Sunday, March 30, 2014

Massage From Above

I got rubbed the right way on Saturday and it didn’t cost me a dime.

For the last several months I have been treating myself to near-weekly massages at Heavenly Body Works on 73rd Street in Bay Ridge.

Last weekend I hit the magic number of 10, meaning I was entitled to a free massage. And I made sure to collect.

I started doing this after reading an article on how massages are actually good for the immune system, which puts them one notch above the shameless indulgence of the barbershop shave.

The hour-long treatments are a little pricy, but they’re relaxing as hell and if they’re going to prevent me from coming down with a case of the heebie-jeebies, then I think it’s money well spent on a bloody good cause.

A number of Chinese massage places have opened up in my neighborhood recently and a dozen of them were promptly shut down last year after the cops found out that the rubdowns were straying south of the border, if you know what I mean.

Picking the right place was important to me, as I’d rather not be hauled out to a paddy wagon in my underwear if at all possible.

So my sister and I did a quick net search and found a glowing review of Heavenly Body Works that even advised readers that “you don’t have to worry about being raided by police”—which was exactly what I was worried about.

The place is so quiet with the Asian version of Muzak playing softly in the background. The booths aren’t terribly fancy, but the first rate treatment more than makes up for the bland d├ęcor.

There's the Rub

You strip down to your skivvies, lay face down on the table and let the ladies do their magic all over your body.

I know I’m uptight, but I learning through massage just how constricted I really am. In addition to my bad back, I’ve also got grief going on in my left shoulder, thanks to years of crooking the phone under neck and typing on the computer.

I look back on all those years I did that as a reporter and wonder just what in the hell I was thinking. Did I seriously think there wouldn’t be a price to pay for such unhealthy behavior?

“So tight, so tight,” the masseuse whispers in response to my yelps.

But I know the pain is necessary if my twisted tissues are ever going to get untangled.

These ladies are quite strong and while they have provided me with incredible relief, I can see where they could really do a number on you if they were so inclined.

The masseuses rub and pull just about every part of my body, including my fingers and face. Then they apply hot stones to the back of my neck and place one in each hand.

The only awkward part of the whole experience is the butt rubdown, where the masseuse yanks down on my shorts and greases up my caboose. She then proceeds to rub my exposed derriere with such force it’s like she expects a genie to come flying out of my rectum and grant her three wishes.

This hasn’t happened, in case you were wondering. At least not yet.

I always throw the masseuse a tip on the way out, even though I believe that having the honor of laying hands upon my awesome physique is payment enough. (No snide remarks, please!)

The walk home is always so mellow I can barely recognize myself. For an all-too brief time, I’m not racing down the block with my arms pumping and my brain churning with all manner of useless chatter.

My shoulders aren’t scrunched up to ears and I even speak at a rate that humans can actually understand. If this is a waste of money, I’m ready to waste a hell of a lot more.

I got a new blank card to tally up my massages. I’ll be back next ready to climb that stairway to Heaven all over again.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Where Do They All Belong?

I paused in the lobby of an apartment building on Sixth Avenue in Bay Ridge and waited for a few seconds before pressing the buzzer.

This was in the Eighties, back when I was reporter for a local weekly newspaper, and on this particular day I was covering the suicide of a young woman who had thrown herself in front of a subway train.

I had gone to the dead woman’s building in hopes of talking to someone who knew her. I decided to start with the landlady so I rang her bell and waited.

She didn't buzz me into the building, choosing instead to talk to me over the intercom. It felt so strange leaning over to ask my questions into the speaker. I got a few static-filled responses, but the upshot was that the landlady knew virtually nothing about the dead woman.

As soon as she rang off, two teenage boys came into the lobby and when I told them that a woman from their building had killed herself, one of the exclaimed “Fresh!”

This was the Eighties after all.

Then a woman in her late thirties walked into the lobby. She was heavy, as I recall, with thick glasses and curly black hair.

I told her that one of her neighbors had committed suicide and though she didn’t know the woman, the conversation kept going. She started telling me about an incident in her life when she had an epileptic fit on a deserted subway platform.

She told me that a strange man had approached at this most critical moment when she was completely helpless.

“He could have raped me,” she said.

I told her to take care and went back to the newspaper with little to show for my efforts. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about that woman in the lobby.

I told one of my coworkers about what had happened and he was moved as well.

“All the lonely people,” he said, quoting the line from the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”

A Sermon That No One Will Hear

That was the perfect analogy. The woman in the lobby had just wanted someone to talk to, someone with whom she could share this frightening experience. Someone to listen.

As someone who has experienced long stretches of loneliness, I can sympathize. If you spend enough time alone, you’re willing to share your thoughts with just about anyone.

When I first moved back to New York I was pretty much a stranger in my hometown. In a rare moment of intimacy, my father once expressed his concern about my lack of a social circle.

“Every time I see you go out by yourself,” he said, “my heart falls right down to my shoes.”

I was so touched by this. I’ve complained a lot about my father in my life, but here he was showing genuine concern for my well-being. And then I felt guilty for upsetting him.

Last autumn I went through a lengthy period when I was extremely sick. I got angry and depressed at being forced to sit home and look at TV on weekends instead of going out.

I called my aunt to complain about my troubles and she could hear the emotion in my voice just ready to crack.

“You better let it out,” she said gently.

And that’s just what I did, wailing into the phone uncontrollably.

“I’m always sick,” I cried, “and I’m lonely!”

I’m lonely. Even now it feels like I’m confessing to a crime.

By saying you’re lonely you’re essentially admitting that you have no friends, that you’re not popular, and that something must be wrong with you.

You can call yourself a loner because it sounds cool, but after a while “loner” can change into “loser.”

There’s been so many times when I've walk by a crowded bar, look at all the people, all the good friends, talking and laughing together, and wondered what I was doing wrong.

But I don't want this to be a "poor me" rant. There is a definite danger of getting comfortable being alone. Too many nights I actually look forward to coming home to sit in front of the TV and the computer.

I do enjoy being able to pick up and go anywhere I want anytime I want. The tough part comes when I actually get to where I’m going and I have no one to share it with. And socializing doesn't get any easier as you grow older.

I never did find out much about that woman who had jumped in front of the subway train all those years ago. But I wonder if things might have been different if there had been someone around to hear her story.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Everyday Happiness

I’m never one to turn down good advice--even if comes from spam email.

Take my friend Nicole, who wrote to me--and about 10,000 other guys—the other day.

Aloha, my friend, she writes. Tell me what are you looking for, may be you are looking for me?

Nothing personal, Nicole, but I’m looking for a pile of cash five stories high, a good deli, and an escape from this horrendous winter.

I am cheerful, open, sociable, family-oriented, light-hearted, well-balanced, active, liberal, honest and responsible.

That’s quite a resume. All Nicole needs is to be thrifty, clean and reverent and she can join the Boy Scouts.

Nicole also is “fond of sport,” which is good, seeing as she’s so well-balanced. I wonder what she’s responsible for—or do I want to know?

Besides “sport,” Nicole also enjoys “cooking, growing flowers, playing bowling and listening to music.”

Playing bowling. Nicole just doesn’t bowl; no, she plays it. I wonder if she cooks, grows flowers, and bowls at the same time. Hell, I’d married her in a family-oriented minute.

I like sea and animals. It will be a pleasure for me to cook a romantic dinner for my beloved one.

Sea and animals? Clearly, Nicole’s not one to nitpick. She’ll take anything Mother Nature has to offer and fry it up in a pan.

But I have to give Nicole credit--she did end her email with a line that has got me thinking.

Find some happiness everyday…

Finding happiness has not been one of my strong points. I’m great at finding misery, fear, anger, and all kinds of crap to complain about, but my happiness detector appears to be on the fritz.

It’s been especially tough lately, as I’ve battling health issues and my manic overreaction to those aforementioned issues.

Trouble is My Business

I decided to visit a new doctor in the neighborhood whom my shrink had recommended. I was extremely reluctant because I heard the wait times could be long and I really didn’t feel like hanging around a doctor’s office all day.

But I had Monday off, no place to go, and a desire to try something different. So I went to the guy and I’m very glad I did.

First of all, the wait wasn’t too bad. But more importantly, I was really impressed with this doctor. He told I wasn’t suffering from yet another cold, like I had thought, but allergies.

I instantly felt better upon hearing this news. And I wondered how many times in the past did I convince myself I was sick, when I was actually suffering from allergies.

“Forget about that,” my shrink rightly advised.
The doctor also asked about my eating habits, which to be honest, are terrible, especially for someone who claims to be interested in his health.

I don’t cook at all, electing instead to nuke pre-cooked turkey meatballs, chicken sausage, and similar stuff.

If only Nicole could come over to my house and cook a romantic dinner for her beloved one.

Worse yet, I guzzle diet ice tea and sodas, something that both my doctor and my nutritionist said must stop.

The doctor tells me artificial sweeteners disrupt the kidneys in their efforts to clean out the body.

Obviously I knew this crap was bad for me, but I just pretended I could go on drinking it and suffer no ill effects. And the definition of insanity is…

So I’m cutting down on the diet ice tea and getting back to the 6-8 glasses of water routine. And I’m slowly—very slowly—going to start cooking my meals.

I want to improve me health so I can be cheerful, open, sociable, family-oriented, light-hearted, well-balanced, active, liberal, honest and responsible. I want to enjoy the sea and the animals and play bowling.

And I want to find happiness every day.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Command Z

A man jumped to his death on Friday from a building two blocks from my office.

I initially dismissed the police cars and fire engines parked on Broadway as just another day in the big city. But when I saw the news trucks pulling up to the scene I knew something was going on.

A cameraman from the Spanish language station told me someone had jumped from the 12th floor and then he trained his lens on the building and began shooting footage.

The body had been removed by this time, but when I walked by the building I saw a pool of blood on the pavement and nearly puked.

If I were still a police reporter I would’ve covered this terrible incident, but I’m a business writer now so I have to find out the story behind the tragedy the way everybody else does.

I checked the news sites throughout the day until I got the story. The victim was a 45-year-old man who recently separated from his wife and had lost both of his parents.

The day wore on, I gradually stopped thinking about the man who had died some close to where I work, and by the time Saturday morning rolled around I was sick as a dog.

Yes, sick again, after giving up three weeks of my life to illness just last month. I thought I had earned some time off from illness, but I was wrong.

I went through the usual raging self-pity that does nothing but harm. I feel like God’s guinea pig, I whined. I’m a human lab rat!

Just this week I met with a nutritionist who came up with a new diet and vitamin routine for me. I thought that this might be a turning point, and it may be yet, since I haven’t actually started the program.

One More Time

But the ugly voices in my head are telling me that it’s a waste of time and money and that nothing is going to change for me.

Over the years I’ve tried vitamins, meditation, qigong, and a veritable chorus line of doctors. I wash my hands constantly, disinfect my phone and keyboard at work with alcohol pads, and nothing helps.

I am sick of soup, sick of tea, sick of resting and missing all the world has to offer. I’m tired of people asking how am I feeling, even though I know they mean well.

And I’m sick of being afraid of getting sick. It seems that I’m either sick, recuperating from being sick, or worrying about my next bout with illness.

My shrink tells me that in times of stress I should detach and observe. Stand outside my thoughts and look at them like a scientist taking notes on an experiment.

That is very difficult to do when you’re in the middle of a temper tantrum, but when I was finally able to detach, I didn’t like what I observed. It was like standing next to a cyclone of toxic waste.

I had signed up for a course in Final Cut Pro at the Downtown Community Television Center on Saturday and I had play tickets for Sunday, which meant rest was out of the question.

So I dragged myself through the class, which was actually pretty good. The teacher was very helpful and while I was having trouble understanding the finer points of the editing software, I did appreciate one important item.

In the event you make a mistake, you can always hit Command Z on your keyboard. That will undo whatever the hell you just did, erase it like it never happened, and give you a chance to try again.

It’s a shame that we don’t have a Command Z for the real world. We could all use another chance to get it right, to change our minds, and avoid a disastrous decision.

I’m feeling a little better today and fortunately I’m taking Monday off. I hope this latest illness is brief so that I can start making some changes in my physical health and my attitude.

However I feel though, at least I will have another day to try again. Which is more that can be said for the man who jumped out of the 12th floor window on Friday morning.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Plan B From Outer Space

It usually goes off without a hitch.

My sister and I live in the same neighborhood so whenever we meet up to go to Manhattan I head over to the Bay Ridge Avenue R station, stand at the front end of the platform, and wait for the train to roll in.

When the R shows up at the appointed hour, my sister steps out of the train, waves to me, and I jump on board. It’s a simple plan and it never misses.

Until Saturday.

We were going on yet another theater adventure with our auntie to see a performance of John Patrick Shanley’s comedy “Outside Mullingar.”

While we prefer matinees, this time out we were taking in the evening performance and planned to have an early dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Trattoria Dopo Teatro on West 44th Street.

That was the plan. But a mix-up at the subway station injected some heavy drama into our day.

Okay, so I was on the platform when the train pulled in. I didn’t see my sister in either one of the first two cars, which was odd, since I was certain she’d be on board.

Then I looked way down the platform and in the distance I saw a woman in a red coat standing outside one of the car and looking in my direction.

That’s her, I told myself, and stepped on board. I figured she had to run to catch the train and had jumped on board the closest car. All we had to do was to dash down the platform at the next stop and meet in one of the middle cars. Child’s play, really.

So I got on the train, the doors closed, and off we went to 59th Street. And then, as the train picked up speed, a scary thought streaked through my mind.

Was that woman my sister?

She had to be. Who else would’ve stepped out of the train like that? But then my eyesight isn’t what it used to be and the woman in the red coat had neither waved nor called my name.

Oh, shit…

I poked my head out at 59th Street desperately hoping to see my sister do the same, but I saw no sign of her. At 53rd Street I bailed and watched the train go by, scanning each car for a familiar face.

Nothing. I was on the wrong train, my sister was God-knows-where and we had less than an hour to meet our auntie at the restaurant.

I had no idea what to do. Our train meet-up routine always works so well I never considered a contingency plan. And now I was paying the price for that lack of foresight.

Do the Locomotion

I ran upstairs and frantically called my sister. Naturally I got the voice mail, so I told her to go into the city and I’d meet her at the restaurant.

I called my auntie’s home and left a screechy message that would do Fay Wray proud. The world I knew suddenly disappeared and I was trapped in this maze of rumbling trains and evaporating time.

We live in this society of instant communication and zero privacy, but all of that technology doesn’t mean a rat’s ass underground. The MTA is gradually installing Wi-Fi service in all the stations, but for me the subway was nothing but a rolling dead zone with plenty of rats and lots of asses.

I got hold of my auntie on her mobile and gave her a live rendition of my breakdown. Somewhere amidst the hysteria, I could hear her saying “calm down” and although it was great advice, it only revved up my insanity.
We agreed I should go back to Bay Ridge Avenue and search for my sister. Of course, the train took forever and by the time I go there, the station was bone empty.

Now it was really late and the only thing I could do was go to the restaurant and hope my sister was there.

The trains crawled through the tunnels, grinding their wheels in screaming slow motion and driving me so loony that I actually looked skyward at one point and said, “are you kidding me?”

I jumped on a D train at Pacific Street, grabbed a seat, and waited to see the light when we were going over the Manhattan bridge. I had a short window of opportunity to dial my relatives before we went back underground on the Manhattan side.

“This is a disaster,” I rabidly muttered. “A fiasco…a clusterfuck!

It took forever to reach the bridge and we did, I was dropkicked into voice mail again. Vaffancul!

Once we were in the city I finally took my aunt’s advice and calmed down…a little. The train was going faster and I would only be about 20 minutes late. Plenty of time to drink and stuff my face with the people I love most.

I cannot tell you how relieved I was to finally lay eyes upon my sister and auntie at the restaurant. We were all together again, like the Three Musketeers—though we had started off looking more like the Three Stooges.

I felt like I had just gone through a dress rehearsal for Ragnorok, but the jangled nerves settled down and I was able to truly enjoy and appreciate my sister and auntie’s company. So in rather twisted way, all that stress was helpful.

We had a great time at the theater and agreed upon a Plan B. In the event we miss each other on the subway, we will proceed directly to the restaurant—do not pass Go, do not collect $200—and wait.

And we will stay the hell away from women in red coats.