Thursday, April 12, 2012

In Good Hands

I woke up this morning with the feeling that today was going to be different somehow. But actually when I think about it, every day is different. No two days are ever alike. I wake up, I pray, I make my offerings, I put on the coffee, and I eat a small breakfast. After that it's anyone’s guess. I never know who will ring the doorbell or what they’ll request. Some days I’m in a better mood than others. Some days feel redundant while others leave me guessing.

When I came to this country at a young age I knew I was destined for something great. Everyone always told me how beautiful I was, how I could be a model or an actress or in the very least, the wife of a wealthy businessman. Instead I found myself working in this small massage parlor in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
When I dreamed about America I pictured the tall buildings of New York City, the Golden Gate Bridge sweeping across the San Francisco bay, or the movie stars in Hollywood. Alas, my family settled in the capital city of a dull, white-washed, God-fearing state like Oklahoma. It could have been worse of course, we could have ended up in the freezing north or the racist south. Oklahoma City was quaint and quiet. People were pleasant and life moved at a steady pace but it could never match the excitement of New York City or Los Angeles. Although I confess that I’ve never been to either city. I’ve never even left Oklahoma.
The afternoon was a quiet one. A customer rang my bell around noon. He was a heavy set white man named Robbie, or at least that’s the name he chose. He was a new customer. I invited him in and he requested the full service. He must have been referred by another customer. Robbie was in and out in 45 minutes. He was sloppy and quick, the way most Americans are. I experienced many like him before and probably would many more to come—no pun intended. I knew exactly what I needed to do and how to do it as efficiently as possible. Robbie was one of those guys that like to lie down and do nothing. Which is okay, I guess. He is a paying customer after all.

When our appointment finished he quickly dressed and gave me an extra $20 for my “speedy service”. His words, not mine. I showed him out and took a quick shower. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so I prepared a small vegetable dish to appease my hunger but I have to be careful not to eat too much because I don't want to get bloated. I was pretty sure Robbie had a wife and family. Most men like him do. In the beginning I used to fantasize that one of these men would rescue me from my mundane existence only to share their mundane lives with a few more comforts. My bedroom was a few doors down the hall from the massage room. It was impossible to separate life from work but I eventually managed.

I sat at my linoleum table eating a late lunch while watching Judge Judy on TV. What an awful show and what an awful woman! Where do they find these people? But then I realized what I do for a living and stopped judging.

When I was a junior in high school I fantasized about going to some fancy college in the Northeast or abroad. I knew it was nothing more than a fantasy, but I really wanted to get an education. I got very good grades even though I didn’t find any of my classes interesting. What I found most interesting was earning money by tutoring my classmates in algebra and biology. One week I spent every night tutoring that I forgot to do my own homework. So ironic that the tutor was failing her own classes!

I started this job right after graduation. I was always considered a beauty and my family knew exactly what that meant. I had my suspicions but instead relied on the hopes that I might forge my own path in life. I tried to take classes at community college but didn’t have enough time to work, attend classes, and study. I took a few semesters off. I haven’t been back since.

Judge Judy delivered her verdict and ordered the defendant to pay $1000 to an angry black man who began crying and praising the Lord. I was eager to watch the next case about two Mexican women fighting over a pawned ring.  I thought this might be a little promising…

The bell rang. I switched the TV off and went to the window. I saw a tall man standing at the porch. He was sweating and looked exhausted, like he had just crawled through the desert to get here. I considered going back to Judge Judy but noticed that he looked foreign. I opened the window slightly and asked what he wanted. He hesitated a moment then nervously said he wanted a massage. I told him to put $60 in the mail slot. He pulled his wallet from his pocket and began to fumble with the bills. I was getting slightly impatient and wanted to turn him away but I was intrigued. In all my years working here I had never once met a white foreigner. Maybe he was British like James Bond? No, he was too awkward to be like James Bond. Perhaps he was Swedish like the Vikings. No, too skinny. I couldn’t tell much from his accent. He eventually fished out three $20 bills and dropped them in the mail slot. I closed the window and went to retrieve the cash. $60 exactly. I quickly wiped my mouth and sprayed my breath with freshener to mask my lunch.
I opened the door and welcomed the tall man in. He had kind eyes and a crooked smile. I wanted to ask where he was from but I also didn’t want to engage in conversation. I usually try to avoid personal conversations with my customers.

I led him into the massage room and offered him a wet towel to wipe his perspired face. I offered him a table shower which he accepted. He undressed as I prepared the oils and lathers. He got on the table silently and stared at the ceiling. I could tell he was trying not to stare at me. Some men cannot help but stare. Others simply close their eyes and fall into a peaceful daydream. But this man stared intently into the ceiling, burning a hole with his gaze.

He was certainly European I soon found out.

I finished the shower and instructed him to turn over to begin the massage. I spent the next half hour doing what I do every day--kneading my hands through every crease, wrinkle, bone, and fat pocket of countless men from young adulthood to senior citizenship. He remained very still and calm as if he received massages often. No tension, no inappropriate moans, no pained flinches, and no awkward shaking.

As I continued working I studied the back of his head. He had such short hair. I always imagined European men with long, flowing hair. I thought that in my sudden discovery I might unlock some secret to his existence and what brought him to Oklahoma City. I was curious. Then I thought about Judge Judy…

Half an hour passed and I finished the massage. I paused and waited for him to make a request. He turned over and covered himself with the towel and looked right at me but said nothing. I was slightly taken aback by his overt eye contact. He went from being a strange, clumsy man to a confident and poised gentleman. Had this been my first year of work I might have assumed he was waiting for me to leave the room so he could dress in privacy. But 8 years later I knew this was not to be the case.

During my third year I encountered an obviously homosexual male customer. He was quite flamboyant and acted like a “fairy” as the Americans would say. It was unusual to meet a man like this in Oklahoma City. He spoke like a gay man and talked openly about his “boy toy”. I was surprised but amazed. I wanted to know more about his forbidden lifestyle in a conservative Christian state like Oklahoma. He talked a bit while I massaged him and I felt comfortable. I reasonably concluded that once I finished the massage he would leave. But when I finished he turned over and nervously asked if I could provide him a “happy ending”. I was shocked. I told him it would cost him another $20 and he agreed. I began my work when I noticed his eyes pinched shut as if he were in pain. I asked if he felt okay and he said yes. I continued but saw him bite his lower lip. I asked him if I was too rough and he said no, it was fine. I kept going until he bolted upright and forcefully removed my hands from his genitals. He burst into tears and I couldn’t understand why. Did he feel like he was cheating on his “boy toy”? I turned around and considered returning his $20. He kept apologizing and said “I can’t…” over and over. I walked out the room and waited in the hallway. A few minutes later he came out with his head down. He politely thanked me and hurried out the house. A few days later I saw on the news that a local man had killed himself in prison after being arrested for hiring a street walker and doing drugs with her. They dared to show his picture on TV and it was him, the homosexual “fairy” I had unsuccessfully tugged on. It wasn’t that I had never seen a former customer on TV before, in fact I had seen quite a few but this time I felt horrible at seeing his mug shot plastered across the TV screen like he was some sort of criminal. I was surprised after our ordeal that he would attempt another encounter. I wondered how he got caught and where the drugs came from. Could she have been an undercover police officer? What hit me hardest was the reality that he killed himself. He killed himself in prison. I wonder what his last thoughts were and if I had anything to do with his decision. The mystery deepened and I decided I wouldn’t ask questions or draw conclusions about a customer ever again. I didn’t want to know who they were, how they felt, or who they were fucking.

The European man looked me in the eye in a way that reminded me of the homosexual, but with less sadness. The man before me looked curious and intrigued. I couldn’t bear his staring so I asked him if he required anything else. He asked for the full service. I told him it would cost another $100. He agreed and took his wallet from the counter. When he opened his wallet his face reddened with embarrassment. “I’m afraid I don’t have enough cash.” It was my turn to stare back at him. “Do you accept credit cards?” he asked. I answered yes and he produced a credit card from a foreign bank. I glanced at it but still couldn’t figure out which country he came from. I decided to ask for his ID. He pulled out a large and colorful ID card that looked like no driver’s license I had seen before. He was Austrian. I laughed at his funny name.
I went to the office across the hallway to ring the transaction. I left him alone in the massage room without saying a word. I figured it was better to leave him guessing.

I noticed his birth date and was surprised by his age. He looked about 10 years younger than he was. The information on the back of his ID was written in German with strange symbols over some of the letters. I had never met an Austrian before. I didn’t really know much about Austria except that it’s next to Germany and home to Mozart. The card was approved and I returned to the massage room to find him sitting exactly where I left him, unmoved even by an inch.

I handed him his cards and remarked about the ID size in comparison to American driver’s licenses. He smiled bashfully and put the cards back into his wallet. He seemed to have taken a liking to me which left me feeling both flattered and unsettled. I thought back to the homosexual and how friendly and open he was only to turn up dead a few days later. No, I didn’t want this Austrian man to like me. In fact, he was no longer Austrian. He became another white man like all the others, like Robbie an hour before him.
He sat still like a stubborn child not wanting to go to school. I was amused. I instructed him to lie down. He did as I said. I removed his towel and began to disrobe. I didn’t look at him while I did, I didn’t want to know where his eyes were, whether they were watching me or continuing to burn a hole into the ceiling. I stood naked and grabbed a condom from the counter. I put it in my mouth and hopped onto the table.
He was thoroughly satisfied and perhaps even slightly overwhelmed.

Judge Judy had long passed by the time his appointment ended. I decided that I would rule against the defendant since she pawned something that didn’t belong to her. The Austrian seemed much calmer and began to chat as he dressed. Not since the homosexual had I accepted such banter from a customer. Either they left as abruptly as possible or I quickly escorted them out. But I admit I felt endeared to him and really wanted to know how the hell he ended up in America, in Oklahoma City, in my massage parlor. He was very straightforward with his answers and I didn’t get the feeling he was inventing anything though the things he described seemed so unreal to me, that a person could get paid to do what he does and have the privilege of being flown around the world. He was quite modest about his occupation and seemed as if he couldn’t believe he was getting paid for his services either. He found America so interesting. He reminded me of a little boy.

He wished me luck before leaving. I asked him to send a post card from New York City. After he left I took a quick shower and switched on the local news. They presented a small story about the band he was traveling with. It was probably old footage from months ago because the Austrian briefly appeared with longer hair, the way I imagined a European man ought to look. I laughed then felt relieved. I laughed at seeing another customer on TV but felt relieved to see this one with eyes full of life and curiosity, even if it was from a few months ago. I hoped he wouldn’t wind up dead on the news but I wasn’t too worried. He seemed to be in good hands—no pun intended.

After the headlines I switched the channel to watch Ellen.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I probably should not share this with you, but...

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be loved.

When I see the aftermath of a car accident on the freeway I always think today could be my day.

When I see a sign that says “Restrooms for Customers Only” I get nervous that if I use the bathroom someone will bang on the door and force me out. When I enter a fast food place with said sign I usually glance at the menu to pretend like I’m going to order something and then sneak into the bathroom. Of course I realize this is ridiculous and that no one actually cares.

I always wonder what kind of person I am. Am I the person I want to be? Am I the person I need to be? Can I take pride in myself? Should I take pride in myself? Do I deserve to be a person?

My 25th year on this earth started off pretty crappy. At the half-way point it seems to be getting a little better. I hope by the end it will be “good”. Whatever that means…

My closest friends are scattered around the world. This makes for insightful and deep conversations about all sorts of things with a diverse range of people but also leaves my daily life rather lonely.

I truly think that society has accepted mediocrity as the norm.

I use racial and homophobic slurs in my head while I’m driving. Kind of ironic all things considered…

I recently wandered into a bar by myself and stared at the floor the whole time.

I have had my heart truly broken twice in my life. People might say that overcoming these things makes you stronger but for me they've become anchors slowly dragging me to the bottom of the sea. How many more must I endure until I drown?

Sometimes I use my ethnic appearance to get away with things. When I last visited Paris the museums did away with student discounts and created “youth” discounts instead. Most places gave discounts to people 25 and under--which worked for me. One gallery only gave a discount to 23 and under and was checking IDs. I wore a big smile, put on a faux Japanese accent, and said in broken English, “Please. One admission. I am 23 years. Thank you.” The lady at the ticket desk gave me a weird look and replied, “3 euro please.” It worked. A few years ago I was in Istanbul. A large group of Asian tourists was being admitted into an historical site with an entrance fee. I joined the group and was let in by the Turkish ticket collector. When I lived in Israel I went to see a performance in Tel Aviv. The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company was performing and I didn’t feel like paying for a ticket since I lived in Ga’aton and felt rather indignant about it. It just so happened that the Beijing Modern Dance Company was also in town that week and the dancers were invited to watch the performance for free. I mixed myself into the group of skinny Asians and was admitted into the theatre without question.

Once I visited the West Bank and left my passport in my hotel room in Jerusalem. Upon passing through a checkpoint into Israel, a soldier asked to see my passport. I showed her my driver’s license. She looked puzzled. Then I started speaking English really fast about nothing in particular. She made a weird noise with her mouth (as Israelis do) and walked off the bus.

In another of my West Bank jaunts, I was met by an Israeli checkpoint soldier carrying a piece of paper with Japanese writing on it. He held the paper in front of my face and shouted, “Do you read Chinese?! Can you tell me what this says?” I told him, “Occupation bad.” I don’t read Japanese.

I have a sensitive stomach and get sick from almost anything. With that said, I eat just about everything. Except liver.

I fall into an existential crisis nearly every day. Life and death are recurring thoughts in my head, themes of my being. I am plagued by my own mortality.

I don’t want to bring children into this world.

I build Legos. I don’t play with Legos. I build them and I leave them on display. Once a month I dust them.

Over the years I’ve found more creative ways of being self-destructive.

I wandered into the bagel-y part of town and got a free drink at the shawarma place because I lived in Israel. The Israeli man working there was actually on the phone with a woman who works in Ga’aton. Small world indeed. Fuck, Israeli shawarma is so expensive in LA. I sat in the restaurant watching a closed captioned Tom Hanks movie on TV. He peed against a tree, decided to carve his initials into the tree, but tipped over the tree instead. Anyone? While sitting there I noticed a young girl standing by the door with a pained expression on her face. Her dad walked up as she pointed to the “Restrooms for Customers Only” sign on the window. He shook his head and took her to the bathroom anyways. They left without so much as once looking at the menu. Good dad.

While descending the escalator in a Parisian metro station I saw loads of police officers frisking and searching young people and their belongings. The officers were standing at the bottom of the escalators taking aside all youths for search. Black, white, Asian, and Arab youth, male and female. I got nervous they might stop me as well. Of course I wasn’t carrying any drugs but I didn’t want the experience of having my person and bags searched in a train station. However I think my tote bag from the Bayeux Tapestry and colorful knit cap kept the officers at bay. That and my aforementioned big Asian smile.

My least favorite holiday is Halloween because it actually scares me a little.

I’m an awful listener.

When people ask if I’m a “glass is half full” or “glass is half empty” type of person, I usually respond that I’m a “there is no glass” person. I don’t believe in life yet I have an immensely high regard for human life—just not my own.

When I was little my Chinese and Taiwanese classmates told me I wasn’t Chinese because I couldn’t speak Chinese. My Hispanic classmates told me I wasn’t Mexican because I had thin eyes. Eventually I became your standard, typical, whitewashed Asian who wore Gap sweaters, Abercrombie & Fitch polos, and Roxy flip flops. Now I realize how much bullshit it all was. Not being “something” enough to a group of people. I am who I am no matter how much or little I look, act, talk, or think like one expects me to. I am a Chinese-Mexican American non-Jew who speaks Hebrew. If that’s too much for you, go back to Kentucky.

On that note, when I was a little girl I thought I was a black boy. I don’t know why.