I was at the Bellagio in Vegas this weekend with my brother-in-law Stuart to play poker, bet on football, and eat a few good meals. He also convinced me to get a full-body massage at the hotel's spa.
I've had plenty of back massages for some relief while sitting in a chair playing poker for hours, but the only other time I've had a full-body massage was a quarter-century ago when we lived in DC and my wife whisked me away for a weekend in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, a town known for its historic spas and natural spring water. To be perfectly honest, while I enjoyed most of the weekend, I wasn't thrilled by the idea of being rubbed down by a guy, and while she walked out of her massage (by a woman) feeling very mellow, I left with a scowl on my face, vowing never to do that again.
This time, Stuart assured me we could ask for female massage therapists, so I agreed to give it another try. It wasn't until we showed up at the spa Saturday morning that I realized that, while I'd probably be draped in a towel the entire time, this would be the first time I'd been naked in a room with another woman besides my wife in over 31 years (with the exception of the medical personnel who have seen my butt hang out of a hospital gown on several occasions).
Frankly, I don't like to be naked around anyone, probably due to some long-repressed self-esteem problems created in a junior-high locker room. To this day, when I go to the gym and change my clothes to use the pool, I keep my eyes down and my body covered -- unlike far too many other guys who parade around in there as if they've entered the Here's My Penis competition.
The Bellagio spa is an upscale place, with hot tubs (one per person!), showers (with all the body wash and hair products you could possibly need -- or if you're bald like me, not need), and a steam room. I'd been in a sauna a long time ago, but didn't like the dry heat, so I thought a steam room, which I'd never experienced, would be better. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of wearing my glasses into the steam room and they immediately fogged up, rendering me blind. When I took them off, I realized there was nothing to see anyway, because the steam was too thick -- so thick in fact, that it was hard to breathe. I lasted less than 3 minutes before I had to get out.
Finally, it was time for the massage. Several of us were lead from the locker room to the Treatment Area, where we were each met by our personal massage therapist, in my case named Lisa. She walked me into another room with a definite new age vibe. A couple of scented candles were lit and the pan flute music that played as the spa's soundtrack was a little louder in there. I'm sure it was supposed to make me feel relaxed, but my eyes hurt from rolling so much. Lisa left me alone long enough to take off the robe they'd provided and lie down between the sheets on the massage table.
When she returned, she asked if I was allergic to any lotions or oils. I joked that unless she was using peanut oil, I'd be fine, so she began the massage, which lasted 50 minutes. She didn't dig into me with her elbows too much and took it easy on my neck, too, and there was no walking on my back or using hot stones. I'll admit that I did have to fight my tickle reflex when she worked on my feet and toes, which was a little strange.
I'm sure that many of the places throughout Vegas with a sign outside saying "massage" offer add-on services of a sexual nature, and I'm sure there are guys who propose those things to Lisa and her colleagues every day, and I'm also sure that she knows how to politely decline. As for my session, it was so above board that I could have worn underwear without it making a difference (my modesty had me wishing I had), since she never even came close to that area of my body.
Along with the pan flute music, everything about the experience is designed to relax you: the lights change from one soft color to another; the room temperature can be adjusted up or down; and there's some fragrance you're supposed to inhale at the beginning to help you unwind (I'd had plenty of experience inhaling something to unwind in college, but this wasn't remotely like that).
It was so much about an atmosphere of relaxation that when Lisa coughed at one point while working on my back, she excused herself, explained that she wasn't sick as she quickly washed her hands, and apologized: "I hope I didn't disturb your peace." No, my peace was just fine, as it takes a lot to disturb me. I was 100% certain she wasn't contagious with Ebola.
I don't go in for any of that new age or chiropractic garbage, nor did this qualify as physical therapy of any kind, but it was fine. It's not that I was hoping for something sleazy -- I don't know what I expected -- yet in the end, I walked out of there feeling much the same way I had when I'd walked in (although my wallet felt a lot lighter).
From now on, I'll leave the spa experiences to my wife -- and the pan flute soundtrack to the nostalgic Zanfir enthusiasts.