My phone buzzed in the middle of the night, but I did not wake up. At 29, I’ve entered a limbo stage for late night texts and calls. A few years ago, I’d of easily woken and not been annoyed at the barrage of texts and calls coming with friends who were still partying, looking to party, or looking to hang. In a few years from now, my parental instincts will kick in, and a phone buzzing in the middle of the night will result in me popping up with an intense and frightening gasp, ready to take on an intruder, a sick child, or a death-in-the-family call. While I sleep, I am untouchable.
When I checked it in the morning, my phone had 37 missed texts from a group chat that begun at 10:37 PM and went early into the morning. A handful of friends and peers from High School, most of whom I hadn’t spoken with since avoiding my 10-year reunion, were passing new information back and forth about the recent death of a beloved science teacher, Mr. Fry. Two days ago, at 8:40 pm, Mr. Fry suffered a heart attack while driving on I-80 and crashed into a guardrail, harming no one. He was 59.
“Suffered a heart attack.” Generally, when discussing death, sudden or expected, it is often described in a calm manner so as not to frighten the living. “Peacefully passed in their sleep” seems to be the most relaxed way to describe the act of dying. There is something about the dreaded heart attack that has a flair for the dramatics when being discussed. Sometimes, you’ll hear “suffered a stroke,” but, I think due in part to the awkward alliteration, that specific malady is more often described more as an “experience.” Using the word “suffer” to describe a heart attack is also a very American train of thought, as we generally equate that word with intense and prolonged pain. This is in slight opposition to the way the British apply the word, which is more aptly used as a synonym for “tolerate.” With a deeper introspection, perhaps the word “suffer” describes more about both cultures than either care to admit, but for now, I propose a moment that bridges both uses of the word: suffering a stubbed toe. It is something that comes with intense pain and anguish and seems to go on forever, but in the end, it is something that must merely be tolerated.
In discussing Mr. Fry, no one in the group chat could specify where the information leak started, whether it was a paramedic, police officer, hospital worker, onlooker, etc, but the rumors flew wildly. Apparently, Mr. Fry was found wearing a diaper, and in the backseat, among student papers and coffee stained mugs, was a box of diapers, baby oil, talcum powder, and a home enema kit.
At first, an idea floated that Mr. Fry had a love child and was driving to deliver supplies to his baby-momma. The mystery, however, was in the diaper he was wearing. The group questioned everything, wondering if he had “pulled a Lisa Nowak” and wore the diaper to keep from stopping while on a long road trip. But no, the final and agreed upon theory was that Mr. Fry had a fetish and was driving to a meet up with a few others who shared his needs and desires. This line of reasoning was confirmed when Police contacted the most recent missed calls in Mr. Fry’s phone and spoke to his like-minded fetish friends. Mrs. Fry is shocked and embarrassed by all this, and the other teachers are apparently rather confused by the whole thing, as Mr. Fry “never seemed the type.”
Of course, herein lies the obvious question: What is the type? That’s the whole thing with fetishes, isn’t it? There is never a classic “type;” it’s whatever works. Whatever gets you hard, whatever gets you off. Whatever relieves you from the tensions of your life. Some fetishes have rules, some are more open, some have big followings, others extremely niche.
My interest in exploring fetishes began as a philosophical thought: How do I know if I’m into something if I don’t even know what it is? Thus began my journey.
Two years ago, I pulled a shoulder muscle and decided to explore the notion of massage as a means of therapeutic recovery. In the past, getting a professional massage was an impossible task for me. Part of this stems from my struggle over choosing to say “get a massage” or “receive a massage.” To me, “get” implies force of choice, opinion, and payment, while “receive” denotes the offering and acceptance of a gift, with payment occurring on a case-by-case basis. “Getting something” means I have chosen a product or service and am in control of the variables, while “receiving something” implies the giver of the product or service to be the one in control.
My entire life can be summed up as a battle between “getting” and “receiving.” My personality type deems it nearly impossible for me to tell someone how I want something, especially if they are a professional. I trust doctors, believe contractors, and order whatever the waiter says is their favorite item on the menu. I’ve never found a rule I can apply to my contradiction of “get” and “receive” based upon my own societal definitions. I get a check-up at the doctor, I don’t receive one. However, the doctor is the one in control and is giving me the procedure, although it is not a gift, as I (or my insurance) am paying.
I don’t know where this behavior began, but I’ve done it for as long as I can remember. When I receive a haircut, the stylists always begin by asking how I like it done. As a patron receiving service in a field in which I lack professional opinion, I always respond to their questioning with, “whatever you think.” By choosing to concede all creative control to the giver of the haircut, I also forfeit my right to complain or ask for corrections when it’s over.
I understand the absurdity of this. I am crippled by anxiety when facing an omelette bar. Or any serving-station type ordeal, whether it be a buffet line at a wedding or the local Chipotle.
Chipotle Worker: Black Beans or Pinto?
Me (shrugging my shoulders): Uh…whatever you think.
Chipotle Worker: Up to you.
Me (blank stare and fearful eyes): Um……..
I live in an imaginary world where, for some reason, the Chipotle Worker will know what is best for the dish they are preparing, care about it, and also take into account my personal tastes to create the perfect meal. This is unreasonable, but also the terrible nature of my brain. Maybe it’s the years of living in a world of over saturated marketing, where I’ve been duped into believe that every customer service employee has my best interests in mind. At Chipotle, the workers are not “Burrito Artists,” but simply vessels for the food to reach my dish.
This fear of telling someone how to do their job when I am receiving something from them is the only part of my life where I am like this. A girlfriend broke up with me because my fear of commitment to personal choices and overall indecisiveness. She told me I was pathetic and I didn’t argue with her. I’ve seen six therapists. One of them didn’t get further than this interaction:
Therapist: What would you like to get out of seeing me?
Me: Whatever it is you’d like me to get out of seeing you.
Therapist: Well, I’m here for you –
Me: And I’m here for you to be here for me….
My main complication with the world is a deep rooted fear of having people do things for me, especially if it seems like an inconvenience. I am uncomfortable getting things, because I feel I am placing a burden on the person at the other end of the transaction. However unrealistic, in order to function at homeostasis, my life needs to consist of receiving things, not getting them.
So, do I get a massage, or do I receive one? I am aware of this mundane and highly aggravating need for clarification, but I continue to be bound by it. With a massage, I need the masseuse to know what I want and what areas to focus on, because I’m assuming that they know more about massages, the human body, and what areas to focus on than I do. This is not unrealistic for me to think.
When I finally worked up the courage to seek a therapeutic massage for my shoulder injury, I went to the massage parlor I’d walked by every day on my way to the train, four blocks from my apartment. One therapist recommended, when trying new things, that I start close to home and branch out from there. To think of each block around my apartment as a security blanket that can grow and grow with my hopefully building courage. The ease in which I can foresee my life as a hermit is frightening.
In the massage room, I undressed to my underwear and slid under the towel on the table. As this was my first professional massage, my heart raced with unknowns: did I undress to the right level? Should I have folded my clothes instead of rolling them into a ball on the floor? Will she find them in the way? Did I get under the right sheet, or am I supposed to be between the towel and sheet? Do I call out when I’m ready? Is this waiting time part of the one hour I’m paying for?
Just as I decided to give up, get up, redress and exit, my masseuse entered, rearranged the towel, and began working on my back. A few minutes in, her hands traveled toward my lower back, creeping over the top of my underwear.
“Off?” she requested in the confusing phonetic style, upspeak. I obliged. I barely raised my hips into the air and in one quick swoop, she yanked my underwear clean from my body.
My mind raced, trying to remember any conversation I’ve ever had about anyone getting a massage. I’ve heard of women who receive massages in the nude, but that seems more like a female-to-female comfort thing, in the same vein as exposing themselves while undergoing a waxing procedure. My brain worked in overdrive, deciding if something abnormal was in the works and what my role in all of it was. Finally, I gave up trying to think and submitted to my general rule of getting vs. receiving. My masseuse knew what she was doing, and I didn’t have to make any choices. Since that day, I have learned that being nude during a massage is considered a normal thing.
What deviated from the “normal thing,” however, was that with the undressing of the underwear, the towel was never placed back on my body. I laid there on my stomach, fully nude, at the mercy of my masseuse.
As the massage continued, my mind diligently worked to ignore my vulnerable position. But rules are rules, and I trusted my masseuse that everything was continuing in a normal, professional way. When she told me to turn over, I hesitated for a moment, gaining a hyper-aware notion that I was about to be fully exposed to a stranger in a way that had never happened in my life before this point. I turned over slowly, begging myself to stay calm and keep an erection in the “nonexistent” category.
With nothing inappropriate to note, the world’s most awkward massage continued. But, I was truly receiving a massage. With no previous massages to reference, I inferred nothing was awry. And then she worked her way to my crotch. Her oily hands slid around my personal appliance and she asked, “You want?” It was definitely a question, not upspeak. Asking me if I wanted this extra service tipped the scales from “receive” to “get” and my brain short circuited.
“No…it’s ok…” I whimpered out.
The masseuse released me from her gentle grasp. “Ok thank you, we’re finished,” she said. By the time I opened my eyes, she was gone.
I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone behind the counter when I paid my cash total.
That’s one of the tricks I’ve learned about seeking out a massage parlor/spa: cash or credit. If credit card is available, chances are that a “happy ending” is not.
After that first massage, I told myself I’d never go to another one again. The obligation I felt at the end, choosing whether or not to undergo a carnal desire and creating a burden for my masseuse was more than I could handle. But somehow, the next day, I found myself at another cash-only massage establishment a little farther away from my apartment.
This time, I removed all clothing by myself and climbed under the correct towel without assistance. My Speedo-region remained covered for the entire duration. At the end, my masseuse placed her hands under the towel and said, “Quick quick, ten dollars.”
I opened my eyes and squirmed a little, “No, that’s ok, thank you.”
There aren’t too many ins and outs of learning whether an establishment offers extra, undocumented services. Do they take credit? Do they have a board with prices up? Do they have a website? If the answer for all three questions is “No,” then the option is yours and an offer of extra service is likely.
Of course, many places don’t provide anything additional and that never upsets me. I’ve heard of establishments where getting a hand is the bare minimum for extra work and that for a sliding price scale, the client’s wish is their desire. I could never bring myself to that.
Online, I dove into the fetish world of massage parlors. I paid a subscription to a site that rated agencies (parlors) based on their employees and the “extra care” they took on their clients. User reviews were abundant, but not always helpful. I explored the “Rub Map,” looking for a place that fit my needs. I learned all the slang terms and acronyms to expedite my research. Now, if I wanted an AO, BBBJ with two Cups of Coffee and maybe even a little Spanish, I’d know where to go. Alas, I did not.
I spent over a year and a half searching for the answer to a question I couldn’t ask. For that time, whenever an offer of anything extra came my way, I’d politely decline services.
Four months ago, I found my answer. As it typically applies to life, the answer was far simpler and less complicated than I ever could have imagined.
At the end of the massage, my masseuse did not ask or offer. Lying on my back, nude under a towel covering my crotch, my eyes shot open to feel hands rubbing my private area. I sat up a little, and as a reflex, began to apologize and decline the action.
My masseuse looked at me and smiled. “It’s ok, relax, it’s ok” she said, her hands never pausing for a moment.
And for once, I did.
It may have taken me a while to find what I needed, but in the process, I explored all the boroughs but Staten Island. I am able to function again in the real world knowing that I have an escape whenever I need, her schedule permitting. She’s helped me truly understand the difference between “get” and “receive.”
Plus, my shoulder has never felt better.