No, not “blind dating” where the danger is in the dated one, but “bungee dating” where the danger lurks in the date itself. “Bungee dating” because one finds oneself jumping into a situation that is 100 feet deep with a bungee cord that extends to 101 feet.
Thus it was with this sorry pilgrim, this old and true friend, who called my West Coast retreat from New York this morning, tattered and battered from his bungee date of the previous evening, telling his tale of testosterone-powered urban woe.
He will be distressed that I have related it here, but it is for the greater good I do so. Men, take heed. Ladies are advised to avert their delicate eyes.
* * *
So I’m having this telephone relationship with her, see? You know, the kind of relationship where you’re doing this long dance to the tune of “Getting to Know You,” and its going pretty well.
I mean, I like it the way it is. We don’t see each other a lot because of jobs, errands, New York yadda-yadda, and all that sort of thing. But also its neat, unusual, to spend hours on the telephone just sort of chatting away.
I *never* talk on the phone this long with anyone, but she’s clever with questions and sort of keeps me blathering away. I don’t feel weird about it until after when I notice that she’s winkled all this information about me out of me, but I still don’t know a lot about her.
She’s a reporter type. I keep feeling I’m getting my notes taken, you know. But still I like it. I mean, hey, it’s all about me so who wouldn’t?
Still, we are really not having enough face time. She’s getting all these weird ideas about me — which just aren’t true. Or maybe they are and I don’t like being in such total disclosure with a telephone relationship.
Anyway, she’s been under a lot of stress — job, sick loved ones, hangovers, insecurity, the whole mini-catastrophe. She’s sounding fried on the phone and I’m getting the ‘let me help you’ impulse big time. So when she mentions how uptight her body is, I say, utterly innocently, “I know just how you feel. We need a spa night with major shiatsu massages. That’ll tune us up.”
The next thing that should have gone through my mind was a dum-dum bullet wrapped in raw bacon, but sadly that did not happen.
Instead she picks up on it. Starts to go through the Yellow Pages seeing what’s available on a Friday night in New York City in the way of massages.
“Hey, joint spa and massage,” think I. An obviously cool date even though we are not exactly at the dating point, but more at the ‘non-date date show up on a casual basis point,’ if you know what I mean. We’re being formally informal since we’re not high-risk emotional kinds of people — or at least that’s the way we both want to seem.
I mean, we’ve done a museum walk-through and one movie. Total face time, six hours max. Very tentative. But it’s cool.
To go from that stage to mutual massage spa salon is a big step, but since it is a non- date date and we’re being just buddies it seems doable. In fact it seems amusing and challenging.
So we scan the yellow pages and conference call a couple of joints offering massage services for ‘couples’ and pick one.
At the same time, it is getting late and our need for food is pressing. So we agree to meet at this restaurant that seems right — a Chinese noodle shop in midtown close to the massage salon. I’ve been there a few times before and it is a great non-date date restaurant: not so fancy that there’s any lurking obligation incurred if I pick up the check, nor so down-scale that its like just going to the corner for a hot- dog-just-pals sort of deal. Its a semi-date restaurant.
Only problem is that I’m a little unclear about exactly where in midtown the place is. But I’m a guy, right? So I give her coordinates that are, as it turns out, real close to where the restaurant actually is and a name, Jimmy’s, which is sort of what I think the name is. We arrange to meet on 28th and 3rd Avenue in 15 minutes.
I’m at 28th and 3rd in 10 minutes and the first thing I notice is that I needed just a little more research. The noodle palace I’m thinking of is on 29th and 3rd and is named Sam’s. Oh, well, close. I’ll just hang out on the corner of 28th and 3rd for a few minutes and she’ll show up and we’ll stroll to Sam’s amused at my lack of consciousness and inability to ask for precise directions.
‘What a guy,’ she’ll say. And we shall have a small chuckle and chat about the male inability to ask for directions which is a staple in the getting to know you routine.
“Alas, after 10 minutes, nobody shows. I get concerned and notice there is another noodle shop catty-corner from me on 28th and 3rd. Perhaps she’s gone in already. Cross the street, walk-through restaurant, nobody there. Humm, maybe she’s waiting at Sam’s up on the next corner. Walk up there. Nobody. Walk outside feeling stupid and start to patrol the block looking for my non-date date who I am sure is in the same block looking for me.
“Twenty minutes, 30 minutes…phone her place. Answering machine. Hang up. Phone her cell. Rings into voice mail and the mailbox is “full.” Start looking in other restaurants in the block. Lots of restaurants in the block. Filled with people anxious to seat me, but nobody I recognize. Outside the street full of people and taxis, but not my non-date date.
Something’s happened. Some disaster. Taxi break-down. Tough it out. Lost. Mugged. Abducted by aliens. Standing me up through some streak of perversity that I have failed to detect. Busted by Federal Agents for unspecified crimes. Taken up by the Rapture as the only worthy one in New York City even though she’s Jewish. On a hijacked subway train and being held until all Palestinian prisoners from here to the Planet Mongo are released…..every disaster possible passes through my mind. 40 minutes and counting…. I’ll give it 5 more and then bag it.
From across the street, over the traffic, she’s shouting my name. Where have I been? What happened? She’s been here all along. Patrolling the block south of 28th and 3rd while I’ve been patrolling the block north of 28th and 3rd. Why? Because, fool that I am, there actually is a Chinese restaurant called Jimmy’s on that block that I have failed to notice and in which she’s had a bowl of tasty soup, thank you.
Oh, by the way, our appointed time at the spa massage joint has come and gone. Along with my brain, I might add.
But it is a non-date date, so we can’t get pushed out of shape by my stupidity. So we jump into Sams where, at last, I get to eat and also call and make another appointment at the spa massage joint for an hour later. Everything is copacetic again. We are back on track for major de-stressing of the body.
This evening is working out. Nothing but smooth sailing ahead. We could even get beyond the non-date date thing. It could happen. We could get really relaxed, so relaxed that just-pals-lovemaking could come into focus. Like all men, I live in hope.
Yes, I live in hope, but I am also bungee dating. I just don’t quite realize it yet.
Dinner’s over and we set off uptown and cross-town to the ‘New Look Spa’.
Now, there’s no way we’ve really gotten to the level of dating where we can really get spa intimate with each other. We’re really just phone pals and this is an official non-date date. I mean, we haven’t even gone for coffee at each other’s apartments yet. We are being real slow here. Real slow.
But suddenly, bingo, we’re going to a spa. In a way, that’s cool because we’re pals, see, nothing to it. Who cares?
In this wise we sort of truth-or-dare each other into a building on a dark side street, past two smiling young suits swaggering up the stairs, down into the basement where the New Look Spa awaits in gray naugahyde splendor.
At the bottom of the stairs, we’re greeted by the New Look Spa staff. Right away, you know this not going to be your average Zen monastery spa experience replete with mantras, aromatherapy, and far bells coming closer as every stress nodule in your back is expunged from the universe by tiny Geisha like creatures in exotic silk kimonos.
The staff that greets us is composed of Korean women in white surgical gowns that look as if they spend their days moonlighting in a training center for midget Sumo wrestlers.
And they are into *control* in a major way.
We’re shunted away from the luxury dressing room into one that looks like Rocky just ran amok, and shown a shower room and a steam room of dubious ancestry. We’re instructed to disrobe, shower, steam and report to the staff sergeant of deep muscle destruction for our joint massage. Yawohl!
At this point, my non-date date’s sanity kicks in for a brief appearance and she manages to make it understood to this non-English speaking person that 1) she wishes to continue in English, and 2) there is no way we are having mutual massages together because we are just pals and this is a non-date date that they’re dealing with, and they’ll just have to regroup and find two masseuses and two rooms. Full stop. Bottom line. All she wrote.
The midget Sumo gets this in a disgruntled way and murmurs the deadly phrase “No problem.” This will not be the last time we hear this spoken in this basement.
Okay, she clears out and we’re left standing around in this locker room with our bathing suits in our hands. Duh? I gallantly offer to change first and hit the shower and steam leaving her to prepare herself. Now that I have some food in my system, sanity is returning.
With the return of sanity, I realize one crucial fact: I am an idiot.
Yes, on a true bungee date you must always be sure to place your date in at least one truly uncomfortable position. This I have accomplished without ever intending to do so.
You see, because we’re just good friends, it has escaped me that I have actually asked a woman who’s been pent-up in New York City who’s been working without a break for months with no real time for workout sessions and without recourse to tanning parlors to actually don last summer’s bathing suit for the first time this year.
Under those circumstances this is, of course, like asking a woman to willingly undergo a near-death experience.
I am, indeed, an insensitive idiot. And I keep offering her the option of bailing out of this whole deal, but since she’s that best of all female types — a really game woman — she won’t go for it.
Instead, I hit the showers and the steam room and a few minutes later she slides in, gratified that the steam is so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face. She’s a bit disappointed that you can’t take a steam in a robe, but at last we are getting some physical relaxation and de-stressing and that’s the point of this non-date date so we poach awhile in blissful oblivion.
But we still have the massage to go and, having come this far and actually slipped into the bathing suit, she’s damned if she’s not going to get one.
We wander out into the labyrinth of the spa and there are no Sumos in sight. They’re probably in the back room mainlining kimchee and giving phone sex to lonely Korean dildo salesmen in midtown hotels.
We discover a much nicer dressing room and a sauna room with a cold plunge full of water that looks suspiciously gray. But do we run? No. My idiocy has begun to infect her and she’s getting very focused on the massage moment.
The Sumos reappear and tell us to relax in this dark room with a small TV and nine towel clad Lay-Z-Boys. We get a glass of water and are just starting to relax when the shortest Sumo of them all appears demanding, over and over again, our credit cards.
“You pay! You pay now! Sorry! Need to be somewhere right away! You pay credit card! Right way!”
What we really need to do — Right Way! — is to run screaming into the New York night, but we’re in wet bathing suits and it is a bit nippy outside.
So, like drones, we pay. The pace goes up from there. More Sumo-femmes appear. They haul us to strange cubicles. She goes one way. I go the other. I lie down on this bench and my masseuse comes in an presses down on me once. I feel something pop and a pain shoots through my ribs. I writhe and she leaves and comes back with a pair of white cotton shorts which she demands I get into. I’m about halfway into them when suddenly, sanity returns. It was the pain of the rib tearing away from the chest that must have done it, because I’m back. And I’m pissed. This isn’t a South Korean Spa, this is North Korean Stalag Gulag #1.
I call my whole massage off. Tell them I have no center for it. I have no calm. They’ve wound me up and I’m not relaxed. The deal is off and I’m dressing.
My assigned Sumo follows me into the dressing room and harangues me while I dress. Then she softens and starts nudging my shoulder saying things like:
“You come back in. I make you feel good. Really, really, really good. I use special technique.” Blink, blink, smile, smile, and a long slow wink that not only looks but sounds wetly salacious.
And finally I am clear enough to see that I have led my non-date date into a Blow-Job palace where she is at this very moment getting her back walked on by another midget-Sumo who also will use “special technique” if my non-date date as much as nods towards the clitoral peninsula.
I suppose this whole thing could be worse, but cannot really imagine how. After all, I’ve actually brought her to a whore house on this, our second non-date date.
What to do? I mean I can’t really burst through the curtains in her cubicle and shout ‘Head for the hills, or hold out for a hand job!’ That would really blow up any real relaxation she’s getting from this whole experience — and de-stressing her was the whole point of this excursion.
Instead, I just sit on the couch in the reception room where my choice of reading material is a Korean magazine or the New York Magazine I read cover to cover at the dentist’s a year and a half ago. I elect for New York and am not surprised to find that nothing in the magazine improves on the second reading because it is a magazine utterly without subtext.
The moments drag on and ever so often the masseuse is back at my shoulder with more offers to relieve my stress with a few deft flicks of her ample wrists or lips.
A few men drift out of the back rooms from time to time. A bouncing strut to their walk as they adjust their ties and slip a $50 to the madam asking that she ‘take care’ of the girls and ascending in the elevator with faint smiles on their confused faces as they head back to New Jersey after a night under the town.
After twenty minutes the madam sort of sighs and offers to void out the charge on my credit card. This is the first glimmer of sanity and I thank her for her graciousness.
She gets the slips out and it is then we discover that she has charge both sessions ($120 a pop, so to speak) to my non-date date’s credit card.
That means that she was about to pay for the massage she had and the massage I didn’t have. How much better can an evening get?
In the fullness of time, my non-date date emerges and discovers I have bailed. Fortunately she’s been tuned nicely and without ‘special technique’. She dresses and we prepare to leave. She hands over a tip to her masseuse. Quite generous under the circumstances. But the masseuse looks at it as if she suddenly needs a man-sized Kleenex and says, “Very small. You give a little more, okay?”
Tilt! Wrong answer! I’m jabbing the elevator button and starting to sputter. We are so out of here, so out of here. As the door closes, I hear the madam say “Next time you come you get number one. Okay?”
We hit the sidewalk in the midst of darkest nowhere midtown. We have no plan.
Did I mention that we’d gotten stoned, really stoned, just before hitting the New Look Spa? Well, the first thing that happens with this weed is you forget you’ve smoked it.
Anyway, we find our way to the far end of 42nd street where we regroup over a couple of beers and start to feel better. Chat about the strangeness of it all. Then of course I mention the ‘special technique’ offer and all the guys leaving with faint smiles on their faces.
“Do you mean to tell me,” she asks, “that when my masseuse was working on my thighs she was looking for some sort of encouragement from me?”
“Yeah,” I answer. “They’re not allowed to initiate, but you can request.”
“You mean, she would have gotten me off if I asked?”
“Yup, that’s the deal.”
“So the bottom line is that we’ve gone to a whore house together, right?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.”
“This is one of those non-date dates that only gets better only you tell it to others, right?”
“I’m praying that’s the case”
“I guess we should call it a night,” she says with a look that tells me she’s going to be seeking out any neurons in her brain that contain me and dumping them in the non-recyclable bin.
Outside I scan the street. “Maybe we can get a cab,” I say hopefully.
“Get two,” she says.
“Hey, you live in Park Slope. One cab can just drop me at my place in Brooklyn and take you home from there.”
“Get two cabs,” she says.
My cab cruises past 36th Street two blocks from the New Look Spa. I hear the madam’s voice saying: “Next time you come, number one! Okay?”
I’m wondering whether she’s going to be screening calls for the next two weeks until I get the picture, but I don’t dare call. She might answer, she might not, but if she does and asks me out on a date I’m terrified to go.