It began with sore feet and ended with quaking breasts. Let me explain.
I was chaperoning my daughter Bridget on a school theater trip in London—a trip I wanted her to take so I could see five West End shows and do some shopping.
But there was a price to pay. I'd walked miles through subway undergrounds and climbed thousands of steps in these pursuits and my feet were killing me. With a few hours on my own, I wondered if there were any massage parlors in London? Specifically in Chinatown, where I happened to be.
I Google-mapped. Ten massage parlors all within a four-block radius. Hmm, a bit odd there are so many, but okay. Let's take care of these throbbing feet.
Finishing off my 300th hot cross bun, washed down with Guinness, I entered a nondescript parlor beneath a sign with the word "MASSAGE" illuminated in neon red.
I noticed rows of Chinese herbs in boxes behind the front desk where a slightly spacey, matronly redhead in a white doctor's smock presided. The place reminded me of the no-frills acupuncture school I sometimes visited at home in Venice, California.
So I asked the receptionist, who I'll call Red, if it was possible to get a 45-minute massage right then. Red said yes, then picked up her cell phone and called someone.
A few moments later, the front door burst open to reveal a small Asian woman in a black duffle coat and black knee-high boots bearing the brisk, efficient manner of a drill sergeant.
She marched in, shooting Red a curt nod, then, without looking me in the eye, barked, "Come with me for massage, darlink."
A bit startled and confused I glanced at Red. "Yes, yes," she nodded and smiled. "Follow Shimura below."
For a fleeting moment, the words "HAPPY ENDING MASSAGE" flashed into my head, but I shook them off. I'm a 52-year-old woman. I thought. No one's going to offer me a happy ending. Also, isn't it racist to think that an Asian masseuse is a sex worker? You're not an extra in "Full Metal Jacket," Shannon.
I descended the narrow staircase, thinking it would be a perfect place for Sid Vicious to shoot up and followed Shimura into a room the size of Harry Potter's cupboard under the stairs. I was relieved to see a standard-issue massage table with the appropriate trimmings of paper and cloth sheets. Why was I so paranoid?
I asked Shimura if I should remove all of my clothes.
"It up to you, darlink," she said and stepped out of the room.
Another good sign: She didn't care if I left my clothes on or took them off because this was not a happy ending den of iniquity!
I shucked off my garments and slid safely between the bedding, face down. Shimura re-entered, put on the requisite shimmery, yoga-friendly music and I relaxed.
She began massaging my neck, shoulders and spine. Her technique left something to be desired, but I'd had worse.
"Would you like leg and buttock, darlink?" she asked.
"Yes," I said, expecting her to delicately fold the sheet in half and tuck it under one leg for modesty's sake.
This was the sound of Shimura whipping the sheet off me like a magician revealing he's sawed his assistant in half—except, in my case, revealing my entirely naked and now clenched ass.
Was this normal? Did everyone here get naked for their butt massage? Maybe this was like that Korean spa I went to where thickset women with arms like tree trunks flay your naked body with sea salt before they hose you down like fish on a wharf? I'm sure this is just like that and is totally not a happy ending …
That's when Shimura began tickling me. WTF?
Her fingers were like a thousand tiny butterflies moving from my shoulders, down my back, over my now-blushing butt, down to my toes and back again. And was I imagining it or did one of her fingers actually flutter right into the crack of my ass? They were moving so quickly I couldn't entirely be sure. But I was pretty sure.
I wanted to get my sheet back and cover up, but didn't want to offend Shimura by my sudden realization that she was a prostitute who'd given god knows how many happy endings to any number of "darlinks" that very day, bouncing back and forth between all ten of the massage parlors in this apparent red light district.
Before I could ruminate further, it was time to flip over onto my back. I was able to casually retrieve my sheet and tried not to clutch it to my chest like a virgin on her wedding night to an evil Maharaja.
She began to massage my feet, starting with toes, then the arch, moving up to the ankles, the calves, the …
This was the sound of Shimura lifting my sheet up, exposing me from the waist down as she began to work on my thighs. I clenched my lady garden against intrusion and kept trying to cover myself but she'd have none of it.
Let it be over. Please let it be over. Please. Please. Please!
Shimura was finally done with my lower body. "Darlink," she said. "Some ladies like me massage their breasts. Shall I massage your breasts, darlink?"
Umm, some of the ladies like her to massage their breasts? Perhaps breasts do need to be massaged from time to time. Maybe there are muscles in breasts that get sore?
All I know is that my breasts declined Shimura's offer. Even so, I overtipped her and slunk out the door like the rest of the johns.