A New York story.

I get a text from My Amazing Lover™ yesterday afternoon:

OK with you if I meet Luke* for a beer at 5?

Of course it’s okay.  It’s always okay.  One reason among many that our relationship works well is that we ask each other such things even though we don’t have to.

I carry on with the Palace business.

Around 8pm I get another text:

May I take you to dinner?

Of course it’s okay.  It’s always okay.  One reason among many that our relationship works well is that we ask each other such things even though we don’t have to.

Soon I heard the key in the lock, and in he walked.  “Hi, handsome.  How was your evening with Luke?*”


And My Amazing Lover™ proceeds to tell me.

They were going to meet in midtown somewhere for a beer.  They’ve done so before.  They share a hobby, an interesting and adventurous one, and they like to talk, online and off, about things going on in the field.

My Amazing Lover™ cuts out of work a little early to meet up with Luke, who informs him that another hobbyist, heretofore unheard of — let’s call him Jim* — will be joining them.  Jim has decided that they should meet at a “spa.”

Oh, cool, My Amazing Lover™ thinks.  I can really use a massage.  My lower back has been killing me.

He is picturing a spa-slash-bar, maybe in a swanky tower somewhere, all glass-walled with views of the river, an extensive selection of exotic beers on tap, and a world-class, old-school bartender from Queens in a white jacket.

Instead, the three meet up at a storefront operation in Koreatown.  The place is clean and bright, and before he can really take in his surroundings he is promptly escorted to the locker room to change.  It strikes him as odd that (a) there is only one locker room and it’s strictly for men, (b) the staff are all women, and (c) the women are freely walking in, out and around the locker room.

He showers and changes into the robe and shorts provided.  There are no spa shoes.  He is escorted barefoot into a private room by a lovely young Asian woman.  “I’ll take your robe,” she says.  He disrobes.  “And you can take those off too,” she says, pointing at the shorts.

“I’d rather not.”

He climbs onto the table, face-down.  “My back hurts here,” he tells her.  “My neck and shoulders are really tight, too.”

She sets to work on him, and he starts taking in the events of the past fifteen minutes.  Is this… what I think it is?  He begins to relax under the ministrations of his enthusiastic masseuse.  His back feels better.

“Okay,” she says, “You wanna turn over now?”

“No,” he says.  “Just my back.”

She continues.  He wonders where this is heading.

“Okay,” she says, “Your friends are done and waiting for you.”  How does she know this?  “You only have five minutes left now.  You’re the boss…” she says coyly.  “You tell me what to do…”

He points at his back and tells her, “Keep rubbing there — you’re doing a good job.”

She does exactly as he asks.

Moments later he is back in the locker room, where Luke and Jim are indeed dressed and waiting, among the many women walking in and out.  He dresses.  His masseuse comes by, pats him on the belly, and gives him a wink and a smile.  Jim has already paid for their sessions, including tips.  They head to a nearby pub, order drinks and appetizers.  They shoot the breeze until 7:30, and no one ever says a single word about the preceding hour.


My Amazing Lover™ is unsettled by these events.  I assure him that yes, the place is exactly what he suspects it is:  a “rub & tug,” in the local vernacular.  They are ubiquitous in this city.  Frequently posing as spas and nail salons, very often they do provide legitimate spa and salon services.  In gay neighborhoods, they are staffed with young Asian men; a few cater to women as well.  My (former) nail salon on Hudson Street turns out to be a rub & tug.  I found this out from my colorist, Vance, who went in for a back massage one day and the woman who did my manicures grabbed his hand and put it between her legs, then on her breast.  And Vance describes himself as a “five blocker” — that is, one can tell he’s gay from five blocks away.  He frequents the rub & tugs in Chelsea.

Over dinner and drinks, we look up the place on his iPhone.  A one-star review at Yelp.com reads as follows:

Unlicensed.  Make sure you go in wanting a “massage” and not a real massage.  This place is not legit, and I’m amazed that it can operate right next to the Empire State Building. Do not go here unless you’re a guy, you know what you’re getting into, and you realize that the “tip” will vastly exceed $40.

We discuss human trafficking.  Now he desperately wants to shower with antibacterial soap from head-to-toe before going to bed.  “Don’t forget to scrub your feet,” I helpfully remind him.

My Amazing Lover™ genuinely cannot comprehend why anyone would seek out such a thing.  I bet him the Palace treasury that Jim is a married Republican.

*Names are changed.

This entry was posted in NYC, sex & sexuality by Iris Vander Pluym. Bookmark the permalink.

About Iris Vander Pluym

Iris Vander Pluym is an artist and activist in NYC (West Village), and an unapologetic, godless, feminist lefty. Raised to believe Nice Girls™ do not discuss politics, sex or religion, it turns out those are pretty much the only topics she ever wants to talk about.

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