The dark side of massage comes in many forms, the most dominant being the instrumental music that makes me want to put Enya in a chokehold (and if I could get my hands on that Pachebel guy…).
The antibacterial soap that is efficient in removing above-mentioned silky, aromatic oils makes my skin itch like I have rolled around in poison ivy. My dog looks at me questionably. “You? You have fleas? I thought I was the only one.”
Like any profession, there are horror stories that are exchanged between wide-eyed colleagues over shaken-not-stirred martinis in dim-lighting. Client confidentiality is utmost, but, we have to unload on someone about the warts, farts, black sock lint and moles that make up a large part of our career. We have job hazards too.
The warts, they are always a surprise. In that buttery light, the naked eye doesn’t notice the familiar cauliflower-form on the sole of the foot. No, it is the unsuspecting hand that glides over it first. The sensation is one that will never be confused with anything else. A wart is a wart, and I have touched far too many.
Some days I think that I may never eat finger food again. I see the estheticians licking their fingers at lunch, enjoying bags of salty chips or hand-held ham sandwiches. I need to eat everything with a spoon or fork after what I have seen and touched.Wanda worries about the moles in our backyard. I worry about the moles under my fingertips. If one every rolled off a body, I’d be done.
And the farters. In ten years, there have been a select few. One woman was consistent, and she consistently scared me as well. Just as I would lean in to do a stroke up her hamstrings she would let out a cracker of a fart. I always jumped, my hands flying off her body in fear. There was no recovery, and in those awful, dreaded minutes that followed, I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I should have reassured her—hell, she should have reassured me! Then, it was too late for either of us to say anything at all. I remember being generally relieved that I didn’t fall to the ground thinking I had been shot (and this is why I’m not a cop, because loud farts make me shake).
Of course, in working with people so intimately, I hear hushed secrets and see tattoos that only their lovers and proctologists have seen. I am whispered confessions about affairs by the wife, and then by the husband in a later session (and sometimes by the mistress herself). This is what happens when you run a clinic in a town of 5,000. (i.e.: George, a pony-tailed guy who had been shot by his ex-wife in the leg when caught in bed with the Other Woman. “Hell, she almost took my nuts off with the second shot!”).
The cosmopolitan city of Toronto and the splashy hotel environment introduced me to a clientele unafraid of asking for what they wanted. Like the Spanish model who insisted that I massage his anus “because it makes me feel gooooooood.” If I didn’t want to do his anus during the treatment time he invited me up to his hotel room where I could finish the “job” properly and he’d slip me another fifty. “Oh, gee, could I?” He was a model asshole to me.
There was only one other occasion where I was asked if I was a “Lady of the Evening,” in broad daylight in Dunnville, Ontario. It was 11 a.m., and I couldn’t wrap my head around somebody actively searching for Lady of the Evening services that far from Amsterdam. Dunnville, Red Light District? And, at this hour?
Then there was Bob who asked politely if I would tickle him for the last ten minutes of every treatment. He had curly Chia Pet hair on his back, and only wanted the hair touched“gingerly,” and not the skin. If I wanted to, I could tickle his feet too. I should have hooked him up with the Spanish model.
The moment that made me want to spit daggers was when a beligerent Turkish client insisted on disrobing infront of me (and there is nothing worse than something mauve and floppy in your face, and then watching that mauve and floppy-something wobble and flop as a client ungracefully mounts himself on the massage table). He insisted he was too hot for a sheet and kept throwing it on to the floor. When I finished, an unbearable hour later, he told me I wasn’t done. “You are finished when I tell you you are finished.” I surprised myself by telling him that “no, I am telling you that you are finished.” Then I ran like hell out of the room. He was not a Turkish delight.
I massaged a man at that same hotel who openly told me he had so much money that he would never be able to spend it all in his lifetime. He would book weekly for two hours at a time and begged to extend it to three. Another client at that hotel had two life coaches that he had to communicate with every night for 45 minutes to remain stable. His body was covered in weeping hives, but he was one of the richest in Canada. Rich in what? I often wondered…
Many clients have left a deep impression on me. I think Don could feel my tears dropping on his back when he told me that he had end stage lung cancer. He said the doctor gave him a month, and he died a few days short of it. I reminded myself that I was able to offer him a temporary sanctuary when the rest of his life slid sideways. Don’s brother had dropped dead of a heart attack when he was running just before his 50th birthday. Don didn’t think it was fair that he was allowed to live so much longer (20 years longer) than his fit brother by smoking two packs a day, but he did.
For the woman who wept openly on my massage table for her father, I will always remember her story. She had been a regular client for over a year, and then she disappeared. Months later she phoned to book with me again. Immediately, she felt the need to explain her absence. Her father had died during the last massage she had with me, and she couldn’t forgive herself, knowing that he had died alone. One bright winter morning, she sat at her kitchen island as she always did, and a bright yellow bird came to the feeder. It came closer, and hopped along the window sill, looking inside at her in the kitchen. She knew it was her father. “He always wore these god-awful yellow pants when he went golfing. My mother couldn’t stand the sight of them!” The bird had a big beak, and her dad had a big nose—it was him. She said the bird came to the window every morning while she drank coffee for a month, and then simply went away. It was time. She was ready. She couldn’t help but cry telling me the story, and she had me sniffing and bleary-eyed too.
In a day of treating five or six clients, the emotions, stories and scars change rapidly. I will never forget the client who told me about making bread in his underwear. He was the sort of guy who liked to use my name three times in the same sentence, and he had a bit of a Tweedle Dum (or Dee) look to him. It went something like this:
“Jules, I gotta tell ya, as a health professional and all. No, Jules, lemme ask you this first. Now, Jules, have you ever had a hemmorhoid? Actually, Jules, don’t answer that one(as if I was about to! But just to clarify, I haven’t). So, Jules, I read or heard something about putting cornstarch on the ‘roids. I don’t know where I read it, but Jules, I was desperate. So, the wife was out shoppin’ or something, and Jules, I can’t find the cornstarch! What I did find, Jules, was flour. And, I said to myself, hey, can’t be too far off the mark you know. Cornstarch-flour, what’s the big difference? Well, Jules, I put some flour in my underwear to take the edge of this hemmorhoid, and I gotta tell ya, it’s a hot day. I’m sitting there with my underwear full of flour and I start feeling somethin’. I goes to the bathroom Jules, and I feel things rolling in my underwear—hell, Jules! I was making bread in my underwear! The flour and my sweat I guess, it was making bread. Can ya believe it?”
An unfortunately true story.
An elderly woman gave me an equally big laugh recently. When I asked her to turn over so I could massage her neck, she said, “I know, dear. God put me in the wrong line up. I should write ‘front’ and ‘back’ on me so you would know which is which.”
What I have come to realize is that the farts and warts get balanced out by clients who bring such light into a room. There are clients desperate for mere escapist zen, those battling cancer and bigger battlegrounds, and sad souls craving the basic connection of human touch.
My hands have seen a lot, and I am grateful to be able to offer such an oasis of calm and relief. But, just so you know, most spas offer waxing services and wearing navy or black socks will always leave sweaty lint between your toes.
And making bread in your underwear is a story for a Lady of the Evening, not a Lady of the Daytime like myself.