Sometimes, when a man is lonely, living at home, sleeping in the bunk bed of his youth, busy regressing, he makes bad choices.
I am the man referenced in the sentence above.
I was young, I was drinking, and I was driving home on a Sunday afternoon when I passed an Asian massage parlor.
When I opened the door, three older looking Chinese women greeted me.
The place was very dark.
"You have pointment?"
"Ok, fifty dollars."
I pulled out my credit card.
Her eyes narrowed in disgust and she let out a hiss.
"Cash only. No prastic."
With one long, emerald green fingernail, she stabbed at a little sign written by pen-wielding field mice.
I want to tell you that I can't read your sign, it's too tiny, but I am scared.
"I don't have any cash," I mumbled.
"Get cash, come back," her face split in a wide grin. "Ok?"
Wherefore art thou nerve, which so emboldened me to enter here?
Gone with the ladies, gone with the sign, gone with hush of the parlor in late afternoon.
But something, some strange compulsion compulsed me.
Yes. I will go get cash.
I will see this through, wherever it may lead.
I will have an Asian massage.
Now at this time, I had no cash card, nor even a bank account.
But I did have a drawer full of money, in my bedroom, the bedroom of my youth, in the upstairs of my parents' home.
This must happen, I told myself.
The twenty minute drive home was done in a state of mental shutoff.
When on a course that is ethically dubious, I find it beneficial to power down most higher brain function.
It shuts up all those little voices that try to urge us away from stupid choices quite nicely.
Simple plan: leave car running, jump out with a cool move, sprint inside with cursory hellos, grab wads of money, peel out down the driveway, and don't come back till body has been asian massaged.
Sure are a lot of cars here. Strange.
I opened the door to see all kinds of grandpas aunts and uncles.
"Hey how are you?"
"There he is!"
'Just in time for dinner!"
No no, no time...not for this.
I can't dinner, I can't there he is.
I wonder now if my intent was scrawled somewhere across my psychic visage; if I had the aura of a man on a dirty mission.
The little crowd of relatives parted.
The drawer with my money was decorated long ago with garbage pail kid stickers, their obscenely chubby faces covered in boogers or vividly drawn pimples.
Robot toys teetered on bookshelves alongside a hodgepodge of figures kept from my youth: M.U.S.C.L.E.S., Battle Beasts, Ultraman.
I would like to say they held some totemic power over my innocence, but not one of those little plastic bastards yelled out, "Hey! Massage parlors and drunk driving are two of the stupidest things in the world! Take your shoes off and play with us awhile....hum dramatic music and talk in bad english accents like you used to do when having us all kill each other!"
No, they just sat there, mute, while I stuffed my pockets full of cash.
"There he is again!"
"No sorry grandpa can't talk now..."
"There's food here-"
"Sorry gotta get back out there, back to what I do"
"Got a job yet?"
"No heh still looking though-"
When I was younger, the push of familial love felt like the claustrophobic pressure of nurses holding me down.
I would get queasy and so uncomfortable I could've peeled myself like a banana.
Maybe it's because when I was a baby some nurses had to restrain me while a doctor repeatedly lanced an infection in my neck; the soundtrack to the drama only my pathetic screaming and my mother in my ear, shooshing me and telling me it was all okay in a voice that had not convinced itself.
Could be unrelated though.
Regardless, I turned on them and announced, "Listen, I love all of you in my own awkward way, but right now I need to go because I am paying for a naked massage from a Chinese lady that I hope is not one of the three old ones who were manning the door. Goodnight."
I made that part up, but I did find myself back in my car, speeding towards destiny.
"I am," I intoned with solemnity.
She took my little mash of bills and barked behind her in Chinese.
"This Sandra, she take care of you".
Oh beauty, in what strange corners you hide, in what shadow you disguise yourself
Not for any eye to find, but only to him that pays
do you reveal yourself
Sandra entered the room.
She might have been fifty; squat, thick limbed, and wearing what looked like a bathing costume from the early 1900s.
Without a word, she gestured for me to follow her.
Sandra paused in front of a shower room scavenged from a YMCA.
She pulled a towel from a stack and tossed it to me.
Was I supposed to take off my clothes? Was she going to take off her....bathing apron?
Sandra turned on a jet of hot water and pointed at me.
"Clothes?" It was strangely a question, as if some of her clients did indeed prefer to shower in their clothing.
I mumbled something and undressed myself.
There was no embarrassment whatsoever.
Sandra was so matronly she could have been my wet nurse.
She halfheartedly squirted what looked like bubble bath solution on the floor.
At the very perimeter of my feet, tiny bubbles collected.
"Soap", she said.
With that, Sandra retreated to the darkness of the hallway.
Was she watching me from out there? I couldn't tell.
It was all a heady mixture of creepy sexuality and a visit to the doctor.
Let me take a moment here to tangent.
Sure, sure, I knew the reputation of the Asian massage; several of my less wholesome friends had boasted about the secret pleasures they had salvaged from visits to such places.
I was not so naive and so ignorant of my own impulses to fail to recognize an element of sexual desire present in my choice to be here.
Hence the shame, the hesitation.
But the greater need at work, the greater force, was my terrible loneliness.
I longed for the distinct warmth and pressure of human touch.
That is why I paid fifty dollars to shower myself in someone else's bathroom.
"You done?" Sandra was back.
She shut the water off and pantomimed drying herself with a towel.
"You" she urged.
I dried off and wrapped the towel around myself.
Sandra handed me a blue plastic crate.
"For clothes" she said.
I packed up my things, careful to keep my towel in place, and followed her down the hallway.
There probably were other men there, uh, showering themselves and stuff, but I did not see them.
If I had, I wondered: would we make eye contact? Maybe high-five? I hope not that; I am an awkward high-fiver anyways, and between the hand holding up the towel and the hand holding the crate, there would have to be some serious shuffling before I could give a good and non-naked five.
As we neared the room, my heart began to pound.
What was going to happen?
A massage, sure, but back rubs in high school were just lead ins to making out. What was a massage, anyways?
Was Sandra going to try and make out with me?
I looked hard for a part of me that would want that, but couldn't find any.
The open doorway beckoned; I crossed the threshhold into the room of Forbidden Destiny.
"Put down," Sandra said, pointing to my crate.
I laid face down on the bed, the towel still around me.
The pillow case smelled like someone had tried to Febreze an ashtray. They forgot to turn the nozzle fully onto 'Spray', so just a little bit of Strawmelon Puffmist had dribbled out.
With an unceremonious heave, Sandra was astride me.
The weight of her body on the back of my legs threatened to hyperextend my knees.
My skin ached for that first moment of contact, and it was not disappointed.
Living Brazil nuts began to play my back like a piano with stubborn keys.
There was an amazing urgency to her technique.
This was no massage, but a race between her fingers and any knots she found.
They ran and hid from her, and she poked and smacked away until she chased them out of their little nests.
I would not say it felt good, or that it was even particularly effective, but I will say that my aches and pains were certainly not in the same places they had been when we had started out.
Though Sandra could have used a lesson in variety; after awhile it went from being distracting to just plain odd.
Given awkward silence, you can pretty much bet I am going to try and fill it, skillfully or not.
"So...where are you from Sandra?"
"Same as you."
I thought hard.
"Uh...what kind of food do you like?"
I recognized the song on the radio and began to softly sing along.
"You sing?" Sandra asked, her voice a little breathless from exertion.
"Yeah, all the time. What about you?"
She kept on working.
I wanted it all to feel good, to be what I had been looking for, but it wasn't.
Sandra had begun on my feet right as a knock sounded on the door.
"OK, time up."
She leapt off of me and stood in the middle of the room, smiling.
"You like it?"
My smile sat very stiff and insincere upon my face.
"Yes, it felt so good."
I quickly dressed myself, wondering how exactly to feel about the whole thing.
Confused, of course; but what after? Guilt? Shame? Sleepy?
Only when I was almost out the front door of the parlor did anything even remotely sexual take place:
Sandra cocked her formidable arm back and gave my bottom a hearty smack.
"You be back?" She said, in a robotic echo of a tone normally considered "hopeful".
"Yes!" I said.
But I never did go back.
I lied to you that day, Sandra, and years later, when I read in the paper how the police had raided your massage parlor, how they had rounded up the employees and deported them, I hung my head and let one tear drip slowly down my cheek.
It splatted on the open newspaper, turning the solid black lines of a Marmaduke comic into a dull grey.