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Let’s take a break with a funny story. I know it’s a funny story because it gets tons of laughs. I tell it at parties, I tell it to strangers on the train, and it always gets laughs.

The trick to making something universally funny is you take a universal thing and start talking about it in a funny way. In this case, it’s a guy named … well, he has the same name – same middle name even – as my spouse. So we’re gonna call him The Backrub Guy instead.

There’s the first laugh. You know what I’m talking about, right, ladies? That’s all the CW you’re getting on this post, so if you need to move along, do that. If a dude is giving you the blank look right now, educate him. The Backrub Guy is a friend. Or a friend of a friend. He’s somebody you know and he’s a genuinely nice guy. The guy you’d call if somehow you had to get a travel trailer unstuck from the mud. At 3am. In Kamchatka.

Next laugh.

TBG’s invited to the party, because why wouldn’t you? He’s got the newest board games. He’s a reliable member of your tabletop group. He’ll bring snacks or pitch in to buy them and he’s flexible about pizza toppings. In fact, he’s only pushy about one thing, and you can’t even really call it pushy, can you? It’s a favor. It’s a backrub.

The thing about TBG is that he gives extremely shitty backrubs. He’s not the guy you ask for a backrub when you’re sore, because he doesn’t get to your muscles. In fact, most of what he does is make backrub-shaped motions at you that move your shirt or your skin around a lot.

It starts at one shoulder. He puts a warm hand on you. He’s standing next to you in the circle of folks talking or behind you at the table. “You want a backrub?”

At this point I usually make pinchy hands. Imagine those.

I love a good backrub. Giving or receiving. (Wait. It just occurred to me that maybe you think the backrub is a metaphor. The backrub is not a metaphor. It’s a backrub.) And so the first time TBG offered a backrub of course I said yes.

Because frankly a good backrub is a good favor and I usually do need a backrub, so I’m in general pretty cool with backrubs and this is sounding more and more like a metaphor but it still isn’t. But the story is funny because it’s universal. I was running this idea past a friend today and she was like “oh yeah I can think of three of those guys off the top of my head.” So can I.

So anyway when TBG approaches you and asks if you want this favor, you say yeah absolutely I want a backrub. A backrub would feel great.

And then you get the shittiest backrub of your life. Like, it’s so bad. It’s a bad backrub. But then it’s over and you move on with your life and you’re like “welp I’ll never ask him for a backrub again, shame.”

So the second time he offers you a backrub he’s kind of already doing it, and you don’t want to be a bitch and he’s really trying to be nice. Also maybe you could’ve said something about how you like your backrubs before, although maybe also he could have asked.

Pinchy hands. Awkward laughter.

And the third time you don’t want to make a scene, and also who turns down a backrub? And now he thinks you like it. He’s got no reason to think you don’t. And your shoulders hunch slowly toward your ears and he says wow you’re really tense and you say yeah that’s because I don’t want you touching me anymore ever except what comes out is “I sure am. I think I’ll go grab another drink out of the kitchen, you want something?”

The really shitty thing is you don’t even warn your friends about him. It’s not worth it. You just tell this joke about it. He’s not a rapist. If you said stop, he’d stop. You know this, absolutely, because he’s a good guy.

The good guy who’s touching you in public for his own pleasure, which now you can’t stop without becoming the bad guy. The good guy who’s taking advantage of that maybe without even understanding what he’s doing. Maybe.