By Brandon Marshall
Being alone has a power that very few people can handle. Protagonist McHenry seems to be lost and uncertain in most of the obstacles he encounters in his life since the departure of his daughter and the passing of his wife, Marnie. At the beginning of the story, McHenry’s life has been explained in a nutshell giving the reader a good sense of a bit of his past but mainly his presence. “All his life, McHenry had lived with someone watching him: a mother, a father, a wife,a daughter, his customers…they didn’t make a show of watching him but they did” (Canty 32). As time goes on, he realizes that he was never alone because people were always watching him, most of them making a show out of it. As his thoughts continue to process he wants to experience something different this time and that’s having the mentally of not being controlled anymore.
When McHenry encounters Tracy who was the girl that massaged him, he seems to be very uneasy about the fact that he has to be naked in front of her and he hasn’t been naked in front of anyone for a long time. As a matter of fact, the only times he has been naked in front of people was either in front of his widow Marnie and his doctor. Even trying to relax himself he stated that, “… the body doesn’t lie…” (Canty 35) after being touched by the massage parlor which symbolises his inner thoughts coming to his head trying to control him a bit. He’s not used to being treated like this especially from a random girl and ever since his wife passed away. This is basically his first experience exploring the world. As this process goes on, his description of everything starts to be more precise. “It was like getting a haircut, the way he knew where her body was around him, the accidental brush of her breasts on his skin as she bent over him … her breast were everywhere but he wasn’t even thinking about that now or maybe thinking about that now or maybe thinking about that from a different direction, because it was just very nice” (Canty 35). He starts to realize that he’s free now and all that trouble that was in his body is now released but at the same time these thoughts are just bouncing around in his head and he doesn’t know how to feel about but to just see it from different perspectives. This also proves a bit of his sexual side coming into action which is evidence of a huge change when he first entered the massage parlor being all worried and unsure about being naked in front of Tracy to not even caring anymore because he feels amazing. This scene also shows how his affection of being with her is continuously growing. There’s another symbolic moment of his sexual side popping out when his massage treatment was over and he had to pay Tracy. “He unfolded his pants, found his wallet, gave her a twenty and then another. He would have stood there handing her twenties all night if she had wanted him to” (Canty 36). It seems like he treated Tracy’s massage treatment as if it were a strip club show saying that he’d continuously keep giving her twenties. From the beginning of when he entered this massage parlor, he was concentrated on the price range and why it was so expensive. As he went through the process of his treatment, it seems as though he was sexually attracted to Tracy and as if she was doing a performance on him just like at a strip club. When the performance was over, he felt like giving her more and more twenties and that connects to when people just start throwing money at strip clubs.The only difference is that there’s direct touching which is not allowed at strip clubs and there’s no pole or anything like that.
Towards the ending is when he completely reveals that he can do whatever he wants and that he doesn’t care about what other people think about what he does and what choices he makes because, “ … he wasn’t trying to please anybody but himself” (Canty 43). There’s a fact that when people hold back from anything sexual, they crave for it more and aggression starts to kick in either mentally or physically. So is that the reason why he’s not really caring what other people think about him and he’s just doing whatever he wants to do? It seems like it because after his visit to the Christian Singles group and bird watching experience, McHenry realized that there are widowers who just move on and do their own thing. Just like Adele Baker said in the story, “we’re all Christian and we’re all single, but we’re not always both at the same time” (Canty 40). They don’t really care what people think but as long as they move on do their own thing, it’s totally fine with them. There’s a high possibility that his aggression is mental towards other people that he feels are using him. He goes back to Bangkok Sunshine feeling like he’s been there a whole bunch of times and already knows the procedures. This time it’s a different person massaging him and as soon as that treatment’s done, he gives an extra twenty, goes outside and stands in the sunlight as he realizes the small things about life and from then on, “his life was about to change” (Canty 43).
McHenry’s transformation went from people controlling him and watching over him as if it were a show to finally escaping that bubble and realizing that he needs to move on and experience other things. Even though he was uneasy about it he goes to a massage place where the girl that’s giving him his treatment seems to be attractive to him but he still feels a bit uncomfortable from the fact that he’s naked, he goes back to the massage parlor and this he’s more comfortable and Tracy touches him higher and closer to his genitals and he really starts to fall in love with her. He then goes to a Christian Singles group where he sees a lot of widowers and old friends that he hasn’t seen in a while doing their thing and finding out that they are dating a whole bunch of other people. That’s when he realized that the type of people that are portrayed to respecting human values do things that they second think about also. What follows after that is birdwatching and just by looking at the atmosphere around him, he admits that it was worth it. “All this beautiful life, this excess, generosity” (Canty 42). To end it off, he goes back to the massage parlor and he doesn’t get Tracy but still respects the girl giving the treatment and pays her twenties also, goes outside, feels the heat from the sun on his skin and realizes that, “… another gift in the worlds of gifts” (Canty 43) as he starts to try new things.
This story shows how someone’s life can change so easily just by trying new things, looking at the bigger picture and by not making people control you in the way to make a show out of it.