I write between clients. There’s a yellow wall behind me, and fuzzy leopard print pillows on the floor. I sink into them with my computer while sun shoots golden light onto our bare legs. There are other women here: One with dark curly hair and ballet legs, another with a bubble butt who wears a magnificent, burgundy scarf and turquoise jewelry. Our phones vibrate. I whisper to the man on the phone and watch a pot of wild rice simmer. I tell him the address and the door code. Later he will be given a nickname, and that will be his all-access pass.
I write in a massage parlor between hand jobs. Among the women, there is talk of love and intention as they quote passages from Creating Money, and Sexology, but a happy ending is a hand job no matter how it’s accessorized. I’m okay with that. Outside on the balcony are clouds shaped like infected roots on the x-rays of teeth and a view of a canyon with eucalyptus trees. Through the smog, you can still see the Hollywood sign, but today all I see are faint white lines for the “Y.”
I write on a quilted disk pillow. A Tibetan prayer rug hangs above me. If I move, the red, orange and gold Buddha will tickle my left shoulder. I sip chocolate tea and edit my book. I’ve been out of grad school for two years and my book is not finished. It feels like I’m writing the end now. It’s like being pregnant with a chain saw for two years; the final trimester blades whirring to get out.
Next to my computer is an iPad where I enter sixty-minute or ninety-minute appointments that happen in rooms with dark green sheets and crock pots where oil is warmed. I’ve never worked in a massage parlor before. I’ve been flying blind, meeting strangers in hotels with my arsenal of butt plugs and floggers, then sitting on my green couch with two cats beside me, waiting for the phone to ring. When I wasn’t panicking about money or getting arrested, I was writing.
Before my client arrives, I save my word document then light candles, scrub the shower and skate barefoot on a towel to dry the bathroom floor. Some of the women here fancy themselves high priestesses, and in their sessions they speak in tongues and use feathers to excite sensation. Another girl will put her lips near a client’s ear and make purring noises then giggle like a baby bird. My sessions are not elaborate. One thing I learned from the purring girl was the pillowcase trick, which involves blowing hard on a pillowcase, which has been placed on a client’s chest covering their belly and dick. Using my stomach muscles, I blow until I make a humming noise. I try to keep a straight face while doing this and promise to write about it afterwards.
I’m just learning the ropes. I drizzle coconut oil onto thighs and necks, rub shoulders and feet, slipping my legs underneath theirs on a massage table, pulling at them until they come. There is a loneliness to it that lands in my bones. I shower off afterwards, but my keyboard stays shiny from the oil residue on my fingertips, because I fall into the arms of writing after my clients are gone.
How I got here was an email that turned into a dinner invite–nothing like prancing around stage before coked up managers; grabbed then dismissed. The girls I met for dinner traveled to the jungle for silent retreats. They were both yoga enthusiasts with pierced belly buttons and deep tans. The food was pink: tuna tartare and blackened catfish. We drank filtered water from a thick glass carafe. Sex workers never eat at the cheap places.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Sometimes.” I thought of the guy everyone sleeps with whom I told I couldn’t sleep with earlier today. Another one was too fragile so I didn’t fuck him either, but now it was all I thought about doing.
The women wanted gelato so we strolled past a storefront with phrases cut out of linen draped in front of the window that said: “Falling in love is the worst. It makes you act stupid” and “You are my favorite.” My heart leapt for whomever strung those words across the window like a sky, but I walked away, knowing that sex work and being in love make sour bedfellows.
“What exactly goes on in the rooms?” I didn’t want gelato. I sat in an iron chair outside and watched them spoon the sugary glop into their mouths with no regard of the fat that collected on their thighs. This made them suspect. I hoped they’d tell me the truth. Anything more than a hand job left me emptied out. Sometimes it took hours or days until I could feel something other than being spent. It reminded me of the Whipple procedure my Mom had to treat her cancer: her intestines were extracted, the cancer removed, but when they shoved her intestines back inside, it was never the same. Eating was a mess. “Sacred temple body work ending in a hand release,” she said.
“I’m not trained in massage,” I said. I don’t know why I sabotaged myself by telling her this.
“I’ll train you,” the girl with the bird laugh said. She gave me a tour of the place. We climbed a lot of steps to get inside, where there were orchids, light dimmers and feathers in vases. The massage parlor was more like a spa with a communal kitchen and lots of animal prints, nothing like I’d imagined: grimy massage tables with old scratchy towels that smelled like bleach and come.
“You can write here,” she said.