Week 30: Insurance Fraud Back Massages and Pho Sandwiches

As you get older, the hard black and whites of life succumb to a range of grays, perhaps as many as fifty shades. You begin to see the potential pitfalls of being overly self-righteous or confident, and become aware of the ambiguous potential for words like “ethics,” “freedom,” “truth,” and “insurance fraud.” The last of these is what I would like to discuss, a subject I grew to learn about while scouring the streets of Midtown for a proper sandwich. 

People in Midtown disperse flyers for all sorts of useless nonsense – discount Brazilian waxing coupons handed out next to advertisements for the dreaded, flavorless food factories. But once, just once, mind you, I came across a flyer and a message I could really get behind. I walked by the man a dozen times on a dozen different days before his words resonated in my brain.

“Free half-hour massage,” said the strange-looking man in the baby blue shirt.

“Free half-hour massage?” I said. “You gotta be shitting me.”

But shitting me he was not. I took the flyer, made an appointment, and ventured to the Midtown destination where the free massages were transpiring. After checking in at an extremely swanky looking reception desk, I was instructed to take the elevator up to the fifteenth floor. Once I located the suite, I was greeted by a busty receptionist who was quite aware of her bustiness.

“I’m…here for the free massage.”

“Right this way, Mr. Foley,” she said.

I was escorted to a room with a padded bed featuring a hole for your head to go. I disrobed, draped a towel around my nether regions, and got into massage-receiving position. There I waited, to the easy sounds of Yanni, until a woman with an indistinguishable accent entered and asked me what I was here for.

“The…free massage?”

She nodded, told me to relax, got into position, and proceeded to obliterate my back as if it was some ancient demon she was performing an exorcism on. The sheer pressure, the unrelenting savagery she enacted on my back was truly impressive; I didn’t know a single human could harbor such a large quantity of hate in their soul. I moaned, but not in the good way, as she shoved her knuckles deep within the tenderest points in my body, inflicting forms of pain I did not know existed.

After thirty minutes of non-stop bludgeoning, it was over. She sent me to the doctor who reviewed the masseuse’s notes and told me I clearly had back problems from sitting at a chair at work all day and required physical therapy massages until the symptoms subsided.

I held up my hand in protest. “Doctor,” I said, fearful of returning. “I don’t believe I can afford such things.”

“Don’t worry,” she replied. “You’ve got good insurance.”

At first, I was truly conflicted as to whether or not to come back. But somehow, her back-muscle annihilation techniques loosened up my back in ways I didn’t think possible. I felt limber. I felt agile. I felt good.

And that’s how I came to squeeze nine “medical massages” into a single month for free.

Is my back truly in need of healing or is it just some people trying to extort insurance money by providing frequent massages? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. I just get massages from them for free for some reason.

Sandwich 30: Sunny and Annie’s Gourmet Deli

 If you have never partaken of Vietnamese pho, wrapping your head around what I’m about to describe might be a struggle. This is not your fault, it’s mine. You are an intelligent, insightful human being. And I, well, I lack the ability to articulate what this week’s sandwich is, because eating it liquidated my brain.

Vietnamese pho (pronounced “/fʌ//fə//fər/, or /f/," according to Wikipedia) is essentially a brothy, meaty noodle soup with a few herbs. Usually comprised of bánh pho noodles and beef innards, it’s quite a gnarly and satisfying meal, but the broth is the killer, and consuming a truly good pho broth will warm you in all the right ways. 

Here’s where it stops making sense. Imagine you make a sandwich out of the ingredients above, but without noodles or broth, and then you put in other, different ingredients, and put it in a roll.

If you read that needlessly complicated sentence correctly, you’re probably thinking: “That’s not even close to the same thing.” Logically, I’m obliged to agree with you. But Sunny and Annie’s Gourmet Deli in the East Village defies logic and ventures into new realms of flavor.

Their signature sandwich is called the P.H.O. Real, a juicy chunk of roast beef, combined with a vegetable fusion of bean sprouts, avocado, tomato, and onion. Garnished with basil and cilantro and smeared with siracha and hoisin sauce, it is by no means an un-complicated or un-delicious sounding offering. But here’s the crazy thing: it tastes like pho.

Yes, a lot of the same sauces and seasonings go into it, but it’s something more than that. There’s a certain experience one has when consuming pho, something about the freshness and the savory and those fat rice noodles. This sandwich, by some divine miracle, mirrors that experience effortlessly. It tastes like a sweet and savory Christmas morning, and I’m a huge fan of Christmas morning. 

They have four pho-inspired sandwiches, some of which feature chicken in place of roast beef, and a slew of other traditional and genre-bending sandwich offerings. They’re all delectable, but none are quite as original and nostalgic as that groovy P.H.O. Real.