Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Discovery of Massage

I wake up in my bed at Chamchan Mansion late the next morning. I’m still wearing everything I was last night, except one earring and one ring. My head is pounding like Satan banging his horns against the gates of hell, and what makes it all worse is that I am no stranger to any of this. I sigh deeply, turn my head back and forth against my pillow, wet with sweat. After downing the glass of water on my night stand – did I put that there? – I eventually manage to get up and grab more from the fridge. Then I return to bed and close my eyes against the brightness outside, now trying to wrangle it’s way in under my curtains.

I spend the entirety of my second Saturday in Bangkok like this, with the curtains shut, getting out of bed only to puke up the nothing I’ve eaten. I wrack my brains but can remember nothing about the night before except a vague, only-possible recollection of being impossibly sleepy, and laying my head down on sexy Edmond’s shoulder.

Unfortunately, this suspicion is confirmed when I finally knock on Edmond and Carolyn’s door in the late afternoon in search of Advil. The attractive couple, I learned last night, are my next door neighbors.

Carolyn is tall and thin and blonde, with a tweak in her nose like Paris Hilton. When she opens the door she wears nothing but a bathing suit, towel, and a kind, sympathetic smile. She brings Paracetemol at my request, and gently answers my questions regarding the blank spaces in my memory.

“Well,” Carolyn says, in an English accent even more refined than her boyfriend’s, “I think you might have puked on Edmond a little.”

“What!!?? No!”

I have no recollection of throwing up at all, and have never, to my knowledge tossed my cookies on anyone in my life. In fact, I rarely throw up when drinking; instead I tend to black out and continue to drink. I had assumed that’s what happened last night, and am now even more embarrassed than I was a few minutes ago. “Where did this happen?” I ask. “Outside? Or in the bathroom or something?”

“Nooo,” Carolyn says. “Just there at the table. I think you fell asleep on his shoulder. I was about to get jealous,” she laughs good-naturedly, a true English bird, “but then I saw you puke on him, so I thought, ah, not to worry!”

She tells me that the two of them brought me home in a cab, carried me up to the fifth floor, got my keys out of my purse, and put me to bed. Now I realize that it was Edmond and Carolyn who put the glass of water on my nightstand. I am touched upon hearing, second-hand, as it were, of their kind gesture, but other than that I feel neither particularly worried nor at all pleased. I am vividly embarrassed, but grateful. I am used to this by now; it’s one of those things I ran away from New York to escape. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. I’m too sick right now to think about it. Mostly I just feel a tad on the worthless side, and I hope that everyone else who was there is as worthless as me, so that they won’t remember anything either.

I thank Carolyn and return to my darkened room where I swallow the painkillers and try to sleep some more. By 6 pm I still do not want to eat, but I crave the sight and sound of human beings. Brian is still asleep in New York, so I leave my building and go for a walk down Ekamai, the high street parallel to Tong Lor, hoping that the fresh air will revive me and my appetite. It is getting dark now but the night is stifling and smells rank, that same rotting fish boiled in shit smell, which is perhaps not far from what it is. Piles of trash spill out into the streets, and wild dogs wander all around, barking at one another and smiling.

I pass the brightly lit window of a massage parlor. Inside, two small Thai people lay prone in cushioned chairs, their feet propped up on stools in front of them. I stand staring in at them long enough for one of the proprietresses to open the door and beckon me in, a few moments, only. Thai salespeople seem so warm, welcoming and considerate. Though they require only the slightest encouragement to approach, I don’t find their attention coarse or annoying. Ever gentle and cool hearted, even at the markets they don’t pressure you to buy anything, and don’t seem offended if you decide, after trying on several pairs of cheap sandals, that you’re not interested after all. I don’t feel harassed by the woman who steps outside to greet me; if she didn’t smile so sweetly and make me feel so special and welcome, I would have continued on, too shy to enter an environment so foreign. If she hadn’t come out to get me, I would have missed an hour-long foot massage for 180 baht, $6.

The corners of the small massage parlor are lit softly with candles and stone lamps carved into the shapes of leaves. A calendar with pictures of the King, his tiny nose sharp and pointy under oversized rectangular glasses, hangs on the wall next to a poorly rendered painting of roses. The smell of eucalyptus rushes like a silk ribbon down my sore throat, filling my lungs with freshness. My host graciously escorts me to the seat nearest the window, and indicates with an open hand that I should sit down. I have been lying down all day but this time I know that when I get up I will feel better. I am pleased to see that the most beautiful girl here is my masseuse.

She brings a tub of cool water and setting my feet into it, scrubs them with a brush and then takes them out and dries them. Then she lays my legs out on an ottoman in front of me and, after covering my right calf in oil and wrapping it in a towel, begins to massage my left calf. I have heard that Thai massage can be more painful than pleasant, so I am not surprised when at first it feels like she’s rubbing bruises into my legs, or rubbing lightly over bruises that are already there - maybe I got some last night, I wouldn’t know. But the girl sees me flinch and asks if it hurts. “Hurt mai?” she says. When I nod she laughs softly and says okay, she will be more gentle. The laughter of the two other women tinkles like music in the small room. My masseuse’s fingers clench and unclench, kneading into my sore muscles.

In an hour, when it is over, my headache has finally gone, and I am hungry. I eat green curry and tiramisu at an indoor, air conditioned restaurant near my apartment called the Cheesecake House. I feel no less worthless than I did before, but I do feel a little more like a human being, which is perhaps by nature worth nothing at all.

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