I had a Chinese Foot Massage today. Right there, some of you may have no idea what I just typed, especially if you don’t live in Chicago. So allow me to explain. Here in Chicago, you basically can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dentist’s office or a Chinese foot massage parlor. Reflexology, or driving one’s fingers or elbows into body parts to relieve tension and ultimately relieve pain is the premise of this practice. Because there are so many, we are spoilt for choice. They are cheaper than a standard massage and somewhat different as well. It’s more about how you want to feel after than enjoying the moment. I have tried a number of them. It turns out, my favorite is just around the corner from us.
Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll tell you about today. I have had some muscle soreness in my legs that has gone on for a bit. As a runner, I know the things I should do – stretch more, foam roll more, heat and ice more, have body work done more. Lately, I haven’t done much of any of those things. So it’s not surprising that the issues are lingering. Add to that, in my experience, pushing speed seems to aggravate things more. So my two wins at OrangeTheory Fitness the other day of beating past personal records (PRs) has taken a bit more of a toll on me. I had a massage the other day. I did some yoga and foam rolling yesterday. I’ve tried steam baths. Today, I needed to do something more. I thought about taking an epsom bath but as silly as this sounds, I was too lazy to do that. I wanted something more interactive. Something that someone could work on when they found spots that needed tending to. So I strolled around the corner to the Chinese Foot Massage place.
The man at the front desk remembered me from before even though it has been a while since I’ve been there. He escorted me into the room, not in a Robert Kraft at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, kind of way; just the appropriate non-happy ending massage spa kind of way. There are a bunch of massage options. Today, I opted for sort of a full body and foot one that had hot stones and a salt soak.
He started by having me hang my shirt and take off my socks and shoes. He had me put my feet in the pseudo scalding epsom soak. Then,I laid on the table. Under my back was a warm heated pad. He covered me with a blanket and proceeded to start with the scalp and neck massage. At first it all starts out nicely. You know, like when you’re on one of those roller coasters where the first drop isn’t the biggest. And you get all, “That ain’t so bad.” Then it begins…he starts to drive his thumbs into the side of my neck. It hurts but I know it’s good for me. Next he’s at my scalp. First, fingers dance along the top of my head. “How lovely is that,” I think. So stimulating, I can almost feel my hair follicles growing. I picture the woman shampooing her hair in the Herbal Essences commercial back in the 70s. I can practically feel a garden growing on my head. Then he starts to scrape at my head like a crotchety old man raking the maple leaves that have the audacity of falling in his front garden. I wonder if he sees me wincing. I bear through it and before I know it, it’s time for the torture to continue somewhere else.
He takes one of my arms out from the blanket. It was so cozy under there. Cozy and safe. “Oh, no! Don’t take it,” I think. “Keep raking my head. I’m not even bleeding yet. Just leave my arm.” He starts gentle again. They always start gentle. That’s how they lull you into a false sense of security. That and the god awful instrumental music playing in the background. Currently, it is “My Heart Will Go On.” Gentle swipes, gentle swipes. Oh god! Here comes the thumb. Digging into me under my tricep. Now he’s at my fingers. He grabs my arm and stretches it so high, I have a visualization of Gumby. I’m not sure how far he thinks he can take it. But apparently, he’s going for it. We get through that on both sides and then it’s time for my feet.
He takes my feet out of the tub and rests them on the ottoman that slides into the bed. He dries and covers them and leaves the room. They always leave the room. This adds to the mystery of the event. Because as you are being tortured, albeit delightfully and intentionally, you never know when they’re going to come in with the gimp from Pulp Fiction. And the next thing you know, your massage has taken a Quentin Tarantino turn for the worst.
(I know that I’m not selling these. Keep in mind that they are really not awful, or I wouldn’t go back. But they are certainly not a massage at the Four Seasons.)
He starts on my feet, ankles and calves. This, I have to say, especially as a runner, is my favorite part. It really loosens everything up. But it too, is not without pain. He digs his thumbs into the soles of my feet so far that I feel like if I didn’t have a mask on my face, I could probably see his thumb on the top of my foot. Dig, dig, stretch, pull. It goes on. First the left, then the right. By the time we are at the down-tempo instrumental version of Edelweiss, I am torn between what is more painful, the song or the pressure he is putting between my toes. I wonder, “What good can come from this?” I’m not sure. But eastern medicine and traditions have been around forever. So I decide, whoever did this to Edelweiss was definitely more evil.
Then, as he is cupping my calves, a slapping motion up and down my legs, he accidentally whacked me in the nuts. “Doh!” I exclaim, regretting that we didn’t set up a safe word, you know, something like “Kung Pao!” or “Ming Dynasty!” Now, Edelweiss is sort of soothing again.
He finishes my feet and has me turn over on my stomach. He leaves the room again, no doubt but to get some other torture device. In fact, I was right. It was the hot stones. I heard them clang together when he approached the head of the table. I waited for the heat of them on my back after he doused me with massage oil. But instead I got his hands. Smooth and gentle at first. Again, that’s always how it goes. And then came the elbows. I shit you not. It was five hours ago and my back still hurts. He dug his elbows into knots in my back that would probably be tight enough to anchor a boat in Lake Michigan. Dig, dig, dig. “Kung Pao!” I thought. Next time. Next time for sure, we will have a safe word. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking “Well, at least the stones won’t be so hot since it’s been at least ten minutes since he’s taken them out.” Wrong. He puts them on my back and I’m fairly certain that they came directly from a pizza oven. Mother of God! I must have looked like Penny from Good Times when her mother that she was ultimately taken away from had her back seared with the iron. (Anyone under forty, google it. Hint: Janet Jackson played Penny.)
He glides the stones up and down my back. The oil I’m fairly positive is both helping and hurting. If he had chicken, we could probably toss it on my back and make that Kung Pao right here. A few more swipes and we’re done. I made it. My heart will go on. He tells me that we are done and then asks “Ok?” in a pseudo-sinister way. I say, “Great, thanks!” I get dressed, go to the front, pay and leave him a nice tip knowing that as much as this sort of hurts, it hurts so good. But please don’t tell them because the last thing I need is an instrumental version of the John Cougar song.