There was a certain period of time — one of shyness and uncertainty, my body strung like a banjo — when a massage therapist could touch me only with a court order.
Thankfully, those days are almost over, for the other day I found myself in Thousand Oaks getting a golf ball massage.
"Let me show you my holster," says therapist Heather Karr.
Which is something a woman has never said to me, even in the occasional fantasy sequence. Yet, there is something emotionally stirring to "Let me show you my holster" that I can't quite put my finger on. But Karr can. She puts her fingers on just about anything.
Most famously, Karr does golf ball massages, not a new therapy exactly, but new enough. It's been only two years since client John Schneider, the former Duke of Hazzard, told her that to ease his aching back, he would sometimes roll around on a golf ball.
"Ah-ha!" thought Karr, who went on to develop a special tool for rolling golf balls across the body, as well as a holster to house them, so she can seamlessly switch from rubbing you down by hand to rubbing you down with a Titleist.
Now, when I first heard about massages using golf balls, I thought:
— Better than a bowling ball;
— Better than a javelin;
— Not as good, maybe, as warm custard.
That's just the way my brain works. My body, that's another thing.
This bod, this Botticellian work of art, reacts to the touch of others as sort of a human whoopee cushion. Prod me in certain ways — any way — and I will emit the same joyous effects usually heard only on Saturday morning cartoons.
Sfffftttt. Umphhhhh. Bonga-bonga-bonga.
Next thing I know, Karr is strumming my calf muscles with this golf ball, bonga-bonga-bonga. Hyperbole is overrated, but I can't think of a better way to celebrate the Masters. If Tiger had one of these, he might still be hitched.
Anyway, the treatment feels much like a regular deep-tissue massage, only the golf ball helps Karr attack those places on the body where muscles have knotted.
When she hits me in one of these trigger points — FORE! — my body spasms a little and I black out momentarily. I begin to hallucinate. In my head, I blame Microsoft for planned obsolescence; I blame Proust for the decline of France.
A former graphic designer, Karr turned to massage therapy about four years ago. She soon discovered that the deep-tissue massages she liked to perform were tough on her thumbs, which she uses to pry those trigger points loose.
"I was using hot stones," she says, "but those are hard to control."
After Schneider's inspiration, she began using the golf balls. But they were rough on her hands, so she developed small clay molds to cradle the ball. She baked the prototypes in her home oven, and when she got just the right shape, developed the clear plastic devices she sells today ($14.99 at GolfBallMassage.com).
Therapists who do a lot of deep-tissue work have about a five-year career span, Karr says. "It's hard on the thumbs.... It's really hard on the body."
The cradle — or Kaddy, as she calls the device — disperses the pressure on the hand while allowing the ball to roll.
A lot of therapists have started doing golf ball massage because they can bring more men into the spa, she says.
Among the places offering it is the Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, where spa director Liza Esayian introduced the massage this week.
"It can be used before and after a game," Esayian says, and it goes hand in hand with the resort's yoga program for golfers.
Starting at $210, Pelican Hill's treatment is more than twice as much as Karr's sessions in her little Ahhhmmm Massage Therapy studio in Thousand Oaks.
An even better price point is nothing, which is what my 9-year-old charged to roll my tired shoulders with Karr's device.
So, yes, you can use them at home.
If you choose this approach, remember that third-graders are basically little monkey people, with no sense of finesse or moderation.
Still, I like the price. And doctors give me a 50-50 chance of a full recovery.