Not Everyone Gets a Happy Ending
Waking up Saturday, I still felt exhausted from the previous travel days, so most of my time was spent simply resting and not putting any weight on my legs, usually while surfing Youtube videos and dank memes.
Sunday came around, and towards the evening I decided to see if there was a massage parlor anywhere close by. I searched around on the internet maps, and fortunately there was one about a quarter mile from Jay’s place, called “Calm Down.” Strange name, but I eagerly rose and made my way out into the blistering Tucson heat towards the parlor. I found the place, tucked into a semi-abandoned strip mall barely visible from the road, and upon arriving, I discovered it was actually named “Calm Dawn.” That name made a little more sense, but it still wasn’t a phrasing you’d commonly see.
I strolled in through the front door, which nearly hit the opposite wall as I opened it, and was met by a group of three 30-something Asian women, who looked to be from Thailand or possibly Vietnam. I greeted them.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“How late are you open? I was wondering if I could get a massage.”
One of them spoke up, with a strong accent. “You want massage?”
“Uhm… 60-minute massage, yes?”
“Okay,” and she spoke in her language to one of the others, who got up and beckoned me to follow her. She took me down a narrow hall to a room near the entrance, where I was left without being told anything except, “Please wait.”
I took in my surroundings. The massage “table” was a very thin mattress with a face hole dug out of it, with paper towels arranged on the sides of the hole. I looked over to a shelf and saw generic Suave-brand body lotions instead of massage formulas, and the table-mattress had nothing but a curiously-small towel on it. I was beginning to feel that I may have walked into a very different kind of massage parlor. I stood there in the dim light, facing a dilemma. Should I stick it out and see if I get a real massage? Am I about to be buttered up for a happy ending? …Would that be cool?
I stripped down to my underwear and laid on the table under the tiny towel. A short while later, a different woman came into the room. She was mildly attractive, in her late-thirties, and upon seeing me said, “No, no,” while suppressing a giggle.
She took the towel off me. “Towel goes under,” she said, while cramming it underneath me. She then pulled my underwear to just-above halfway down my buttocks. I had no idea what to make of this, so I just played cool and went with it. She began with a dry rub-down of my back and arms, and then squeezed out some of the lotion and set to work.
Not two minutes later, and she does the strangest thing I’ve ever had a masseuse do. She came around to where my head was, climbed on the table with her thighs straddling the sides of my head, and began making long back-and-forth motions on my back with her hands, using her whole body.
Here I was, at an Asian massage parlor in a rundown strip mall, I’m laying with my underwear half off me, and a woman whose name I don’t even know is rubbing her thighs on my head. I didn’t know what to think. Is this some ancient Vietnamese technique? Am I supposed to be aroused? Should I say something like, ‘No, real massage please. No lovey-lovey.’?
This strange movement lasted for a few minutes, and she climbed off the table and began using standard techniques. I was able to relax a little, now that it seemed that this was a real massage parlor, but the doubt remained in my mind. She got to working on my calves, which was more pain than pleasure, and I asked her if she could also do my feet, which were little more than strips of beef jerky from all the hiking.
“No, body massage.”
With that matter settled, the rest of the time was a pretty normal massage, except for half my ass sticking in the air, and she ended the session with that weird head-between-thighs motion again.
“Okay, all done,” and she walked out of the room and closed the door. I got dressed and met her in the minuscule lobby, and paid in cash, giving enough for a $5 tip.
“Keep the change,” I said while smiling friendly.
She looked down at the cash in her hand and just stared at it. One of the other women started speaking to her, and she seemed confused. I slowly walked out the door without saying a word.
Needing to take my mind off that strange experience, I found a bar across the street called Dante’s Fire, where I finally got to have what I most desired: a Shirley Temple.
I had a mixed drink and a couple beers, of course, but none of them could match what that sweet combination of Sprite, grenadine and three cherries could do for me. I met a few of the locals and had some chats with them and the bartender, but called it a night around 10pm and shuffled back to Jay’s.
Bars, Swords and Such
Monday, Jay and I headed out in the evening for some drinks and to check out the downtown city at night. Even though it was Memorial Day, so most everything was closed, we went to a place I had been before called Maloney’s. It was a real classy joint, with wood paneling, polished brass and chrome, and the sweet smell of craft beers filling the air. Not much else was filling the air, since other than a group of four guys crowding a billiards table, Jay and I had the place to ourselves. We drank some booze, and eventually the guys came over to us and asked us if we wanted to play a game. Jay was apprehensive, but I said, “Sure, why not?” and they started a game of Twenty Questions with us, using pieces of paper we stuck to our heads. Yes, just like in the film “Inglorious Basterds.”
I wrote down Donald Trump for the guy on my right, but Jay wrote down Axel Pettersson (a prominent fighter in the Historical European Martial Arts community), for me. Everyone else had actors, popular cartoon characters and other commonly-known figures, but not for me. Jay wrote down a person that only someone who swordfights would possibly know, and even then, nobody in HEMA is what anyone would call “famous.” I conducted an interview with Axel a year ago in this very same city, so you’d think I’d have an easy time of it, but I had a hell of a time and failed to guess within 20 questions. If you’re reading this: sorry, Axel!
We wrapped up our stay at Maloney’s shortly after, and went on a walk on Congress Street. It was quiet, save for the sound of passing cars, but the neon shone brightly in the night.
I couldn’t help but notice that a number of the businesses were closing down, and the only places that seemed to be steady were the bars. A distinct lack of energy permeates much of the desert nightlife, so it’s no surprise that even the downtown area struggles to find footing. With not much else to see, we went home and watched “Akira”. Tetsuoooooooo!!!!
Tuesday arrived, and I was finishing planning my route to Albuquerque. To make sure I was going to walk a path that didn’t violate any laws, I called up the Department of Transportation and asked about walking from Tuscon to across the border. Up until that point, I was under the impression that the interstate highways were legal to walk on if there was no alternate route available. After being transferred along a series of people sitting in increasingly-obscure offices, I was informed that I was completely wrong. No pedestrian traffic is allowed, no exceptions. Even if the interstate is the only way to a destination, tough shit, you can’t walk on it. Or bicycle. Or use anything that can’t go at least 45mph. If there’s an alternate route that takes you to Alaska and back, then that’s the road you have to follow.
I was devastated. The I-10 is the only road going east out of Tucson, so I suddenly found myself trapped. I was going to leave Wednesday morning, but I needed more time to figure what the heck to do, so I asked Jay to stay one more day, which he said was fine. I began pouring over Google Maps and Earth, looking for any possible route that could get me across the border. I found some obscure backroads that zigged-zagged across the interstate at various junctions, so I could at least get close to the state border. But as I looked closer and closer, it became obvious that after Willcox there was no way to get to New Mexico following the I-10 without an automobile. However, just northeast of Willcox, the AZ191 highway ran north to Safford, and east from there, crossing the White Mountains into rural New Mexico near a little place called Mule Creek. I could follow the highway to the NM180, then north through a long mountain valley, head east to Reserve, cross the vast plain to Socorro, then head north on the side-highways along the fertile Rio Grande into Albuquerque. It was desolate, sparsely populated, rugged, and added more miles to a path already 3,000 long. It was crazy, but it just might work.
Later, in the evening, Jay and I drove down to the Tuscon Historic Fencing Society’s training grounds for some fencing. (We did this both Tuesday and Wednesday evening, so for brevity’s sake, I’m combining both days into one experience). The training place was a gritty warehouse on the south side of town, completely unremarkable except for the occasional person hauling in a clanking bag of steel through its single door. Inside smelled of sweaty sporting equipment, scuffed concrete, and worn leather. A full rack of weapons lined a wall: longswords, rapiers, sabers, daggers, dussacks, messers, bucklers, singlesticks. I felt right at home.
After all the members had arrived, seven of us in total, we warmed up, suited up, and began to spar each other. The Tuscon club practiced a style of fighting that was prevalent in Germany during the 15th and 16th centuries, one that I was fluent in, but unlike them, I also was also well-versed in the Italian style. They were eager to fight someone who was different than them, so I did my best to represent the Italian school.
They fought with probing strikes and constantly-changing positions and guards, throwing cuts with both edges of his sword from high and low, seeking to gain the initiative and control the fight until I exposed myself, allowing them to strike me safely. Countering their style, I fought from a series of stable guards that met their weapons strongly, staying firm against the blade to feel out what their intentions were, striking out from safe positions when I sensed an opening; attempting to deceive them with positions that seemed to invite an attack, striking and thrusting out if they took the bait; declining to engage with their dynamic cuts, entering within his range only when I thought I had control of their next move and could counter with something simple and effective.
I could, of course, go into exhaustive technical detail of the various techniques we employed, but that’s the general philosophy behind our actions. You can view a video of one of our fights on my Youtube channel. Like, share and subscribe!
Afterwards on Wednesday, Jay took me to his rock climbing gym in the downtown area. I didn’t have time for an introductory class, so I went to the bouldering section of the gym, where I could practice climbing short-but-difficult walls without rope that were surrounded by thick floor pads. Technique comes second to strength in this activity, whereas the opposite holds true for rock climbing. Although extremely challenging for a newbie like myself, I was able to practice and conquer three beginner-level walls before feeling my shoulder start to tweak. I stopped at that point, conscious of avoiding an injury, and left the gym sore and feeling accomplished.
Back at Jay’s, I finalized my route to the New Mexico border and went to bed for an early start on tomorrow’s journey. After all this time, eight days of being away from home, it still seemed unreal that I had walked and hitchhiked here all the way from Gilbert. The path beyond was still immeasurably long, and I began to sense that I had embarked on an adventure that was far greater than 3,000 miles. That the journey I was going on wasn’t one of distance, but of time. Time that I would never get back once I spent it. The finality of it all made me stare at the ceiling for a long while, thinking about what I was doing. Did I truly want to do this? Is this the road I want to travel?
I think I wanted to do this; I think I had to do this.
I closed my eyes and awaited tomorrow.