The Rubbing

October is gray. It began that way and it feels like it will continue that way and end that way, although by the end of it I’ll be lying on a beach naked in Hawaii, one hand reaching for my sweating glass of rum-drink, the other undoubtedly doing things best left to your imagination, as filthy as it is.
The weekend began early. Work has become… challenging of late. I don’t believe in visiting work-related things here because they inevitably come back to haunt one no matter how one tries to obfuscate the details, so suffice it to say that I was ordered to take two days off rather than implode into a seething mass of blubbery tears and rending of entirely too expensive clothing.

I left work early Friday and was treated to a massage. The second massage in a week, in fact. I don’t have sex and I need someone I don’t know to rub the naked fleshy parts of me even if I am paying them to do so.
The first massage was something called a Hot Stone Massage (not to be confused with a Hot Rock Massage which is performed by the surviving members of Poison). It was recommended by a friend and it’s exactly what it sounds like. They use rocks, or more specifically, “river-smoothed basalt lava stones.” These are heated in a water bath to 250º and then some are placed on your body, at pressure points or chakra things or where it looks like they won’t roll off, and some are used by the masseuse in his or her hands to rub your muscles.
The sensation is unusual, to say the least. First you feel the pressure, and then as the stone moves it leaves a trail of heat behind it. The ones resting on your body are supposed to be soothing, but one or two were what I would call ‘scalding’ and, in fact, left red marks on my skin that took a day to disappear. I probably should have said somthing like “Ow,” or “Yikes,” or “Good Christ on a Segway, that rock is blistering my tender region!” but I was afraid that to complain about the pain would be doing something wrong.
The good thing about a Hot Stone Massage is that it lasts 90 minutes. The bad thing is that someone is shoving flesh-burning rocks all over your body.
Friday’s massage was a more traditional deep tissue affair. A deep tissue massage is one where they stab their fingers into your skin and grab the muscle and pull. At least, that’s what it feels like. You can tell them how hard you want them to rub and/or pull you. My masseuse, a rather petite woman, said that she like to let the muscles tell her how hard to go. My muscles apparently said, “Let ‘er rip, Motherfucker!”
After each massage, I did feel better. But I have a weird reaction to massages—like I have a weird reaction to almost anything that means I have to be undressed in front of strangers. I always feel like I’m supposed to be doing something. But I’m never sure what.
You’re supposed to just lie there and let them go for it. You can, I have been told, grunt and moan and drool and snore and become erect if that’s what your body tells you it wants to do. It’s all good. I try, for the sake of those in the room with me, not to fart. Farting, I think, is not something you want to do while someone else is standing over you and reaching across your naked flesh with the capability to doing pretty much anything they want to because you’re about as relaxed and unassuming as a plate of pudding. But I also try not to spring a boner.
See, me and my body? We haven’t been friends for very long. It’s not something I’m proud of. Some parts are way too small for my taste, while others could use a good deal of trimming with some hedge clippers. I would love to be one of those people who can strut around naked and not give a damn. The ones with, what’s it called? Positive body image? I’m not really sure that exists, but I have no other explanation for these people.
Well, there’s always the odd exhibitionist, but I’m not talking about the guys wandering the nude beach jerking off. I’m talking about, like, my friend Adam. Adam, for as long as I’ve known him, whether his body was tending toward portly and soft or, as it is now with his sudden delight in attending Triathlons and Iron Man competitions, muscular and lean, has no body issues. Ask him to be naked, the man will be naked. He’ll gladly sit there in your living room naked if you like, or attend dinner, or pretty much anything else. I admired his ability to divorce himself from the overwhelming and continual voice that echoes in my head any time I drop trou that “You are naked! You are naked! You are naked!”
I was one of those guys in High School gym class who did not shower. I was the guy in the Hot Tub wearing his bathing suit, and it was big, and it was baggy. I was the child at the beach going swimming in a T-shirt. I’m not entirely sure who taught me that I should be ashamed of my naked form, I think I pretty much decided it on my own the first time I looked in a mirror and got the look on my face that I imagined others would get on their face when encountering what I was looking at, all fleshy and pink and decidedly not attractive.
So what kept me from getting a massage until last December was the idea that I’d have to get undressed and there was a distinct possibility that someone would see me. And then there was the other thing—what if I am so enjoying the relaxing and physically therapeutic benefits of a massage that I temporarily lose control and allow blood to rush into my penis? What happens when I, lying prone and sans clothing, pop a stiffy and the horrified massage person stands back, white-faced and horror-stricken (and/or laughing uproariously) unable to continue and I must, shamefacedly, climb down off that padded table and wrap the towel around my hard-on and bob and waver and shimmy my way back to the locker room to hide it?
If my body and I are not friends, my penis and I are positively strangers. I have no idea what it’s going to do from one moment to the next, and it betrays me at the most inopportune moments. I know I should be over this by now and look on my ability to spring the occasional accidental erection with charm and grace and, dare I say it, pride. But I still find that I would rather ignore the fact that I’m packing entirely than have to deal with it.
And also, as long as we’re down there, let’s just say that as far as tools go, my screwdriver would be the one you use for detailed work. I’m not the one you can also use as a hammer. I’m the one that fits the tiny little screws holding the bottom of your keyboard to the top. Oh, I can hold my own when it’s called for, I can certainly do the job, but I didn’t earn the nickname ‘Shy Turtle’ for nothing.
So I have all this stacked up in one corner, and in the other I had the notion of maybe feeling good for an hour while simultaneously feeling tense and worried and scared and embarrassed about any number of naked, pulsing, throbbing, teeny, tiny things.
However, it was time to throw caution to the wind at last and see what all the fuss was about. By last December, I had slimmed down considerably from my top weight and was feeling rather good about that (a feeling I can easily defeat just by stepping into the locker room at my gym, by the way, thank you very much Crystal Meth!) and the process of the massage was described to me in step-by-step instructions (“No, you’re not exposed, but you are naked. No, they don’t touch you anywhere you prefer not to be touched. No, you are not expected to ‘do’ anything other than lie there. Yes, it will feel good and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. What the hell is wrong with you anyway? Therapy, much?”) so I decided that if I was going to do it, I was going to go all the way.
I was at a Ritz-Carlton spa in Colorado. On the menu, among all the other types of massages, was the creme of the crop, the piece de resistance, the nonpariel of massages—The Four Hand.
Yes, friends, I would take the plunge and not have just one person touching me, I would have two! I mean if you’re going to face your fears, why go halfway?
It was grand and glorious and, though I do not fancy myself an addictive type, from that point on I was hooked. Two days later I gave myself my second massage. I had spent a day struggling on a snowy mountain trying to figure out how to snowplow and turn left and wipe out on skis with grace and aplomb, and all that athletic hell had wiped out any feeling of stress relief that those four hands had applied. So I had an “athlete’s massage” which, I guess, isn’t Swedish and isn’t Deep Tissue, but somewhere in-between.
I now have a “regular guy” I go to here in the city. None of that namby-pamby sheet covering nonsense, either, he makes me lie there on his table exposed, naked and glorious. It’s all Lance, all the time… or at least for $75 an hour. Michael knows where to rub me, baby. His hands are miracles. He does this one thing where, I swear, he’s shoving his arm into my upper back and sort of vibrating like a man on speed, driving his lean and muscular forearm deep, deep into where it hurts so good. He knows my ticklish spots, he knows where the stress lives, he knows that if you want to get a rise out of me (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) than all you have to do is massage my toes. My toes! All this time I was worried about nipples and inner thighs and arm pits and it’s my toes.
Why don’t they tell us these things in High School? It certainly would have been more useful than all that crap about the vagina.

October 2, 2003

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