Tuesday, May 18, 2004

lydia the tattooed lady

So my darlin' got me an hour and a half long massage for my birthday this year- soooo needed after months of not being able to turn my head completely without a sharp pain shooting down my back. There was only one hitch- the massage was at this place called Osento, a communal, women-only hot tub place in the Mission. I'd heard friends talk about going there together on Friday nights, and when they'd invite me, I'd nod my head, "totally, totally", then back out at the last minute. They made it sound like so much fun, but I was not fooled- I would've rather sat in the dark alone on a Friday night. But this time there was no turning back: I would have to be completely naked in front of total strangers, my worst nightmare. I figured I could just get my massage and leave, but the whispery woman on the phone told me to come in a half an hour early to "get in the tub and loosen up".

Friends tried to comfort me by telling me how it was no big deal, all of us "had the same things" while looking at me like I was so repressed and had missed out on years of fun and female bonding, splashing around naked in hot tubs, pouring lavendar oil onto hot rocks. Please.
The day before the massage my stomach started to knot up and I considered backing out. But imagining hands massaging my twisted, gnarled back and neck won out, and at noon the next day I was ringing the bell at Osento.
The half hour of "loosening up" was pretty uneventful, since the place had just opened and there weren't any naked ladies to dodge yet.
As I sat in the tub waiting for my massage, the door from the main office swung open, and in walked a tall, tattooed woman, unsmiling and determined, with hair half piled on top of her head, messy yet masterful. She immediately stripped down, and took a shower in the communal outside shower- so brazen! I pretended to flip through an abandoned Woman's Day magazine, pages wrinkled from the heat and water. Holy shit- would she be massaging me naked? Would this be a 100% naked experience? Just as I contemplated crying, she walked in, and spoke only two words: "I'm ready".

For the next hour and a half I was in and out of consciousness. She dug her elbows into my knots, she massaged my face, and I fell blissfully in love. I tried peppering her with questions: were my muscles tight? Did a lot of her clients fall asleep while she massaged them? What did she think about pilates? She answered with the minimum number of words, making her seem even more mysterious. She was tough too- one of her tattoos was of a bluebird being pierced by a sword, blood and feathers flying.

After the massage was over, she whispered, "have a good afternoon", and left. My heart sank. I got dressed and went looking for her, only to find her at the shared communal sink, scrubbing her fingernails with a brush. I guess it hadn't been such a magical experience for her, judging from how rigorously she scrubbed out my dead skin from under her nails.

On my way home, I finally did start crying after two men told me how much they appreciated my breasts, then wished me a happy mother's day.