I have a lot of trouble sleeping. I have just about every sleep disorder a person can have, things you’ve never heard of, esoteric sleeping disorders.  When I can’t sleep or I wake up and can’t go back to sleep, Victor wins. I’m too tired to write or to paint, so I give him massages. He can get a massage when he’s fast asleep, wake up enough to enjoy it and then go right back to sleep. He’s an unusually gifted sleeper.

Recently we were in a hotel in Sweden where there was this sign in the bathroom:

 

 

My daughters both love “products.”  I got my love of “products” from them.  I wanted to try all of them. The “Schampo” and the “Balsam” were both in the shower. I didn’t know if the “Balsam” were a conditioner or a body wash, so I regretfully didn’t use that one when I took my shower.  I didn’t want to body wash my hair after “schampoing” it, in case it wasn’t a conditioner.  The only balsam I know about is that really unusual wood that is so soft you can carve it with your fingernail.  I couldn’t figure out if that would be good for conditioning my hair or washing my body, so I used a bar of soap I saved in the plastic hair cover from the last hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

Also on the counter were these two lotions:

 

 

 

 

Naturally, I couldn’t sleep and Victor was snoring away, so I grabbed one of the lotions and tore off his blanket and gave him an exceptional massage.  Victor does love a massage, regardless of whether he is asleep or awake.  I gave him a good, hard working over.

But I was still awake.

So I snatched the other lotion and gave him a second massage with that lotion. I thought it would be interesting to compare them.  It’s not like I had something else to do in the middle of the night.  My eyes wander out towards my ears when I’m tired, so I can’t even focus to read. The massage started out perfectly, but after a while the lotion dried out, which was weird. I had never had this happen before.  His skin felt like paper. Victor mumbled that he thought perhaps the aloe vera was not a lotion but was instead a liquid soap. I went into the bathroom and ran water over my hands and, by golly, it sure got sudsy.

So I returned to Victor and I told him he had to get up and take a shower, because he couldn’t leave the liquid soap rubbed into his skin all night. Surely he would get a rash or at the very least it would dry out his skin and make him super itchy. He was snoring again.  I shook him awake and repeated myself. He declined. He had no intention of jumping in the shower in the middle of the night.  He wanted to sleep. He didn’t care one whit about the state of his skin in the morning, or ever, if truth be told.

But I felt bad about using soap on him for his second massage of the night, and I still wasn’t tired, so I gave him a third massage with the original lotion. I gave him a super-long, super-greasy massage to try to counteract the crusty film of dry soap. By this time, I had tired myself out enough to go to sleep myself, which sometimes happens.

In the shower the following morning, Victor was completely obscured in suds, without having to use any product whatsoever. It was as though I were watching a body wash commercial where they used lots of computer animation. And in the end, his skin was soft and smooth as a baby’s bottom.

In our four decades together, we have been continually calculating and honing all sorts of strategies which make our living together function as best it can. When we first retired, we were together all the time. That might sound like fun, but it did not turn out to be.  After we came to our senses, we decided to do our volunteering in different places and on different days, so that we have some time apart. This keeps us from being together 24/7, which we quickly discovered was a recipe for getting on each other’s nerves. We’re in our sixties now, and we simply don’t know how much longer we will have together. We want to make the time we have good time.

Don’t get me wrong, we still get into arguments; we’re far from perfect, but you learn certain tricks over the years. I can’t say I know what tricks Victor uses to keep me from making him crazy. I’m sure that he must have tons of them, though. I know I can’t be easy to be around all the time. My kids have told me that enough times. These maneuvers must be covert or they simply wouldn’t work. I’m quite sure he has no idea how often I have to count to ten and to ten again until I can answer a question that might well have resulted in a snide answer, without the requisite pause to get knee-jerk anger out of the equation; or how often I keep my eyes closed tightly when he is driving, so I don’t make that squealy noise that escapes when I think we’re about to be smashed in a massive car accident. That squealy noise really ticks him off. You know, that is the sort of thing is that I mean here. We had to learn the art of making concessions to each other. The art of compromise, done clandestinely, so as not to call attention to itself, done smoothly, no keeping score. (That part’s important.)

There was a time when my sleeping difficulties used to cause friction between us. He used to wake up if I left the bed and then he’d be grumpy all day from lack of sleep. When I figured out that he didn’t care if I woke him for a massage, it totally fixed that problem. It gives me something to do when I’m bleary and tired and it makes him happy. I really feel a sense of accomplishment when I can make Victor happy, since Victor is calibrated a bit off to the cranky side, truth be told.  Frequently it leads to a nice bit of hanky-panky which is always rewarding.  He goes right back to sleep, and there is the added bonus that sometimes it wears me out enough to go to sleep myself.

When we got married, we honestly didn’t understand what being together entailed. We each came with pre-conceived notions that turned out to be hopelessly fanciful. It took us a good long time to learn that for our marriage to survive and to thrive, we had to work at it. We had to figure things out. Sometimes it was hard, but we fell in love for a reason and over time, consciously working at it, we grew together and fell in love over and over again for a million other reasons. For Victor and me, the world is our oyster now, for as long as we have together.

(Excuse me a minute, Victor is hollering at me from across the house, so I need to count to ten a few times before I go to see what he wants this time….)

While viewing a Ted McCagg cartoon, Jeffrey Pillow remembers an incident when he was 17 involving a bottle of massage oil, a 58-year-old masseuse, and his penis.

“We have a surprise I really think you’ll like,” my mom and sister said.

It was the eve of my high school graduation and I was about to party like it was 1999.

Because it was 1999.

“There’s only one catch. You have to be there at a certain time this coming Saturday.”

Finally, my mom had caved. She was going to sign for me to get that tattoo I had been talking about for so long. I had even drawn out the design: a skull with an old man’s hat with a safety pin sticking out the brim and a pair of dice rolled off to the side. The skull would be smoking a cigarette.

Finally.

Only that wasn’t it.  I would learn as much twenty-four hours after receiving my diploma.

“A professional massage,” my mom said. “I figured with all the stress leading up to final exams, you could use one.”

Fuck, I thought. I’m never getting that tattoo.


****

I got there early, arriving at 9:45 AM. My appointment was at 10:00.

“I hope this bitch is hot,” I said to myself, walking up the brick steps. I popped a stick of Teaberry gum in my mouth so that my breath would be fresh.

“Just go in the room right there and slip off your shorts,” the lady said. I assumed she was the receptionist.

She was approximately 58-years-old with a soft face and gray/white hair, cut short like women cut it once they hit 46 and give up on looking like women. She wore light green polyester slacks. She had a fupa. I would later learn this terminology from my well-mannered wife.

“Fupa?” I asked.

“Yeah, Fat Upper Pussy Area,” my wife said.

It was the first time I had heard my wife say the p-word.

“Say it again,” I said.

“Fupa.”

“No, the p-word.”

“No.”

From Urban Dictionary [dot] com:

Fat Upper Pussy Area (aka. Gunt) -You’ve all seen them, most commonly associated with obese burnt out High School Teachers (Good God man, I’ve seen FUPAS swallow an entire desk whole!) and the Wolf Pack (You know who you are).

Causes: Fupatitis P.

Only known cure: Fupandectomy

Used in a sentence:

Biiiaatch, get your god damn FUPA off my desk!!

Mrs. Addis, I mean Da’aaaam! (nuff said)

Look at dem fupers over der eh. (Canadian Fupa sighting)

Bertha’s pouch above her vagina is bigger than the rest of her body. She’s bigger than the Fupapottomaus, she is a FupaSaurus Rex.

I entered the room to change and first took off my shirt and socks. I swished around the Teaberry juice in my mouth to get the flavors all across my palette. I didn’t want to have bad breath. You know, just in case. I’d read many a Penthouse Forum letter about massage clinics. I knew what sometimes went on in these establishments –- and I was 17. A man can dream when he’s 17, even if he can’t dream at any other time in his life. The possibility existed that this adventure might end in ecstasy, and if that possibility existed, by George I would be ready.

As I was taking off my shorts, the 58-year-old woman with a fupa opened the door.

“What’s taking you so long?” she asked peeking over at me. She had two small white towels in her hand.

Jesus, give me a second, I thought. I’ve only been in here two seconds.

“Well, let me know when you’re ready. I’ll be waiting in the lobby when you’re done.”

She’d be waiting? Shouldn’t she be at the front desk answering the phone?


****

I was lying face down on my stomach when she entered, my face peering through a hole cut out in the bed. I saw her clean white shoes as she entered and those green polyester pants. A towel was over my bottom. The 58-year-old woman was not the receptionist. She was my masseuse for the morning. She squirted some massage oil in her hands and began by rubbing my shoulders and neck then worked her way down my spine. Such soft, delicate hands, I thought, yet so strong.

Oh God, this feels so good. Why have I never had a professional massage before? Knead the bread, I thought as she took the muscles of my back into her hands. Just knead the bread.

Who cares if she’s not a stunning 18-year-old brunette?

“Any areas of special interest you’d like me to work on?” she asked.

“All over,” I said. “But if you could do my calf muscles and legs for a little bit that would be great. I play basketball religiously.”

She squirted some more massage oil in her hands and worked on my calves first then my feet. Then she made her way up my hammies. They were so tender. Man, I really underestimated how good this could feel.

Holy shit, she’s getting close to my thighs.

Oh my God, I’m getting a semi.

Breathe deep.

Fat women. Fat women.

Fat women in purple leotards. Fat women in purple leotards.

Fat women in purple leotards riding unicycles.

Oh my God, she just graced my perineum.

I’m sure it was an accident. Definitely an accident.

She went down my hamstrings again and to my calves.

Then she came back up.

Oh my God, it wasn’t an accident.

She just touched my perineum again. And my balls.

Oh my God, she touched my balls. Oh my God, my penis is getting swollen. Oh my God, she’s going to hit my penis with her hand. It’s facing my knees. It’s facing my knees.

Red alert.

I should have worn boxer briefs. Boxers was a bad idea.

“What is wrong with you Jeff?” my internal narrator Jason said to me. “She’s 58 for crying out loud!”

I’m very well aware of this, asshole.

“Say something.”

Like what? Excuse me, you just touched my balls and now I have an erection?

“She knows what she’s doing,” Jason said. “What are you going to do when she tells you to flip over?”

Oh no, I hadn’t thought of that.

I had to figure out a way to position my penis so it was lying flat on my belly.

There was no way to be subtle though I tried. I lifted my crotch from the table and positioned my penis flat against my belly.

This is humiliating.

“Just go with it,” my penis said.

Hey, fuck you buddy. She’s gotta at least be 58. She’s wearing green polyester pants.

“Grass on the field, play ball.”

“Penis,” Jason said. “SHUT . . . THE FUCK . . . UP! This woman’s vagina is up to her belly button.”

“Mmm,” penis said. “Vagina.”

“Alright,” the masseuse said. “Flip over so we can get your front.”

Then she began working on the front of my shoulders and arms.

She’s gotta know, I thought.

Then she began massaging my chest and ribs.

Oh my God, the towel just moved.

“Reporting for duty, sir,” penis said.

Flaccid. Become flaccid. Oh please become flaccid.

She must have seen that. There’s no way she didn’t see that.

This is the worst day of my life. Someone’s grandma is getting me hard.


****

Fifteen minutes later, the massage was over. She left the room and I stood up, erect as a newly placed statue in the town square. I put my t-shirt on and pulled my shorts up, positioning my swollen, aching penis under my waistband. I walked to the front desk with my gift card.

“Thank you,” I said to the 58-year-old woman with a fupa.

“Thank you. Come again,” she said with a smile.

That bitch is mocking me, I thought as I walked out the door and down the brick steps.


****

“How was it?” my mom asked as I entered my home.

“It felt really good,” I responded. Then I went upstairs to my bedroom and locked the door.

[Insert happy ending here]

Copy Watch?

By Ryan Day

Travel

“Sex finish?”

“Ummmm…”

“You want sex finish or you no want?”

“Ummmm…”

Suddenly the slapping and moaning from behind the curtain to the adjoining booth lost the innocence of some thin skinned newby to the Thai massage. I should have known something was up when my masseuse kept awkwardly letting her vagina rest on my upturned palm as she persisted in giving me what may have been the least effective massage a person with hands could give. But, you know, I thought maybe she was just one of the oblivious people. I sat up and unconvincingly waved off her offer while forcing a smile of disapproval. It may have been more tempting had my coworkers not been waiting in the lobby having just finished massages of their own. But even then, I wasn’t entirely sure this was one of the life paths I was willing to open up. I buttoned my shirt slowly, wondering if I was going to change my mind.

“It okay… You no have to.” She said with a smile. I was relieved. For a second there I thought it might not be up to me. But I left the booth, self-respect intact, even if my will had been called into question.

My coworkers were waiting in the lobby, looking refreshed from their massages. “How was it they asked?” I squinted and gave it three or four seconds of earnest thought. “Good.” I said. And I meant it.

This was Hong Kong in a nut shell. The night we arrived a friend and I asked the clerk at the hotel which was the best neighborhood to find a beer. He gave a sly smile and told us we had to go to Wan Chai. We looked confusedly at one and other, trying to divine the meaning of his smile, but without any other information to go on, and being a pair that prided ourselves on traveling guide-bookless, we took him at his word and started off on the walk to Wan Chai. It looked harmless enough. A big city neighborhood. It could have been anywhere really. We walked into a bar that had all the charm of an Applebees, because after a month on the mainland the prospect of a beer that wasn’t Tsing Tao was enticing. We looked over the full page beer list with stupid grins. I ordered a Hooegarden and my friend asked for a Pilsner.

I scanned the bar to see if there were any potential English speakers. I was hungry to have a conversation that wasn’t about the price of my taxi back to campus or trying to explain why I didn’t want pork in my chow mien without knowing the word for pork. But as I looked around it wasn’t potential English speakers that I noticed, but the fact that there were old business men at every table and every one of them was surrounded by young women. I’m not totally sure what doting looks like, but I think these women might have been doting. Still, nothing concrete registered. I looked at my friend and he looked back at me with an equally quizzical expression. “What’s going on here?” I asked him. “Don’t know. Must be rich or something.” Or something.

It was just about then that two women, two absolutely stunning women, came up to our table to bolster our denial of the situation before they shattered our illusions of being what my Chinese students might call luck-lucky boys. “Hello,” says the first. I have a prepared answer for these occassions which is to turn my eyes groundward, give a nervous giggle and mumble an indistinguishable “hi.” Fortunately, my friend was a bit more suited to these sorts of interactions. He asked them if they wanted to sit with us. They sat. They ordered drinks, expensive drinks and the bill was handed to us. My friend and I looked at each other and shrugged. Hong Kong’s not cheap and teachers don’t make a lot of money on the mainland. Still, here we were with two beautiful girls interested in us. We awkwardly did the chivalrous thing and offered to pay for half. We were met with silence and in a panic paid the whole thing.

“So,” said my friend, “what do you two do in Hong Kong?” They looked at each other and laughed. “Business women,” she said matter of factly. “We come from Manila.” “Oh,” I respond with all my previous suaveness intact, “Manila. That’s where they have all the…” All the what? Think fast. Faster. “Coups.” I hoped they hadn’t understood, but the immediate deflation of everyone’s giddiness led me to think that they had. “And fried bananas,” I added, my voice trailing off amidst the bars sudden silence. “So what sort of business are you in?” Asked my friend. Good one. The girl next to me opened her mouth and I could see that she had a pretty extensive set of braces. Still though, she was pretty. She paused, showing off her crooked, acrylic-coated teeth. “We good fockers,” she said plainly. I nodded. I always feel rude when I can’t understand somebody’s English. “And what’s a good focker do?” I asked. The girls laughed again. This time it had the distinct feeling of at-rather-than-with. My friend seemed to have processed things faster than me. He looked at me incredulously and somehow that drove the whole thing home. “Ohhhh,” I said.

So we headed back to the Chungking Mansion, our residence of necessity, all on our own. If you are not familiar with the Chungking Mansion I encourage you to become so on your first trip to Hong Kong. Book it for one night, and have alternatives. It isn’t for everyone. The ground floor is a haven for fake Rolexes and pushy tailors alongside samosa vendors and imitation ipods. You can’t get two steps without someone lunging in front of you, then suddenly becoming discrete, leaning in quietly, “Copy watch?” If you express an interest you are led through some back alley, up six flights of stairs and into an apartment. The best thing I saw on sale was a pair of spy glasses that had utterly indiscreet cameras half-heartedly attached to the sides of blu-blockers… Just so you don’t look creepy when you’re trying to video tape strangers from behind dark, over-sized lenses with AA battery sized recording technology dangling from your temples.

Anyway, there is always a long line for the elevator. Yes, the elevator, which has a capacity of four and serves thirty floors of hostels. The line is sort of like a low rent model UN. Drunk people from every corner of the globe await their opportunity to ride four by four up to their tenement style residence in an elevator that averages three vomits an hour and a cleaning every eight. Low and behold while standing in line after having taken our own fair share of beverages, we met another couple of interesting characters. This time they were from Dublin rather than Manila, and male as opposed to female, but the temptation of English drew us in. On their advice, we abandoned the line and headed back out to the bars on the promise that after five am the elevator line was always vacant, which for future reference, is a lie.

The place we went to was crowded. As we got up to the bar to order I was fairly squished against a white haired man with coke bottle lenses in his glasses. He looked up at me as if it took him all the vision he had left just to penetrate his bifocals. He stared and then his head bobbled, He opened his mouth as if he was going to talk, then closed it, reeled his head around to the bar tender and shouted something indistinguishable while pointing at me. The bar tender brought me a scotch. I thanked the man with a nod. He waved his hands over the five cups in front of him and I noticed for the first time the menagerie of beverages he was selecting from. A whiskey, a tequila shot, a glass of wine, some sort of clear mixed drink and a beer.

He began to tell me about himself in almost unintelligible English. What I gathered was that he was the Vice President of a major US financial institution. I believed him… I think. Then he showed me his bullet wounds from his stint in South African intelligence. Maybe the two things were not mutually exclusive. I don’t know. I like to believe that he was who he said he was, because his decadence, his lonliness, his confusion, his blindness, his misguided pride in his violent past, hell, even his immigrant status seemed to me the perfect allegory to the American Financial institution he was claiming to be in charge of, and as coming days would show, that institution was just about as drunk as he was.

Everywhere I went there were people like this man. Sometimes younger and more put together, but those circumstances were only light cover for the vapid state of their industries and by extension their selves. I don’t believe that you necessarily are what you do, but surroundings in which you spend a vast majority of your waking hours must certainly make an imprint. By the way, the quickest way to end a conversation with a Hong Kong business type, is to say the sentence, “I am a teacher.”

I don’t want to simplify the whole of my experience in Hong Kong to the fetishization of commodity, or to the commodification of women, but I can say that it robbed whatever lingering sexiness there was for me in designer clothes, the lateset in electronics… well, even that pure and loveless sex that’s sometimes called fucking. I know several people in Shantou, where I live, who take regular trips to Hong Kong for the latest copied iphone, Omega watch, Italian shoes and oftentimes these people make a stop or two in Wan Chai for the girls from Manila.

I don’t have anything special to articulate about the relationship between the desire for material and the desire for sex; the desire to ease loneliness and the desire to surround one’s self by the newest and most desirable products; the connection between the seeking of copied products and that of imitated passion. I just want to point out that it is all there, bubbling around in the same pot.

I don’t think that prostitution is a capitalist invention, nor do I think that capitalism is the root of all evil, but I’ve certainly been brought back to what was an instinctual knowledge when I was younger: the pursuit of material is one without end. That simple conundrum, if such a thing can exist, may be the inescapable prison in which contemporary ideology has locked itself. But, even as you acknowledge your own confinement, it’s tough to completely disavow yourself from its appeal. And so I drank my scotch and let this man drunkenly vent his frustrations in his mostly indecipherable English for what turned out to be a very long time.

I had lost my friend. He was nowhere in the bar. I started back alone, but soon came across him stumbling back towards the hotel. “Hey!” I yelled. “Wait up!” He turned to me with a dopey smile and then fell limply forward without so much as putting out a hand to protect himself. His head went hard into the brick surrounding a storefront window. He was bleeding pretty badly. I flagged a taxi and we went to the hospital in the hopes of getting him repaired.

On our last night, my friend’s head all stitched-up, we sat scarfing nachos and margaritas, listening to French hip hop in a bar owned by a Malaysian Elvis impersonator. I was at a loss as to whether I felt empty or full, moral or depraved, predatorial or preservationist. All I felt for sure was hungry, and that if someone asked me how my trip was, I would probably squint at them, and after a little earnest thought tell them, “It was good.”