On 83rd Street off Second Avenue in Manhattan, my wife Lala and I stopped to stare at a movie of two pinkish feet being massaged by hands stronger than I'd seen in any Baby Einstein video.
We'd been hoofing it all day from the apartment where we were staying: north 60 blocks to Harlem, then two hours on a walking tour and back again, taking our time on the return trip to meander around Central Park, avoiding angry joggers and Rollerbladers with sense deprivation disorder caused by DJ-style headphones and wraparound shades. The basement storefront where the video was playing advertised, among other things I didn't recognize, a treatment called reflexology. Even though it was 9 pm, a Chinese woman in a lab coat flitted inside.
"Come in, come in," she said, waving a Beijing newspaper at us. I told her we wanted what was happening in the feet porn show, so she directed us to two overstuffed La-Z-Boys. A New York State business license hung crookedly on the wall, but I thought it listed manicures not dragging two large cauldrons across the floor, which is what the woman was now doing.
Each copper pot was lined with small rocks and had been filled with steamy water. She produced two crack baggies from her pockets and emptied a rusty powder into our Elizabethan footbaths.
“Think this is OK?” Lala asked.
“She is a doctor,” I said. “Or at least she plays one in this basement.”
I wondered if Doctor McMystery was going to work on us both at the same time, but my curiosity was quelled when out of the back waddled a young guy as thick and red as a wood frog. I said nothing to Lala, but the prison tattoos dotting his cheeks and forearms made me feel like our little anniversary getaway had gone the way of Attica circa 1971.
The doctor and the frog both dipped their fingers into the same white bowl of cream, but that’s where their matching techniques ended. The frog beat my toes, shins and calves in ways that made me grit my teeth and lick enamel dust from the roof of my mouth. Lala’s foot rubber was heading in a more Dr. Phil direction, diagnosing everything (but curing nothing) that had ever been remotely wrong with her.
“Feel soreness between your shoulders sometime?” she said more than asked.
“I do.” Lala shot me a look that said, “This lady knows her shitakes.”
“Tired all time, right?”
Lala nodded faithfully. “I really am.”
I thought that was a pretty safe bet. Who isn’t tired? I couldn’t speak, though, because my pain master was doing a serious rope-a-dope on my toes. Lala’s doctor of doom listed various types of maladies—each one a bit more menacing—all from just touching Lala’s reflex zones. I could feel things heating up for both of us. Lala was hanging on the doctor’s every word while I was convulsing as the frog’s thumb separated my tibialis anterior muscle from the shinbone.
Doctor Doom peered deep inside Lala’s caldron. “I have more but scared to tell you.”
“Oh my God,” I yelped.
Lala turned to face me. “You think it’s that bad?”
I directed her gaze to the ex-con punching my arch like it had called him a bed-wetting candy ass.
“Just tell me,” Lala said and, before I passed out, I heard something about her thyroid and chi. Maybe it was hemorrhoid and cheese, I can’t really be sure.
For all that torture and diagnostics, the bill was pretty cheap. My feet felt as if they had two Ziploc bags full of lipo fat enveloping them while Lala seemed quite ponderous in the streetlight’s glow.
“If we lived here, I’d go every week,” she said, sighing. I put my arm around her and we hobbled down the street like an old couple looking for a bench.
Rob Wilder’s latest book is Tales from the Teacher’s Lounge. His column, “Daddy Needs a Drink,” appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Reporter.