A Master Prepares.
On a recent morning off from the circus I decided to treat myself to a massage at the spa on the sixth floor of the Calgary 5 hotel in Alberta, Canada.
Unlike the rest of the hotel (which is this perfect time capsule of 1973 plus the wear and tear of twenty something years of disgruntled Hewlett-Packard execs and Cow Town conventioneers tromping through it) the spa is done up all bamboo-ey with canned temple bells jingling from hidden speakers and various aromatherapy scents battling for nasal domination.
A lovely (Calgarian) geisha hands me a clipboard with a brief health questionnaire and serves me some green tea in an earthenware cup.
I fill out the form.
One question asks about recent injuries so I make a note about the sore right hamstring that has been giving me trouble all week.
I'm given a soft robe and escorted to the suitably jingling massage room where I disrobe and lie down on the table.
Moments later into the room walks my therapist.
He's a man in his fifty's no taller than five feet with a swarthy complexion.
His face is speckled with tiny moles.
A tiny Asian version of Morgan Freeman.
"My name is Arnold and I will be performing your reflexologies."
He said it quickly as if to stave off any disappointment I might have been feeling about the fact that an old man, and not one of the pretty Asian girls in the reception area, was doing my massage.
I confess I was a little disappointed at first but something about his use of the word performing when he said "performing your reflexologies" pricked my now Enya clotted ears.
He looked briefly at the clipboard the girl from reception handed him and took my right arm by the wrist, shook it loosely, asking "So your right hamstring is hurting you?" and began to poke a finger into my bicep.
I said "Well it's on my leg. It's the hamstring on my leg."
He let out a kind if dismissive snort and then proceeded to give me the best arm massage of my life.
The massage seemed to have an order, an ancient protocol, a sequence of perfectly timed manipulations of muscle and sinew.
Yet it was alive too.
I had the sense that he was improvising, responding to the silent messages he was receiving from my arm itself.
When he was done with the arm, having scoured the tension from every tendon, every digit, every bone he gently placed it back to my side on the table and tucked it in like a sleeping baby.
As he moved to the other side of the table to work on the other arm I murmured
"You are a master."
Without a beat he replied:
There was a confidence in the timing and the tone of that Yep that I envied.
A that is a fact and what's more I'm comfortable with that fact quality.
It was a yep that had been earned.
And was now wholly owned by this bumpy little wizened man.
Later during the massage I asked him where he was from.
"I am from the Philippines. My name is Arnold."
"Well my name is Ronald."
"Arnold and Ronald." he laughed. "We are brothers in name."
And he proceeded to squeeze, prod, coax, cajole and pound every ounce of tension I'd managed to build up in the fifty performances I'd done since my last massage.
When the hour was up he said "Rest now" and- I think intentionally- clinked my tea cup as he exited.
I lay there for a few minutes and did nothing.
There was a knock.
Arnold came back in, a big smile of about fifty gleaming teeth cracking his dark face open like some kind of joyous train headlight bursting through the tunnel of his face.
"You are also entertainment I see!"
He indicated the form on the clipboard.
I had forgotten that under occupation I had written Clown.
"I am also entertainment." he said. "I am a film director. In Philippines. I direct Hollywood movie star."
And here he mentioned the name of someone I had never heard of.
"You see, go to internet. You see. We are brothers. Arnold and Ronald. We are entertainment!"
I paid my bill, shook his hand and went to go be "entertainment".
That afternoon I participated in our latest Cirque du Monde session of workshops where we invite thirty or so "at risk" youths into the big top and give them a taste of acrobatics, trapeze, music and even, with me, clowning.
Afterwards, I led a round robin discussion of their experience that day.
One of the kids, a gangly "first nation" kid with a neck tattoo and a greasy mohawk pointed at me and said "I liked the acting and shit. These dudes are masters, eh?"
All I could think was:
And I went to my loge to start putting on my “mask” for that night’s show.