[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
Mike booked us a couples massage the other night, at a fancy, over-priced spa in South Laguna Beach. Everything in Laguna costs more than it should; from parking spots to gelato to homes to food to foot rubs. We requested "deep pressure;" the kind of pressure that makes you audibly sigh and involuntarily twitch. I wanted my muscles to be wrung out like a damp cloth. "Deep tissue is an upcharge," the masseuse told me. "Alright, well just firm then," I said, unwilling to let Mike pay an additional $30 for whatever the difference between "deep" and "firm" is.
I lay naked on a warm table under a heavy white sheet as an older gentleman gently massaged my thighs. It felt like how I might massage herbs into a raw chicken. Is this it? I wondered. I'd had better massages at an airport kiosk. I'd felt more pressure when my cat walks across my back as I'm lying on my stomach. I could give myself a better massage with a hammer, I deducted. His hands were not relaxing me, nor were they massaging me. More than once, I had to stifle a giggle because I actually felt tickled. I opened my eyes to look over at Mike, who was serenely lying on his own table a few feet away from mine, face up, breathing heavily. I loved him so much and also hated how deeply he was breathing. I looked up. The ceiling tiles were the same cheap Styrofoam squares as the ones in my rural elementary school, 2,000 miles away. What is happening, I thought.
What is happening, is that I've become the kind of person who receives an expensive massage and then complains about it over white wine and sushi. What is happening is that I have a ten-minute non-negotiable bedtime routine, and a deep distaste for unpolished nails. What is happening is that I have become appallingly out of touch and very, very unlikeable, and I'm not sure how or when this happened.
Growing up, I mostly wore athletic clothes or teeny bop fast fashion bought with Kohls cash. Nobody really cared what anyone wore, because the most prestigious brand around was either Abercrombie or Hollister, and those became so cool as to actually become lame. In college, I continued wearing athletic clothing and whatever I could find at local thrift stores. My favorite outfit was a floral print legging and an oversized shirt. I bought groceries at Aldi and from an Indian grocer downtown, who always gave me steep discounts on fruit. I bough toilet paper at the dollar tree and makeup at CVS.
Now, I still wear mostly athletic clothes, but I have the means to buy expensive clothes, if I wanted. I just cannot justify a $200 pair of plastic Ugg sandals, or a $500 blazer or jeans that look like they've been run over by a pickup truck. Instead, I buy nice retinol creams for my under eyes and a wide variety of running shoes. I still don't know how to dress well, but I'm expected to know, and that, in itself, is exhausting. How can anyone be expected to keep up with constantly changing fashion trends that don't look good on most people, but especially not women with large, muscled thighs, broad shoulders, and man-sized calves.
The reason the bad massage irked me so much is precisely because it was so expensive. We have been conditioned to believe that higher-priced goods are better, that a steep price tag somehow denotes a degree of quality or credibility that may or may not exist. How many expensive restaurants serve mediocre food? How many pricey shoes deteriorate after too-few uses? How many designer bags look, honestly, just like their knock-offs? How many high-end bottles of wine are indistinguishable from a $20 supermarket bottle?
What is happening is that I live in Laguna Beach, California, one of the most beautiful slices of the pacific coast and also, one of the most expensive. The average home here costs roughly $3 Million. Seventeen-year-old's drive Tesla's and Lexus RX's and never use their turn signals. People hang rainbow flags and "I Voted" signs and Thank-You-To-Our-Healthcare-Heroes banners in their perfectly manicured lawns as they watch their ring cameras for any signs of neighborhood hooligans and/or homelessness. We pay too much to be perceived as important and sometimes, while we're flossing our teeth or picking up dog shit or rinsing the dinner dishes we realize we're just as disgusting and fallible as everyone else.
I thought about saying something to my masseuse, asking him to see if he might put his back into it. Instead, I felt bad about feeling bad, guilty that Mike's thoughtful gesture might fall flat. I squirmed as the masseuse fondled my feet, rubbing more oil than was totally necessary between each of my toes. Afterward, he asked, "How was it?," and I couldn't even look him in the eye. "Fine!" I said brightly, imagining him commuting home later that night with oil caked beneath his fingernails. If he thought he did well, who was I to shatter his glass ceiling?
I did not, however, feel bad telling Mike, "That was a terrible massage," I told him, almost accusingly. What is happening, is that I am now the sort of person who receives a kind gift and cannot even feign gratefulness. I never asked for the massage, after all, and I certainly did not ask to be tickled. Mike felt bad, and I felt bad, and we walked next door to a CVS, where I bought shampoo that smells like jasmine. Mike gave me a coupon for 25 percent off, and in that moment, I felt very, very loved and not in the least bit unsophisticated.