I was ready to relax. My parents were in town, and Aliyah and I were about to experience luxury.
I stepped out of the shower (Hot water! So much pressure!) in the men's locker room at the upscale Sheraton in Saket, and towel-changed back into my underwear. A small Indian man dressed all in white had been waiting for me, and now beckoned me into the massage room adjoining the locker room.
He shut the door of the small room behind us. I started to climb onto the massage table.
"Wait," the little man said. He pointed to my boxer briefs. "You take those off, too."
A veteran of many a massage, I wasn't unnerved by this request. What was strange, though, was that the masseuse didn't leave the room. He just stood there. Facing me.
I'm still not exactly sure why I didn't say something, though I recall thinking that I did not want to be seen as squeamish in the face of a foreign custom. After a couple seconds of internal struggle, I thought, "Well, what the hell?" and took off my last article of clothing. I made sure not to make eye contact with the masseuse.
"Start face up," he said, patting the table.
I (nervously) climbed onto the table and lay there, naked and face up. I waited for him to cover me with a towel. Too many seconds passed. I shut my eyes. Then I felt two hands starting to oil up one of my legs.
I don't have any Costanza-esque hangups about male masseuses. I like to think of myself as open minded. But what followed can only be described as two to three minutes of muted panic. I gnashed my teeth. I squirmed. I frantically wondered whether I could beat up the little masseuse, if things took an even more uncomfortable turn. I opened one eye, and squintingly appraised him. Clenching my fists with absurd bravado, I decided that I could take him, if he made the wrong move.
Thankfully, the masseuse's hands came nowhere near restricted airspace, and my panic soon subsided. I spent the next couple minutes quietly laughing about what a strange custom these Indians had, and how this would all sound in the retelling. Then I resolved to enjoy myself as best I could, considering the unsettling circumstances.
About twenty minutes passed. I was just starting to relax. Then the masseuse announced he was going to get a hot towel. Before he left the room, he covered me from chest to toe in a long, sheet-like towel.
Apparently, it was only when I was alone in the room that the masseuse thought my private parts might want, well, privacy.
The masseuse returned, and replaced the first towel with the hot one he had just retrieved. Then he told me to flip over onto my stomach. I did. He resumed the massage. He did not remove the towel.
Yes, that's right. For the remainder of the massage, I remained covered. It was only when I was laying face up on the massage table like a tray of cold cuts that the masseuse did not cover me with a towel.
When retelling this story over dinner with Indian friends that night, it became immediately clear that such bare-all massages are most certainly not common here. I had been duped! Many a joking suggestion was offered as to the masseuse's motivation. Of all people, my mother had the best line.
"He'd probably never seen someone with red hair before," she said, "and wanted to find out if you were really a redhead."