I was disappointed to find that the gym in High Point had no aerobics room and no mats whatsoever. I was disappointed until I remembered having passed a massage center on my way. I figured, “A massage center has got to have a yoga space. Maybe I can even catch a class.” So I retraced my path and found the spot. It was called “Ruby’s Massage.”
The front door did not open, so I knocked. A woman, presumably Ruby, opened the door, with the chain still on, and peeked out at me, “Yes, can I help you?”
“Um, do you have a yoga space I can use?”
She must have thought me a loon, or maybe she thought, “Hmm, the yoga treatment. Well, I’d need the trampoline, an initiation paddle, three strap restraints, and a few sticky mats.” Either way, all she said was, “No, but we do offer massage.”
I’ve always considered massage to be like passive yoga—you get all of the same benefits, but without any of the hard work. I figure that’s why you pay for it.
“How much?” I asked.
“Thirty for a half-hour, sixty for an hour.”
“Fair prices,” I thought.
“And it’s topless,” she added.
“No problem,” I said, “at Kripalu I’m totally naked when I get a massage.”
She nodded but seemed perplexed.
She unlocked the door to let me in, and slowly I caught on: “Hmm, red velvet wallpaper … and matching red velvet lampshades. Hmm, no massage table, only a bed—red velvet.”
At Kripalu the massage therapist leaves the room while you undress to your own level of comfort and slide under the generous, thick massage table sheet. This bed had no top sheet, only a very bare, red-velvet, fitted sheet.
Ruby told me to undress and did not leave the room. In fact, she was busy running my credit card as I undressed right there in front of her. She ignored me as though I were browsing for shoes, except when the credit card slip was ready and I think she actually handed it to me to sign while my pants were still on one leg. She was either used to all this and oblivious to my discomfort, or she actually enjoyed the power. She told me to lie facedown on the bed. I did as I was told. She was a bit dominant, really, but thankfully that is not where this story is headed.
Ruby got on top of me and started massaging my shoulders while gyrating on my butt. I was pretty uncomfortable, and the massage was really not very good. “Turn over,” she instructed. I knew a turn-over would bring this to a new level of vulnerability, and I was nervous. I repeated my road trip mantra, “fearless, honest, relaxed,” and turned over.
The technical massage term for covering a client is draping. Ruby “draped” me in a washcloth. She sat right on the cloth and continued the massage. Then, with a flick of Ruby’s shoulder straps, the topless promise kicked in.
Maybe I should have relaxed and enjoyed it, but I felt bad that she was doing this for a living, I was not attracted to her, and I’d always been a bit of a bacteriaphobe—so I kept imagining the black light from CSI or Basic Instinct illuminating the many hidden stains on the red velvet. Ruby woke me from my disturbed musings with the obvious question (since really, why else would anyone be there?), “Would you like any special services?”
There I was, stark naked, nauseated, and lying on this prostitute’s red-velvet bed in the middle of the day, when eighteen minutes earlier I had been looking for a yoga space. At this point “fearless, honest, relaxed” threatened to be my undoing, like saying “yes” for Jim Carrey’s character in Yes Man. Terrified of her response, I gulped, steadied myself, and squeaked out, “What kind of special services?”
Ruby’s answer still makes me cringe; speaking in an emotionally detached way about sex makes me very uncomfortable, like hearing nails on a chalkboard. So when she let me know, “Hand release $30, oral release $60,” I could have vomited on the spot.
I don’t know why, probably too many episodes of Law and Order, but I said, “How do you know I’m not a cop?”
“You’re no cop,” was all she said. She was right. The thin, bearded, hippie on her red velvet bed didn’t look much like a police officer. I’d have to be full-tilt Donnie Brasco—deep undercover, after months of character development, and I guess she knew that her small operation would not merit such a masterful sting.
I did not enjoy my time at Ruby’s. In fact, afterward I headed straight back to the gym and scrubbed like Meryl Streep in Silkwood after the plutonium accident.
I can tell you that this experience certainly did not cheapen my respect for sex or my esteem for monogamous relationships. On the contrary, it cemented the realization that, for me, sex without emotion, or at least without mutual attraction, would be empty and depressing and depleting.
When I later got home from the trip and told my friend Yolanthe of my escapades at Ruby’s, she shared that one of the best orgasms of her life had been at the skilled hands of such a masseuse. Her story was a bit more romantic perhaps—on the ocean in Mexico in the 1970s. And she was certainly a bit more free-spirited than me. Yolanthe assumed the orgasm was part of the package at the spa. That’s just how Yolanthe rolled, to assume an orgasm came with the deal. It made me wonder if my Victorian discomfort had infected what could have been a more enjoyable and less regrettably guilty and disturbing affair.
I felt pretty sullied, and it took me a day or two to fully recover. Perhaps, though, I was a man now, at least in my ability to recognize a whorehouse when I saw one, or maybe in my new, fuller appreciation of loving relationship.
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Image credit: Paris on Ponce & Le Maison Rouge/Flickr