Friday, August 21, 2009

There's the rub

The one where playing wiffleball almost forced my hand in my abnegation of back massages.

Last night I found myself at work an hour late, still panting and sweating after showering and dressing. Even though my lungs and hamstrings were burning, I felt better than I had in months - all because my brother asked me to play in a wiffleball game.

First, it should be known that I'm not in the best of shape. I ride an exercise bike, but more to avoid being lethargic than for any serious workout. At the same time, wiffleball was a way of life at our house for years. We woke up in the summer with our sneakers open on the floor and the phone by our bed with our friend's number's programmed on the speed dial. My brother and I had no-hitter duals that would make Nolan Ryan jealous. He'd throw a riseball that mowed the lawn before coming back into the strike zone. I dropped a curveball that would give a left handed Pinocchio a nose job before it cut back into the strike zone.

We were intense.

Following the game, all I could think about was how fulfilling it was to be active in athletic competition rather than just writing about it. There's something about baseball -- even the plastic, holey ball variation that uses a bat no thicker or heavier than an Olsen twin's wrist -- that always leaves out-of-shape men feeling that they're only a diet and year's workout away from making Class AA baseball. I went to bed with a smile on my face after dumping photographic evidence of our game on to facebook.

I'm pretty sure that smile carried through into the evening, right up until my phone began chirping with the "Whistling Wizard" alarm clock ring tone; normally the worst part of my day. The only reason I haven't changed the tone is because songs performed on anything other than a dog whistle instantly move on to the list of things I hate, if they wake me up in the morning.
I'd put eight more slugs in 50 cent to make him stop with In Da Club before 10 a.m.

Alarm noises aren't the only thing. Cereal. Apple juice. Coffee. Showers. Sunrises. My sister's cat, which pounces on me, hoping that will encourage me to feed it. Before 10 a.m., these all rank up with Wild, Wild West as things I never want to experience again. By programming the songs you hate as a ringtone, the only thing lost is a little bit of sanity.

Today was different, though. As I reached to turn off my alarm clock, I only prayed that the wind-singing wizard could conjure me a spell to soothe the crick in my back, or at at least walk/hover (whatever wizards do) to the kitchen to get an aspirin tablet and half a glass of water.

Laying there in my bed wishing I'd never enjoyed sports, (I'm sure I'd have made an average chess player, never facing any injury worse than carpal tunnel) I thought to myself how nice it might feel to get somebody's fingers all up in the painful areas. Then, as I always do, I pushed the idea out of my mind.

It's not that I don't appreciate a good back massage. There's few things better than being delicately prodded by unbiased, familiar phalanges. The problem with massages is, unless you've got a significant other that is willing to administer them when necessary, you're really just teasing yourself.

First of all, no one, save maybe a specialist, gives an ideal massage the first time they get into a back. It takes knowing where the sensitive areas are, where to knead, to prod, to rub, to gently scratch. You can't just get in there all nimby-pimby.

Even if you would happen to find a friend or relative that has just the right touch, there's no way they're going to be able to take care of it every time you recklessly decide to: play a sport you're too old for, dig up a tree stump, lift something that everyone said you wouldn't be able to carry, try a new sex move like they do in the erotica movies during a one night stand. Your mom is not coming near that one.

Back rubs are like heroin. You're not going to be able to get one fix, walk out the door and call it a day. You need mental therapy just to get over the physical therapy that, in just in one session, you learned to love.

There's also the chance that the person you ask to stimulate your spinal column has no friggin clue what they are doing. This is so much worse than the one-time tease. I've never even been close to marriage, but to all the lovers out there, test out your sig-other before you tie any knots because when it comes to massage time, they'll be the one lacing up your back.

People to watch out for:
First there's the steroid user - You can tell who this is long before they get to your back. When they shake your hand, they want to crush it. When they work on your back, they push until you're squeamish. They'll tell you that's the true trick to a massage, and you believe it until you wake up with your spleen stuck under your shoulder blade.

Mr./Mrs Delicacy - Working the back too softly is also no bueno. Lightly rubbing over the top of someone's shirt only teases the muscles, eventually forcing them to tense up. A good masseuse shouldn't be worried about getting a little dead skin under their fingernails. They're also gonna need a somewhat developed bicep, tricep and forearm. There are certain knots in the back that require more than a rub. Failing to do so just leaves a person chiropractically frustrated.

The honer - This is the very worst type. They are the ones that never learned that there can be too much of a good thing.

The honer begins rubbing the back confidently, but inside their head, they're panicking. They have no idea what you want or what they are doing, so they're looking for signs that they are succeeding. The second you make a noise that suggests you like what you feel, or make a motion that appears to be one of relaxation, they believe repetition is the key to victory.

Pretty soon the fingernails that once felt like probing ridges are now knives from a slasher movie. Your skin is starting to turn red, but the honer thinks it's just the blood beginning to do its work.

They continue on.

You don't want to seem impolite, asking them to stop or telling them they're doing it wrong so you let it go. Meanwhile inside your head, all you want to do is travel back in time, find their six-month-pregnant mother and push her down a flight of stairs. It's a horrible way to think about someone trying to do a favor for a friend or lover.

So unless you have someone that you trust that will always be there for you, be a tough guy and skip the massage.

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