During a bus ride through Poznan, Poland, someone spoke glowingly about a massage she had at our hotel. It was amazing, she assured us. Her Polish massage therapist’s name was Anna.
My back was killing me, my calf muscles were a mess and I had just arrived from an overseas flight in coach. I could think of no one more deserving of the hands of the amazing Anna, than me.
For 160 Zloty, the woman — Anna, I presumed — in the spa assured me she would take good care of me. In a dressing room, she advised, “Remove your clothes, put on this robe, underwear and sandals.”
The underwear was actually a flimsy, papery, disposable thong. It was hard figuring out which was the front and which was the back. I had never worn a thong. I tried it on every way imaginable, with the exception of wearing it like a surgeon’s mask. I deduced that the side with the most material was the front. I hoped I was right.
Anna sent me to the relaxation room, where she promised to bring me lemon water. Scented candles burned. New age music played. Several minutes passed. I anticipated Anna’s holy touch.
A man stepped into the relaxation room. Half my age. Twice my size. “Would you like water?” he asked.
“I’m taken care of,” I said. “Anna is getting it for me.”
The man grabbed a nearby pitcher and filled a glass.
“My name is Pawel,” he said. “Are you ready for your massage?”
He handed me the glass, said he would be back. “Relax,” he said. I figured he was merely the spa’s water boy who would ultimately usher me to Anna’s room. Pawel returned. “I’m ready if you’re ready,” he said.
Our eyes met. Suddenly, something seemed terribly wrong. The look between us told me that Pawel was not the spa lackey that I thought he was.
“Are you surprised?” he said.
Surprised was an understatement. I would have been less caught off guard had a walrus wearing a tutu and playing a pan flute waddled into the relaxation room.
“Isn’t there a female available?” I said, my voice barely audible. Clearly, I was the victim of some international bait and switch scheme.
“This is my time slot,” he said. “I’ll give you a few more minutes to relax.”
Relax? How can a person relax when one suddenly finds himself teleported into hell’s front lobby?
I have never been comfortable with man hands. Suddenly this massage, which was supposed to be about relaxation, became the angst-tainted equivalent of a three-alarm-fire prostate exam.
Despite my discomfort with Pawel, it didn’t feel right to just bolt from the spa. Besides, it would look weird running through the fancy hotel lobby with my robe rising in back to publicly reveal my possible backward thong, screaming like an escaped lunatic. I didn’t want to create an international incident. Besides, Pawel is a licensed professional, I reasoned.
Pawel returned. “Ready?”
In the massage room, he instructed, “Remove your robe. Put the towel on you. I will knock on the door to see if you are ready.”
I removed my robe. Nerves made it nearly impossible to cover myself with the towel. Each time I laid stomach first on the massage table, the towel slid to the floor. After several tries, the towel finally stayed, formed into a mound over my bare butt, looking like a genie’s turban. As if on cue, Pawel knocked.
The first thing he did was adjust the butt turban, stretching it lengthwise to hide most of my body, but not before giving the towel a quick shake, causing the towel to briefly rise magic-carpet like from my skin, possibly enabling him a quick peek to see if I indeed had the thong on correctly. The towel settled, the massage table rose and Pawel got down to serious, silent business with his well-oiled, professional man hands.
At some point, I actually relaxed. The incredible pressure applied to my body seemed to come not from the hands of a man or a woman but from some merciful strong-handed alien being. This man-administered massage was actually more intense than any I’d experienced before. It was one of those hurts-so-good kind of massages. With my head in the face hole, I actually laughed to myself recalling the classic “Seinfeld” episode in which George went through a similar massage experience. Too often, moments in my life have resembled a Seinfeld episode. Unfortunately, I often find myself in the George Costanza role.
Soon after, a buddy of mine, who was thinking about making a massage appointment at the hotel too, asked me about the Anna I had originally planned to see.
“Was she tall? Was she beautiful?” he asked.
“Anna was a Pawel,” I said.
He decided to forgo his appointment. Too bad for him. He was missing out on a damn good ma(n)ssage.