awkwardness was the debate in my mind over whether I was supposed to be naked. At one point early on I had to ask her to turn down the volume on the iPod — apparently set to the “calmness, serenity, Ricky Williams” station — but otherwise things were fine, except that everything seemed to take a very long time.
As my masseuse meticulously tucked one side of the sheet under my leg while folding the rest of it into a swan, I thought maybe I should just admit I had never done this before and apologize for making things weird by wearing underwear. But would mentioning this make things even more weird? I surely couldn’t offer to take them off at this point.
I eventually relaxed, no doubt thanks to the masseuse’s expertise and the fact that I really didn’t care what kind of stupid stuff Dirk Koetter was going to do to ruin Peyton Barber’s day. There are bigger things in life, you know?
Toward the end of the hour, the masseuse made her way down to my feet, which I had enthusiastically agreed to have tended to. (Is this an option people decline?) She slowly worked her way across the sole and toward my toes until she held my foot in the air by only the big and little toes. When she frantically wiggled my whole foot by just these outside digits, it became clear that she was only doing this part out of boredom and to embarrass me. Then she ran her thumb up my shin with super-human strength, the only reason for which I could imagine was that she now wanted to hurt me, too.
Things seemed relatively normal the rest of the way, thanks in part to a scalp massage that would definitely have been worth paying extra for. There was a brief moment as I really started to relax when, for some reason, the latest Twitter tiff between a couple Yahoo fantasy gurus nudged its way into my mind and made me laugh. I felt bad, though, that I couldn’t fully appreciate either my girlfriend’s gift or the expertise and effort of a person who surely had something better to do on a Sunday afternoon than massage an ungrateful never-nude.
For all its formality, I have to say that I will consider another mid-December massage session in the future. It actually went a long way toward relieving some lingering shoulder and back issues, and it made me put my phone away for nearly two hours.
Hopefully next year I can do it during the fantasy finals and Philip Rivers won’t be my quarterback.
Follow Danny @_dannycross_.