In the Name of Karma,

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most of what I’m about to say is real, so don’t judge me. Listen, I’m not dumb – I just can’t, with other people’s shenanigans. Soo, I do some shady stuff for money. Yes, I’m a real massage therapist, and yes, this really is based on my life. But details have been altered to protect both the table-humpers and the guilty. You know who you are! But sadly, and more importantly, I know who you are.

This is my confessional, because my therapist said if I don’t tell someone what happens at luxurious The Sky Spa, I might literally explode one day.

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Smurfed

I’m over it. That didn’t take very long, did it? Mom, you were right! Massage is for lazy people who don’t have the guts to get into prostitution and don’t want to use their brains and get a real education. Are you happy? Are! You! Happy! Seems like this spa and I are in a very dysfunctional relationship, and I’ve made it to the one week mark. Time to move on!

I could just see my mom’s smug face and wagging finger, not even hearing anything I have to say, calling me everything from “big woman” (as in, “yuh tink you is too big to wuk”) to “Chicken” (what she calls me because I was born screaming like a scrawny chicken.) 

No, I’m not too “big” (pronounced “good”) to work. No, nothing about me screams “better” than anyone else. Chicken is extremely accurate, though. 

When I walked into work early this morning, I didn’t expect to be the first one there. I didn’t expect to find all the hall lights turned off. And when I turned them on, I didn’t expect to find Toby, our hefty security guard pants-less and on top of a guy in an open robe who could have been his brother. Not that they were actually related (I hope) – but they had the same bald head and pale, doughy skin that made you think you could just pull off a small chunk and roll it out and make a nice biscuit or two. 

And I definitely didn’t expect sweet, squishy, biscuit-y Toby, who was the only one to talk to me since I started working here – the only one who would ask me about my day on my way out, to yell at me to get the smurf out of here while throwing (the closest thing to him) a pair of lacy, blood red man-panties at my shocked face. (I ducked. Didn’t need to. They fell in a sad, slow motion at my feet.)

Side note – yes, smurf. Don’t judge me. My sister tells me that when I was five, I asked my super-religious, super-Jamaican mother what a string of bad words meant, and she nearly fainted. And when my father found out, he beat it into my ignorant (although I prefer “innocent”) skull that there are just some things you’re not allowed to say. I have no memory of this. I have no memory of a lot of things, but I’ll get to that – if I remember! (Ha!) (I’ll see myself out.)

Back to chicken me, fumbling to get out of the hallway and into the back entrance of the spa. There were two ways to get into the spa – through the hallway which connects to The Sky Hotel, which we’re not allowed to use during business hours (which is probably why Toby and Toby’s brother were making doughy “biscuits” before anyone else got here), and the back entrance, which opens behind a huge fake painting of Nathaniel Sky, original owner of The Sky, from a billion years ago, when people actually gave up six months of their lives to sit and pose for paintings.

Another side note – what was it with the amount of sexual energy in this place? I mean, they warn you in massage school that some people take being touched the wrong way. Some people shout all variations of smurf when you hit the right spot. But is it because our clients create that sexual tension, it gets stuck here in the hotel? I guess I get it, but could I just have a break!

I figured I could just hide in my room for a little while and forget the fact that I had just seen the live version of every porno that starts with a security guard in a uniform, in a hotel, in the early hours of the morning, with the excitement of getting caught. (Go ahead, look it up. I’ll wait.) When I opened the door to my *brown chicken, brown cow (pronounced bow chika, bow wow) couple’s room, the quiet made me think of all the unhappy souls that must have died in this very building – jumping into the lonely night sky from The Sky, destined to spend the rest of their undead days roaming these sex-crazed halls. I think they’re here with me right now, cause I definitely don’t feel alone.

You know when you ask the universe for something, and then it happens instantly, but nowhere close to what you were thinking. Like when you ask for a vacation, so karma hits you with a car – so technically you get that break you were looking for. Well, I wanted a break from all the sex…

And in my room, it looked like the storage closet from all five rooms had vomited sheets and towels and blankets all over the massage tables and floor. The *brown chicken, brown cow* (pronounced: bow chicka, bow wow) hot tub seemed to have the biggest pile, though. And at first, being so distracted by the thought of having to discreetly pack away this mess and pretend it never happened (cause a little dirt from the floor never hurt anybody,) I didn’t notice the smell of sweet, moldy cheese and decaying flesh was wafting through the air. When the mice started squirming under the sheets, I squealed. When the mice started crawling out, revealing the black outline of what used to be a finger, I ran out into the hallway screaming as loud as I could (which came out in exasperated grunts, cause nobody ever hears me. I’m invisible, I don’t even really hear myself.) “TTTTTTTA-OOOOOOBBBBBB-YYYYYYY!!”

That’s right, he was dead. DEAD! I’m the crazy lady who walked into the “crime scene,” who found the body of the homeless man who used to live outside The Sky, until he figured out how to sneak in before closing and sleep on the massage table. Apparently they’ve seen him on the security cameras for months, but could never figure out where he was going. The empty bottle of mouthwash they found next to him seemed to reveal his fate – pure alcohol poisoning.

As you may have guessed, Sky Spa’s couple’s suite was closed for the morning due to “maintenance and repair,” and I was given a paid day off, most likely to not have me freaking out and spreading truth rumors. Guess I will go home and rethink my sad life while they come up with a good cover story.

And That's How It's Done, Newbie

So in the past five days, I’ve learned the two most important things you have to master in order to be a luxury spa massage therapist – smiling and apologizing. Master them both if you plan on both paying rent and eating actual food for dinner every night. 

  • Sir, thank you so much for coming to see me immediately after your workout, and then informing me of how much your feet smell like cheese. Who doesn’t love the smell of a good cheese? *cheesy smile* (Get it?)
  • Ma’am, I am so sorry that I just gave you the worst massage of your entire life. Please tell me how I can be better for my next guest. *silent “sincere” interest*
  • Sir, thank you for noticing my unique accent that makes me so exotic. I am from a quaint part of Brooklyn, and have lived in New York for my entire life. *foreign smile and shy blush*
  • Ma’am, I am so sorry that you are not feeling well and have coughed all over me. Since it is flu season, you must feel so terrible. Don’t worry about me, I don’t have feelings.*sad eyes, dead inside*

You get the idea. It takes an impossibly great sense of humor and a certain hatred of yourself and your current situation in order to get the words out and not even flinch. 

As you can see, I’m not quite there yet. It’s not that I have emotions. (Please.) I just never realized the skill it takes to make your “spa voice” sound natural.

Anna has been the one to keep me on my toes. She’s been working at Sky Spa for the past ten years – ever since (according to the rumors) she left her exotic dancing career for drugging one of her underage Johns. Supposedly, he woke up tied to a motel bed in a puddle of sticky, brown fluid that he prayed was chocolate and sweat. He was still young enough that he had to call his mom to bring him pants and pay the bill – since all his money had mysteriously disappeared. As for Anna (formerly known as Destiny Xtacy), she knew there was no turning back. There wasn’t enough proof of what had happened, but her sketchy reputation left her with few options. 

But I guess we are a little desperate here at Sky, because they don’t seem to check anyone’s background. You’re fine, just as long as you can fake it. You show up to work drunk? Have some free coffee! You show up sleep deprived because you never made it home last night? Have some free coffee! You show up in a funk of loathing self hatred from all your bad life choices? Have some fr… you see where I’m going with this. They don’t really care what goes on outside the Sky. That seems to be the motto for both guest and employee. Completely off topic – I may have stumbled onto the secret to getting on everyone’s good side here – tapping into the unhealthy coffee fetish. Not sure how to use this to my advantage just yet, though.

The first time I met Anna, we were supposed to do a couple’s massage in the *brown chicken, brown cow* (pronounced: bow chika, bow wow) room with the hot tub. It had been a while since I’ve done a couple’s massage, so I just tagged along as she set it up, which worked out perfectly, since she said I wasn’t allowed to touch anything, anyway. 

“Ugh, I can’t believe they hired another one and didn’t teach you anything!” She mumbled loudly under her breath. “I have to do EVERYTHING as usual.” (Nice to meet you, too!) “Listen, I don’t know where you’re coming from or what you think you know, but you better forget it right now. You’ll soon learn, I’m very anal when it comes to my work. (*cough, cough* oversharing!) Now if you do everything exactly how I tell you, we’ll be best friends.”

Well, I see I have two options here – kill her and take over her life, becoming her in every way, shape and form, or play along and gain her trust, until she doesn’t suspect I’m the one getting her fired. 

Option three is probably the most realistic, because, let’s face it, I’m just the lovechild of if Shy and Pathetic had a baby – nod and smile like I don’t speak English. And of course, stroke her ego here and there. (“Yaas, Queen, I never knew there was such an elegant way to pour cheap champagne.) (My nerdy self can’t pull that off, can I?) 

When we went to pick up our guests, she slithered ahead of me and just whispered, “Watch and learn, Newbie,” as she applied a fiery shade of ruby lipstick to her cracked, aging, smoker’s lips. If I wasn’t so busy watching, I would have been able to point out the streaks that smeared onto her teeth. But I’m no multitasker. And what I actually learned was that Anna’s hips were not connected to the rest of her body. 

“Good evening Mr. And Mrs. Shock, and welcome to The Sky Spa. Are we all ready for a mmm-memorable experience?” She added a breathy “mmm” to “memorable” and gave a small wink at the end, and I felt like hidden cameras were going to be exposed any minute now. This can’t be real. Her hips slithered down the hall a foot ahead of the rest of her, arm in arm with dumbfounded Mr. Shock. Mrs. Shock and I both followed, my mouth hanging open, steam coming out of her ears. I didn’t even think to make the obligatory small talk, because I wanted to see what would happen next.

By the time it took for them to get onto the massage tables, Anna had managed to spill champagne on herself and slowly wipe it off with a wet towel while making eye contact with Mr. Shock. Now she could say it was an accident, but when she drank the leftovers while we were cleaning up after the massage because, “might as well, I already smell like it,” I got suspicious.

Well, at this point, I just wanted to zone out and really get my hands greasy, but I couldn’t look away. Anna slapped her hands together and started rubbing like she was going to start a fire. Then her whole body got into it – her shoulders shimmied, her hips gyrated, and her head shook. Just before the smoke appeared from her hands, she just stopped moving for a second before smacking her hands right on his bottom. OK, I’ve done a lot of energy work in my massages, but there’s that weird line that you don’t cross. His surprised grunt told me that he thought the same thing.

Now, I can’t even tell you what I did during the rest of that session. I just couldn’t pay attention to the body on my table. Luckily, I’ve given so many massages during my career that I could do this in my sleep. In fact, I probably have done this in my sleep. But I couldn’t help but stare at the way Anna swayed around the table, channeling her inner mix of cat-about-to-pounce and five-year-old-about-to-pee energy. At one point, she just stood perfectly still with her outstretched arms again on his bottom, and her hips shook so violently that the vibration rocked his entire body. It was bizarre the way she would stop every five minutes to loudly slap her hands together and start rubbing them ferociously, “to make some hot chi,” she later explained, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Once he had turned over, she had ended her session by repeatedly slapping him on the head with her manufactured chi. 

As we walked them back to the steam area, I heard him say that was the best massage of his life. Of. His. Life. As he walked away, I saw Anna pull out her phone and snap a quick photo as he was pulling off his robe and heading into the steam fog.

“And that’s how it’s done, Newbie,” she smirked over her shoulder as she walked away. I guess I have a lot to learn.

The Sky's the Limit

You know something, I should have suspected there was something special about The Sky when I first walked into the couple’s room with the softcore porn music playing in the background. Super classy! No wonder they call it The Sly. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was exactly what I needed to start over. This was where everything in my life was about to change.

I took a good look at my surroundings – thick, luxurious blankets on top of silky smooth sheets on top of heated massage tables that multiple animals probably gave their lives for, hand-blended signature oils probably worth more than my rent, soft candlelight lining the outline of a heart shaped hot tub that will one day set the velvety drapes on fire. Probably because of my clumsy self.

I was only supposed to stop in for a second, because my manager – and new boss – Rosa – had sent me on a wild goose chase to make sure I could find my way around. I thought it was super sweet of her to come up with this game, where I was supposed to call her once I got to the locker room, and the steam room, and the sauna, and the *brown chicken, brown cow* (pronounced: bow chicka, bow wow) “special” couple’s room. If I had only known that she made this “game” for me and only me, I may have felt differently. I may have “fallen” into the heart shaped tub of sex and sadness and pretended to hit my head so she could panic a little. Just. A. Little.

Who am I kidding? I would have still played along, whether or not it was because she thought I was slow and stupid. Or pregnant, and she wanted to test my stamina. I can never really tell what people think of me when they first meet me. My body is kind of disproportionate. Sturdy, as Rosa put it. And I talk slow. Sloooow. I didn’t even know how slow until I heard my own voicemail one day and yelled at myself for not getting to the point. I’ve also been asked if my kid was on the spectrum one day when I mentioned to a client how brilliant he was. Rich people have no filter when it comes to talking to “the help,’ which is what I guess I’m considered. But anyway, no, I’m not challenged in any way, other than socially, and neither is my son – also other than socially. 

But as I was running around, trying to check everything off on my personalized scavenger hunt of shame, I ran into Sweetie. (Yes, she swears that’s her real name.) “Where can I find the steam room?” she asked me. “I’m trying to burn off the calories from this lemon water before my massage with Sidney.” She had her open robe draped around her back and shoulders, completely exposing the front of her liposuctioned body to the emptiness behind me. Not that I noticed! I was looking into her eyes!

“Well, I’m Sidney, your massage therapist. I’d be happy to show you to the steam room. But if you’d like to head into your massage early, we could do that instead.”

And here we were, back in the couple’s room with the heart tub of old, dried fluids. I couldn’t get out my spiel about the massage because she ignored me completely. I couldn’t leave the room because she was already pulling off her robe. I didn’t even have time to look away before she was on the table.

“I don’t need to be covered,” she kept insisting, “I’m always hot.” “I’m sorry, Sweetie, but there are New York laws that require you to be covered.” How many laws had we already broken, with the flashing.. and the nakedness? Was this Rosa testing me again?

We came up with the compromise (lies!) that she would only be covered with a diaper drape, which, as the name implies, only covers your crotch, really. Am I going to hell? Plot twist – am I already there?

“I just want my inner thighs worked on today. I’m soo sore right now.” Of course you are. This is a dream. I’m going to wake up any minute now and head off to my real first day at The Sky. “Absolutely, Sweetie. Would you prefer a lavender oil or a eucalyptus cream?”

For the remaining 40 minutes, I proceeded to rub lavender infused oil all over Sweetie’s inner thighs, ignoring her constant moaning and arching back. No, this is not the beginning of a porno – there are just some lines you don’t cross as a massage therapist. I can be perfectly fine rubbing scented body oils all over your naked body, but I don’t want to actually see or really touch your naked body, you know what I mean? Once you lie down, your body becomes a slab of meat and muscle and fat, and I forget you’re a person.

In between grunts and her quick self-fondles here and there, she told me all about Daddy, who was this super rich property investor. Apparently he was the one paying for this massage (with his wads of cash lying around the hotel room) because Sweetie needed to relax. Well, I guess. I wouldn’t dare admit to her that after working for five years, I still could not afford a massage with myself. But sure, I get it. Her life must be harder than it looks. I guess we’re all the same on the inside.

By the time I was done, I knew her favorite brand (Burberry), favorite perfume (Chanel), and her favorite shoe (Manolo Blahnik.) And I knew that her dad paid for all of these things regularly to make up for spending too much time with his new girlfriend, who was about five years younger than her. 

As I walked her to the steam room to burn off that lemon water and wished her a fabulous day, she promised to come back and see me in a few days. Of course I didn’t believe her, but I smiled and waved as she disappeared into the fog. As I walked back to the couple’s room, I wondered if we would later find her melted body in there. Also, is it weird that I had not seen a single soul besides Rosa during the entire time I was there? Doesn’t matter. I’d  soon learn that this place was full of characters, and I just wasn’t ready.