The naked man standing in the hallway across from my Las Vegas hotel room covers his crotch with both hands and grins at me. Though I need to leave the room, my momentum halts. I slam the door quickly, sealing myself inside. My friend, Casey, a tall, bodacious blonde, stops short, looking confused. I’m not sure how I articulate the naked man’s situation, but Casey seizes the moment, pushing me out of the way and pressing her phone to the door’s peephole. She snaps multiple photos of his toned derriere as he furtively knocks on his locked room door.
I blush, breathing hard, my back pressed against the wall like I’m evading a zombie in pursuit. Casey gives me the play-by-play peephole recap: the couple who encounters the man there in the hall, naked as the day he entered this world; their playful responses, goading him into reluctant laughter; the man’s gratitude when Casey tosses him a hand towel from our bathroom; the best wishes we offer him when we finally stop giggling, compose ourselves, and leave the room.
The elevator light dings at the end of the hall, smoke lingering in the stagnant air. Casey turns to me, blue eyes sparkling, and says, “This is going to be the best day ever!”
Casey’s friendship comes with many perks, among them: travel, random naked men, and opportunities to try new foods. Casey travels frequently for work. Usually my children and my teaching/tutoring schedule prevent me from accompanying her, though I would like to, but sometimes serendipity grants me its favor. Casey’s most recent trip to Las Vegas occurs during my school’s spring break. Would I like to join her for a few days of sunshine and fine dining in Vegas? Yes. Yes I would.
Casey convinces me to get a foot massage with her, despite my reservations. She is far more massage-friendly than I am, and she promises me that this experience will be “amaze-balls.” (After the morning’s nude review, I’m not so sure.) I reluctantly accompany her to the Foot Spa in Vegas’ Chinatown. I stress all morning in anticipation of the massage.
Golden curtains divide the spa into several intimate spaces. A radio quietly plays classical music. Water trickles from a waterfall in the corner. I can’t see anything but tile flooring with my face pressed into the plush brown spa chair. My massage therapist clearly struggles with her previous life as an angry ninja. She karate chops my back with exaggerated gusto. I begin to question the term “foot massage,” and how precisely it correlates to the face, scalp, arms, back, and butt. My contemplations arrive belatedly in our hour-long session. I beg the woman who “massages” me to be gentle. I whimper. At times, I clench every muscle possible in order to evade the pain. I decide, resolutely, that I definitely do not like people to mess with my spine.
When the time comes to settle the bill, I realize why she’s been so rough on me. She doesn’t understand a word I say. I tip her $8 – about 25% – for the mercy of escaping alive. My kidneys ache; patchy purple bruises begin to blossom under my skin.
Outside, Casey’s oversized grin confirms that she, too, has succumbed to ninja torture. Sunlight assaults our dimmed Zen eyes. Casey peers at me and asks, “We’re still friends, right?” I assure her we are. But a teensy tiny part of me receives satisfaction in the mental image of the tiny ninja – all knees and elbows in full attack mode, perched on Casey’s back.
Casey is a gateway drug. We first met at work five years ago. Casey introduced me to important life skills, like smart, intentional networking; opening myself to new experiences; and being 100% genuine and true to myself at all times. I learned these by observing her. Then, she upped the rush by absconding me to different restaurants and kidnapping me for purposeful writing (and eating) retreats. She seamlessly inserted herself into my family’s life, showering my kids with superhuman affection. I just can’t see myself quitting her.
It’s not my place to judge ninjas. Foodies are kind of like tiny ninjas: ever on the prowl; stealthily stalking the next delicious meal; unsheathing our swords in the rarest and most tragic cases of food injustice. Our attacks are little… but impassioned. I spend the last day of our trip in bed, felled by a persistent, nagging sinus infection. The inside of my head feels like it’s going to implode. Casey has made plans to eat at Gordon Biersch, and all day I’ve felt pain in my face as well as my heart, lamenting that I won’t join her.
I watch her as she perches, cross-legged, on the floor in front of a huge mirror, braiding her long hair and applying makeup to her porcelain face. “What time is your dinner thing?” I croak.
“We’re meeting at six,” she says, lips relaxed, smoothing on her signature red lipstick. “Dinner starts at seven.”
I sit up in bed, the jackhammer in my brain momentarily ceasing, and look up the menu online: gorgonzola-pear salad, lobster bisque, blue crab and artichoke dip… Ingredients that I cannot purchase within fifty miles of my home. Casey eyes my computer screen in the mirror’s reflection. “It’s only half a mile away,” she says, her voice lilting. “Worst case scenario, if you start feeling really bad, one of us could bring you back to the hotel. Or you could even take a cab… It’d be really close….”
Somewhere deep inside, a tiny ninja rallies to life, shrieking out her battle call. I join Casey for dinner.
When the server sets out a large plate of crostini aside a bowl of creamy white, bubbling crab and artichoke dip, I dance a gleeful rumba in my seat. I haven’t eaten since breakfast. One glass of cabernet has gone straight to my head. I am ravenous. This dish – not so much an appetizer, as it appears on the menu, as an entrée – is the highlight of my day. I have Casey to thank for luring my sorry butt out of bed.
Back at the hotel, Casey climbs into her bed, pulls the covers up to her ears, and says, “I’m sorry you feel so bad, Jules.”
“I’m sorry I am such a wet blanket,” I say, honking into a tissue. “I’m so lame.”
Casey snorts and asks me if I need anything. I think of the thousand ways she has impacted my life and my attitude towards life since we met. My gratitude to her knows no bounds.
Even ninjas need friends.
© 2013 Julia Moris-Hartley