W. Bruce Cameron: I calculated once that my business cards cost me about 8 cents apiece, which means that after tossing them into the “free drawing” box at restaurants over the past two decades, it cost me $1,600 to finally win something: a massage from the hotel where I’d eaten.

I’d been hoping for lunch, but I called the Spa Department and made an appointment, providing the name “William” to the woman taking down my information when she advised me the computer refused to accept “W.” She said that she couldn’t use the name “Bruce” because I’d already told her that was my middle name and she couldn’t lie to the computer.

When I arrived, a man about my age was standing at the check-in. His name, as it turned out, was “Willy,” but he had been forced to use the name “William” because the clerk told him the computer didn’t accept nicknames.

And Willy’s last name was Cameron, same as mine. The computer had assumed we were the same person, and scheduled us to be simultaneous.

This redundancy flustered the clerk, who didn’t have two available rooms. She consulted Spa Command and it was decided that both Willy and I could be accommodated if we accepted a “couple’s massage.” Though I’d never even had a single massage before, I countered that this was fine if it was followed by a free “couple’s lunch,” but apparently food came out of a different computer system.

Willy and I were given lockers and robes, and shortly found ourselves led into a gloomy, candlelit room. I halted on the threshold, suspecting animal sacrifice. “Are you sure this is OK?” I worriedly asked Willy, who was experienced at Spa palpation. He assured me the rooms were always dark.

We were left alone for a minute so the two of us could disrobe and have some time together. We decided that the way to do this was for one of us to take his clothes off and get on his massage table while the other person faced the wall and discussed baseball.

Our masseurs were an attractive woman named Stephanie and a burly guy named Theo. They put on music that consisted of birds chirping and frogs croaking while someone tried to learn how to play the flute.

“Sorry, no, we don’t have any Lynyrd Skynyrd,” Theo told me.

“It’s OK with us if you would like to hold hands during this,” Stephanie advised.

Willy and I looked at each other. “Well, but it’s not OK with us,” I informed her testily. I wanted Willy to explain that while we were there for couples massage, we weren’t exactly a couple; after all, he’d been there before, he spoke Spa. But Willy just bit his lip, looking helpless. Apparently he wasn’t from the warrior Camerons, as was I.

“Willy and I, we’re not together,” I said sternly.

“Oh, you’re among friends here,” Theo responded. What the heck did that mean?

Stephanie began gently kneading Willy’s back, while Theo began practicing anger-management lessons on mine. I gasped as his knuckles broke my rib cage and mulched my internal organs. “Ouch, wait, stop!”

“My first time, I was squeamish too,” Willy assured me.

“I’m not squeamish, Willy. I’m from the warrior side of the family; I can take anything. Just not pain.”

“See? Look at how he tries to protect you,” Stephanie beamed at me.

“Is that how it works, that one of you is the more masculine?” Theo asked. “I’ve always wondered.”

“What are you talking about? I’m masculine!” I stormed.

“This whole thing is turning out to be very unpleasant.”

“Is he always so pouty?” Stephanie whispered to Willy.

“He can’t answer that! He doesn’t even know me!”

“And what better place to get to know each other?” Theo reasoned.

“There’s a couple’s bath here in the Spa; I’ll bet I can get you two an appointment after this,” Stephanie offered.

I’d had enough. I grabbed my robe and went to (my own) shower to rinse off.

So here’s the moral of this whole story:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

W. Bruce Cameron is the author of How to Remodel a Man, in bookstores now ($19.95, St. Martin’s Press). Write to Bruce at [email protected]

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