Samsara Yoga Retreat

Inhaling the briny air, Sylvia extended her tan sinewy arms toward the balmy tropical skies above. As waves crashed loudly below, a thick mist of sea spray drifted upward, momentarily obscuring from vision the figures huddled together. The air cleared, and a small circle of silhouettes appeared, holding up long white chiffon scarves, which billowed through the air. In the center stood guru Sylvia. She chanted loudly against the wind “Lokah samastha sukhino bhavanthu”……others followed her lead. Their voices carried over the cliffs, onto the sea, fading far away into the distance.

Turning to the group, she bowed gently. Her fluffy blonde hair swirled into a halo around her head, and they bowed in return. The circle of ten individuals all wore white gauze ensembles, and a simple band of blue tied around their foreheads. At the end of the final prayer, she looked up, and slowly turned to meet each one, eye to eye, praising them for their attendance. First there was Gregory, a young man from Minnesota, who had left his life as a ranch hand to become a yogi. Next, Maxwell, a recovering sex addict from Toronto, who just wanted a fresh start. Then Nadine, sufferer of anger issues, looking for management with a spiritual angle. And, so it went. Lastly, she locked eyes with a shrewd looking red-head. She knew those aqua-green eyes immediately. It was Betty. Betty, her old friend. A reformed alcoholic. Betty was here to do a “life cleanse”, and was ready to reach the next level in her yogic training. She was, in fact, looking for her master. Sylvia offered up a weak smile of recognition, and moved on to the next person, Harvey, an ex-marine, looking for peace in his life. She breathed heavily, the group automatically followed her lead with a collective sigh.

The cliff side session was over. As the group dispersed, they wandered off in a daze to go to the hostel for lunch. Betty, however,  waited for Sylvia. After everyone had departed, the two remained on the cliff’s edge. Betty stepped gingerly towards Sylvia, forcing an awkward smile. Sylvia laughed, breaking the ice, and Betty did too. As they hugged in the sea spray, Betty stood back staring into Sylvia’s crystal blue eyes. She apologized for her bad behaviour. She explained that she had gone through major rehab, and was now a completely different person. Sylvia was very calm, took a deep breath and smiled. Betty looked out over the vast sea, and softly said, “You see, now, that the infidelity I had with your husband was nothing. In the infinity of life, it was just a blip on the screen.” Sylvia let out a hearty laugh, and pulled Betty to hug her once more. As they embraced, she took a step forward towards the cliff’s edge, and with a gently push, Betty was falling down into the foamy surf far, far below.

The Kiddie Pool

Mid July in the late 70’s. The family of four stood in the driveway of a run-down looking two family house, as they watched a giant moving truck slowly back out into the street. Tears welled up in the older daughter’s eyes. The younger child grabbed onto to her mother’s long linen skirt. She looked up to see the dark stains spreading beneath the underarms of her mom’s favorite olive shirt. Their father swiftly turned on his heels, walked into the house, letting the loose screen door slam loudly behind him.

The mother and two little girls stood for a few moments, frozen in time at the end of the driveway. They watched as the truck turned the corner, finally passing out of sight.

This was one of a series of moves. For reasons mysterious to the children, just as soon as they got settled in a new town and into a new school, it was time to move again. Usually something to do with their father’s job as a professor. Switching universities, better opportunities, or something of the sort.

This time they were going to move to a another state, but until the next house was ready, they would need to stay in temporary housing, at an apartment complex.

As the kids got into the back seat of the beige Volvo station wagon, they each hugged a teddy bear close, tears dampening the well-worn, faded fur.

Hours passed, and after dark, they arrived at their destination. It was a nondescript place. Dark russet brick, all one level. Basically a Motel 6, minus the sign. The family set up a temporary home here. Simply furnished, it served its purpose well enough.

Over the next few days, the girls ventured outside. It was during an era when kids were allowed to run around wild and free. Nobody really paid much attention, unless it was time to do homework, chores, walk a dog, or eat dinner. As they wandered around the complex, they noticed quite a few other kids around their age. The children seemed friendly enough, and one of the neighbors even had a plastic kiddie pool in front of her unit. It was blue, with bright green turtles and seahorses printed all around the outside. The little girl invited the sisters to play, and of course they were excited to meet a new friend. And, even more excited to be able to cool off in the bright blue plastic pool.

Being that it was summer and there wasn’t much to do, having a new friend with the kiddie pool was a good start. At least they had somewhere to go. They didn’t like to stay inside the dark apartment, since their mother seemed to be unhappy, and the place felt oppressive in the stifling humidity.

One day, not long after moving in, the new friend told them, “hey, it’s time to go to Bobby’s place, his mom is doing her shower.” The girls had no idea what this meant, but of course they were curious. They followed her as she traipsed around the complex. As they followed her, she called out “shower time!” over and over. Gradually, a few other children, hearing the call, joined them in the parade towards Bobby’s place.

Finally, they arrived at the apartment. Number 19. The door was open. An older boy, maybe 9 or 10, poked his head out of the front door. “Hurry up! Mom’s just getting in the shower now!” All of the kids shuffled in through the door, crowding the hallway of the small unit. The sound of a shower could be heard, and a high-pitched voice called out “Hey you guys, wanna see my tits?” The group of kids, mostly boys, swiftly gravitated towards her voice.

The bathroom door was open, an intoxicating scent of strawberry shampoo filled the air, as a cloud of steam poured out. Rock music played on a transistor radio. Behind the sheer plastic French doors into the shower, a messy giant blonde head of hair bobbed up and down. Suddenly, the doors opened and Bobby’s mom leaned out, “see these!” she held up her enormous breasts shaking them at all of the children. The two new girls stood in shock. The older sister grabbed her younger sister by the hand, and dragged her through the cluster of kids, and out the front door in a hurry. They ran all the way back to their apartment, where they fell onto the air mattress in hysterical fits of giggles.

Chameleon

Silently, I sit. Eternally waiting for something, or someone, to happen. My thick-skinned, firm body, rests motionless. Self control is my strength. I move one eye, then the other. Nothing. Nobody. I am alone. Time passes, as it always does. Finally, I sense movement. A tiny leave shivers, ever so slightly. I dart an eye in its direction, glancing at the surrounding greenery.

It’s nearly time. Something is about to happen. I wait. With stealth motion, I peer around myself, noticing that I’m a bit too bright to blend in. Swiftly, I shift my muscles, triggering a deeper shade to sweep over my skin. There. I’m hidden. Listening, I hear nothing more from the leaf. I wait. Waiting is my virtue. Patience you can call it, but for me, it’s a way of life. Waiting. I know it’s worth it. Again, I hear a barely audible sound. Tiny feet delicately treading on a branch. Exquisite. The sound has come closer. 

Now is not the time to make my move. I slow my heart rate to the brink of death. Completely undetectable, I close my eyes, and I wait. I listen as the tiny footsteps move around in the foliage right across from me. It’s time. With one eye open, I spot the miniscule spider as he cautiously makes his way along a very thin twig. I prepare myself. It’s time for something to happen. I breathe. And, it’s done. My tongue has been unleashed. I’ve swallowed the spider. Gone in an instant. He didn’t even see it coming.Chameleons have the ability to see and perceive the intentions of others. With sublime patience, camouflage and cloaking capabilities, these incredible creatures exhibit unparalleled powers of adaptation. The chameleon knows precisely when to make the right move.

Jamaican Flute

A fine mist of drizzle dampens my forehead and brow. My locks are activated by the humidity and I can feel them rising up in protest. I breathe in the sweet wet air, blended with exhaust from cars entering and exiting the parking lot. Stepping up onto the curb, I find my favorite spot under the awning of the massage parlor in the dingy 7-11 strip mall plaza. Dropping my hefty backpack to the floor, I lean down to dislodge my worn and warped wooden flute. I’ve had it since I was 15, and I am continuously awed by its resilience. I am now 48.

It wasn’t always like this. I mean, I wasn’t always like this. Here. In this god-forsaken strip mall in the Valley of Los Angeles. No. Long ago, I was in paradise. I remember the scent of the mountains, the soft air on my skin. The sun and sea were never too far. Nature and her abundance surrounded me. How did it happen. How did I get here?

Life has its leaps and bounds, you know. I always excelled in music, and my mother dreamed of me going to the states to become a star. Yes, I dreamed too, of this distant wondrous place, full of happiness, success, and opportunity. I had a huge imagination, and my mind wandered through the streets of New York. My musical gift fast became known around the island. So much so, that when traveling bands came through, they would ask me to play for their concerts. I gladly obliged, time and time again. I would get paid, and was able to help the family and save some money on the side. My expenses were minimal, food, maybe a beer here and there. So the rest of the money was a real help to my loved ones. Myself, I really never had a taste for material things.

Finally, when I was 19, the day came, when the band I played with in Jamaica asked me to tour with them. Of course I accepted the invitation. My family was more excited than I was. They practically packed my bags for me. I was going to do a year-long tour in the United States, beginning in NYC, hitting every nook and cranny between, and ending in LA, followed with a European tour. Needless to say, we toured, played, and stayed here and there. It was all a blur. I smoked more and more, slept less and less. Random women came in and went out the revolving door. I really never had enough time to establish a connection with anyone. It was go, go, go. I tired of it quickly. Days, turned into months, months, into years. Again, and again. I sent most of the money back to Jamaica. My little sister and nephews needed it more than I did. I mailed monthly gift packages, and transferred cash continually over the years.

Occasionally, I would get to go back to my home. The island air would embrace me as soon as I exited the airport. My soul felt content from the moment my feet touched the ground on my beloved Jamaica. My heart would be overflowing with love and gratitude. But, all too soon, it would be time to board another flight to link up with another tour, and the pattern would continue on and on. Playing, getting paid, sending money back, I felt trapped in an endless cycle as well as a symbiotic relationship with my kin.

Years pass, they do. You blink and 5, then 10. Gone. Blink again, 15, and 20. A few more blinks, and more than 30 years passed by.

The last tour had ended, but I never told my family. I continued to send the money I always had. It was on a schedule, and as long as I sent it, I rarely heard back anymore. My account was getting low, dwindling, one could say.

I stayed here and there, a couch,  lady friend, or guest room. Eventually, even the best of us wears out our welcome. I had not enough to get back to Jamaica, not even enough to rent a room. Just a weary backpack, and my trusty flute remained. Shoes on my feet, thank god. Somehow, my inner strength kept my body strong.

These days, I shelter under a bridge of sorts. I suppose it’s more of an underpass. The rain has been coming down lately, and it does make it a more difficult situation but I persevere.

As I situate myself under the awning of the massage parlor in the 7-11 plaza, a silver Toyota Camry slows thru the lot. A grey haired, white lady leans out her window. “I have half a sandwich if you want it?”, she says with expectant eyes. I feel betrayed and disrespected. I know she wants to be of assistance, but she is offending me. I make my way towards her car, and I can’t help but to reprimand her. I tell her, I am Jamaican, and I don’t take food from those I don’t know. She looks upset as tears well into her eyes. I know she has kind intentions. I know this, but even so, it offends me.

I was a sought after musician! I’m not supposed to be here. She waits in her car, as I storm away, grabbing my wooden flute out of the weathered backpack. I look over, and stare into her eyes as I begin to play a heartfelt ballad about love and lost. I can see a tear well, and drop down her pale cheek. I smile to myself, knowing I still have my power. My gift is not lost forever. She smiles and touches her hand to her heart in a thankful motion. At that moment, I feel that I am found.

 

Velvet Toast

The gold foil tipped cigarette, stained with lipstick, smoldered in an overflowing ashtray. Soft blonde waves of hair cascaded across her face as she softly fell back into the burgundy velour sofa, which swiftly enveloped her small frame. Slender stocking encased legs shimmered in the candle light. One metallic sandal lay discarded on the persian rug, while the other remained partially strapped to her delicate foot. The floor vibrated with bass music from the club below, mixed with din of a crowded room, occasional loud shouts, and the intermittent sound of breaking glass. With a quiet click, a door was opened. A man slipped into the room, wearing a tuxedo, dark hair slicked into a pompadour. Cat like, he moved across the room, towards the woman on sofa. As his eyes adjusted to the candlelight, he could see that there was nobody else here. Had he locked the door? He swiftly doubled back to be sure. Carefully trying the handle, he found it secure. Taking out a pack of cigarettes and a tarnished lighter from his pocket, he lit up a smoke. The flame briefly illuminated a scowling expression on his face, and the sparkle of his green eyes flashed in the dark. Taking a long pull, he dramatically exhaled towards the ceiling. Tiny beads of sweat were starting to emerge across his tanned forehead and upper lip.

Crossing the room, he reached the sofa and stopped. He stood over the blonde who was passed out cold. Her cigarette now just a faint fading ember in the ashtray. The pale blue sequined gown had slipped off of her shoulder to reveal creamy skin glowing in the low light. He reached his hand slowly towards her, running his fingertip over her bare shoulder and up the side of her neck. She stirred. He swiftly pulled his hand away, and stood there watching her. She continued to doze. Obviously she had over indulged. It didn’t help that the heroin was back in fashion, and she had been dipping into it again on occasion. He was pretty sure she was nodding off, and not just simply drunk. He sighed to himself, shaking his head. He looked at his watch and sat down in the chair across from her. As he jabbed out the cigarette in the tray, it overflowed, ash and a few butts scattering accross the mahogany table. A few minutes passed and he checked his watch again. The sound from below started to fade and within the next hour, it became quiet. Silence came over the room, other than the soft breathing of the woman.

Now, he stood up and walked towards the sofa again. He took a look down at her with pity, gently running his hand over her soft locks, pushing the hair out of her face to expose the delicate alabaster features, dark lashes and crimson lips. He let go, and her platinum waves fell once again covering her face. He took a step back, paused to look at his watch once more, and then leaned down to the corner of the velvet sofa. He took out his lighter and held it to the loosely fraying edge by the floor. The flame started small, and eased its way up the seam, as it reached the arm of the sofa it began to smolder, but suddenly a larger flame burst forward, and then another, until it suddenly burst into an angry fire swiftly devouring the sofa…he blinked as he watched for a few moments, then turned and quickly walked towards the door, making a stealth escape. Taking a back stairwell to exit the building, he stepped out into a dark alley. It was quiet and damp outside. A gentle rain was falling. He looked up at the building to see a window flickering with firelight. Taking his cigarettes out, he lit one, taking a long pull. He exhaled. He muttered one word. Bitch. With that, he turned on his heels and headed down the dank alley into the distance until he was just another shadow in the dark.

Exit Plan

Living in the moment is a very lovely sentiment. There’s a lot to be said for being present. However, it never hurts to plan ahead. A bit of strategic thinking is often a wise idea. Otherwise, it can easily happen that you wind up facing retirement at warp speed, without an exit plan. Visions of working at Walmart, or getting into elder porn start drifting through the mind. This usually happens due to a lack of planning, coupled with poor choices. But, of course circumstances and plain bad luck often play a huge role as well. This is a story about a woman in such a scenario, and how she handled her situation.

Let’s flash back to the beginning. Desiree came to LA at the tender age of nineteen. Typical story. She had been homecoming queen back in a small Iowa town, and she came to LA to become a movie star, model, or at least a tv sensation. Well, fast forward 10 years. 29 being a magic number in a mysogynistic place like LA. No longer young enough to play the “ingenue”, but she still looked good enough to continue getting roles as the ‘sexy’ so and so. Finally, Desiree landed a recurring role on a soap opera as a lonely housewife, where she was constantly getting entangled with hot young neighbors, and other women’s husbands. They say that life imitates art, or is it vice versa? I forget. Anyhow, jump ahead 5 years, and Desiree, now 34 is starting to wonder if she was ever going to find Mr. Right, amongst the string of Mr. Right Nows. Low and behold, on a commercial for vacuums, there he stood. The man of her dreams. Love at first sight. They chatted on set, he wooed her for weeks, and she knew, this was it. He was a director. Wealthy, a bit older and established. She had hit the jackpot. Not only was it love, but she, being an opportunistic gal, knew that he would be able to connect her and help her career. She was being strategic.

They married and honeymooned in Tahiti, her dream vacation. Champagne and caviar. She moved into his home in the Pacific Palisades and got so comfortable, she stopped working altogether, and focused on trying to have a baby. It seemed to be the next thing to do. Her husband, Dean, was a workaholic, but an excellent provider. He had a bit of a reputation as a ladies man, but Desiree knew that she held the keys to his heart, credit cards and castle. The following year, she had a baby boy. They named him Devon. Dean, Desiree and Devon lived their “perfect” life for many years. He lavished her with cash, gifts and cars. In return she tolerated his rumored infidelities. She had nannies and housekeepers. With more time on her hands than she knew what to do with, she felt she had achieved the life a princess would only dream of. Shopping, being pretty and well provided for. A blonde haired princess from Iowa. Just like her parents had always told her.

Fast forward 10 years. Desiree turned 39. Her years on tanning beds were beginning to surface. She looked in the mirror and noticed things she didn’t like. She began to get beauty “treatments” done by a famous Beverly Hills plastic surgeons. Just small tweaks here and there. The credit card had a high limit, and she just told her husband she needed a mole or two removed. Precancerous things, you know. Dean was oblivious, and told her to do whatever she needed to do. Their son was now in private school, and the nanny took him to his after school programs for hours. The only time they were together as a family was occasionally for a half hour or so at bedtime. Often, Dean would stay “on location”. Needless to say, Desiree started to get very lonely.

She started to go take yoga at a small private gym. This is where she met Mack. Yes, the personal trainer. So cliche, I know. Trust me, this is a scenario that plays out over and over and over again. She started to “train” daily. Her body felt better than ever, and she was glowing. One night when her husband came home, he commented on how great she looked. He made sexual advances in the kitchen, something he hadn’t done in a very long time. As he pressed her up against the counter, her cell phone received a text and then another. Her phone happened to be on the counter directly in his line of vision. Desiree wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and she had neglected to set her phone on private. Dean leaned closer to her, stroking her neck, while staring over her shoulder to view the incoming messages. Desiree squirmed, trying to get his attention. The stream of texts continued. Dean’s breathing got heavier. He pushed Desiree in front of him, grabbing her by her arms shaking her violently. He asked her what was going on. Who the hell was Mack? She started to shake and cry. She told him how sorry she was, but she had been so lonely. She cried a lot, but he just pushed her aside and stormed out, down the hall, into his office and slammed the door shut. Desiree sank down onto the kitchen floor, head in hands. She reached up to grab the cell phone and read the messages that Dean had viewed. They were completely incriminating. Explicitly sexual, and solid evidence of an affair. She turned off her phone and sat there bawling on the kitchen floor until she could drag herself to the plush white leather sofa where she fell asleep.

The next morning, Desiree woke up to her husband standing over her. He gave a weak smile and told her he understood. He confessed that he too had been having an affair, and in a way this was all kind of a relief. He had met an actress on set, and it had gotten quite serious. He was planning on telling her, but he just hadn’t had the opportune moment. Desiree felt her heart sink. She went numb. Sure, she had been having an affair, but it was just sex and she had never had the intention of getting more serious with Mack. However, her husband was telling her a different scenario. He told her that he would be going to his lawyer during the following week to file the divorce papers. He said that he was going for full custody of their son, with visitation rights for Desiree. He claimed that she was an unfit mother, focused on her plastic surgery more than on her son’s needs. He warned her not to contest it. He reminded her that he was a powerful man, with powerful connections. She was shocked and defeated. Her heart hurt. He told her she should start getting ready to move out. Devise an exit plan, he told her. Finally, he told her she would be able to have the BMW, and he would give her a sort of “severance” deal, but because she had racked up so much on his credit cards, she was lucky to get anything at all. She gasped, taking it all in.

During the next few weeks, she spent her time going through her clothes, and jewelry, bagging it up for consignment shops. She sold what she could, stashing the cash for emergencies. She started to look at apartments, and living situations, but they were all so expensive. She would only be able to survive for a few months on her finances. She had no concrete job skills, and no connections left. At this point, the idea of going out on auditions, facing rejection, seemed terrifying.

One day, while getting the mail, she saw a paper leaflet on the ground at the end of the gravel driveway. She picked it up. On the front was a photo of a handsome long haired man. “Divine Heights, A New Lifestyle” was printed in bold purple script. She opened the pamphlet and read inside. It described a permanent “retreat”, in the countryside, where it cost nothing, but you were provided with everything. A healthy cooperative community. Welcoming to all, no matter what financial status. There was a phone number at the bottom, underneath a photo of a group of laughing people in a tent. She went back inside, glanced around the huge luxurious white living room, walked over the the giant fur chair, plopped down and dialed the number.

A woman’s voice answered. Hello, Divine Heights, Althena speaking. Desiree paused. Then she started to ask questions. Where was this community, what was the lifestyle, and what was the cost to become a part of it. The woman explained that it was a healthy community in the hills of a remote town in central california. They welcomed all. Depending on budget, there was a nominal “buy-in”, but once in, the only cost was labor and participating in events. The founder, known as Chino, was a leader and a man of many talents. They practiced daily meditation, along with coop gardening, and cooking.

Desiree decided to take the “tour”. She drove her BMW up the coast and headed inland towards the dry desolate looking mountains. It seemed like a very long drive, hours and hours. Finally, down a long dirt road, she saw ahead, a compound. Looking like an old military camp, she noted people milling about, doing repairs. She parked at the end of the drive and got out of her car. A tall dark haired familiar looking man looked in her direction, waving her over. She walked towards him. As she got nearer, she noticed that this was the man on the cover of the pamphlet. The man introduced himself as Chino, reaching out his hand to hers. He gently pulled her in for a hug, whispering “welcome”, softly into her ear. She smiled. She told him she was there to take a look at the Lifestyle. He invited her into the building where there was a simple set up of rustic furnishings. He guided her to a small wicker couch and sat down right next to her. He was wore jeans and a loose fitting shirt. His scent was masculine and deep. He pressed his knee against hers. She felt chemistry. He was a powerful man. She liked him. He put his arm around her, holding her close. He told her he knew she was searching. He knew she needed shelter and love. She had to look no further. She smiled, and felt his lips kiss her neck. She pulled away. He looked her in the eyes, and told her she was welcome here. There would be no charge for her. She thought to herself, this was it. He got up and took her hand. He lead her down a long hall towards a small room. Through the tiny window, enough natural light streamed in to see a clean and simple setup. A single bed, sink and toilet. He told her this would be her personal quarters. The rest of the place was shared. He told her he felt the connection too. She smiled. It was her moment. A culmination of her life’s choices. This was it. She had her exit plan.

Winter Wanderland

Philadelphia. Circa 1989. Mid-January. Massive mounds of filthy, encrusted snow lined the slick streets. The air was numbingly cold. Valerie wished she had worn an extra pair of socks. Her feet were starting to feel the burn of the cold by now. Heading into the frigid wind, she pushed her thick scarf up over her mouth and nose, with an awkward mittened hand. Her eyes watered, and her nose was starting to run. Miserable. It was miserable. The depths of an East coast winter. The aftermath of the holidays. Dead and cold. Bitter and cruel. Monotone and lifeless.

Valerie had moved there 2 years earlier to take a job at a prestigious university library. It was really her first professional job, and she loved it. However, the pay was meager, since she was entry level, and there wasn’t much room for advancement in the near future. Needless to say, between her rent, bills and basics, she was always strapped for cash. In addition, she had a looming college loan to pay off, and it was already starting to accrue interest. Every Sunday she would scour the paper, looking for odd jobs to supplement her income. Occasionally, she would find a one-day gig cleaning someone’s closet, or doing housework. She even had a job painting apartments on weekends for a couple of months with an artist from Croatia (Yugoslavia). But these were all temporary, and inevitably she ended up back at square one over and over again.

This Sunday, she was on her way to interview for a job at a day spa. The ad said that they would train the right person to do massage. She thought this sounded perfect, since the hours were flexible and there were cash tips to be made as well. When she had called, the woman had sounded eager to meet her, and they had set up the interview for the same afternoon. She headed there with mixed feelings of curiosity, hope and a bit of trepidation. She had been walking for 15 minutes, which felt like an eternity in the frigid air. Finally, she could see the building ahead. It was located above a laundry mat, just like the woman had told her. She could see the delapidated building, with its grimy fluorescent lit laundry-mat glowing at street level. Dim lights were flickered in the upper windows.

As she crossed the street towards the address, she saw the small entryway. As the heavy door swiftly slammed with a vacuum seal, she welcomed the blast of hot air surrounding her. She pressed the ancient metal buzzer that said “Day Spa”. There was a static noise, and a woman’s garbled voice told her to come upstairs. The latch released, and she pushed open the second door to enter into the dingy hallway.

She suddenly felt broiling hot. Taking off her mittens and scarf, she stuffed them into her backpack, before heading up the rickety wooden stairway. A musty smell permeated the hall, along with a hint of Lisol. Once she reached the landing, with it’s faded and torn wallpapered hall, she saw a faded red door at the end of the hall that just said “spa” in small uneven vinyl blue letters. As she walked over, the door opened. A very young woman, maybe 18, looked her up and down. “Valerie?, You are here for job?”, she asked with a heavy eastern European accent. Valerie told her yes, and that she had an interview with Marie. The girl lead her into the waiting area, which was lit only by one tiny cheap looking table lamp. Next to the lamp was a lopsided miniature Christmas tree with strands of multi-color lights sloppily wrapped around it. There were a few holiday greeting cards under the tree and one awkwardly stuck between the branches. The young woman told Valerie her name was Irene, and that she would need to wait for the boss, Marie.

Valerie followed her through the waiting area, down a dreary hall, into a fluorescently lit laundry room, where there were a couple of other girls. One sat on the dryer, smoking a cigarette, and the other sat on a stool folding towels. They both looked tired, barely acknowledging her as she walked in. The one with the cigarette, glanced up long enough to give Valerie a dirty look, and proceeded to blow smoke in her direction with a hard stare. Irene, opened a mini-fridge in the corner and took out a can of Tab. She passed it to Valerie, and told her to sit down and wait until Marie came out. Valerie sat down, sipping her soda. She took her scarf from her backpack, and folded it slowly, wrapping her mittens inside of it. Mostly because she wanted to seem busy, and avoid eye contact with the other girls. The air was tense. The only sound was the dryer, and a small radio playing top 40 hits from the 80’s.

Finally, she heard a door open down the hall and footsteps, along with the sound of a man and woman talking and laughing. Then the front door opened and shut. She heard the sound of heavy heels on the wood floor, and looked up to see a stocky blonde woman, wearing a cowboy hat. Her shirt was unbuttoned to reveal an ample cleavage sprinkled with freckles. It was tucked into a pair of tightly belted high-waisted jeans. Everything was very snug, accentuating her curvaceous figure. She looked unnaturally tan, and this was set off by her frosted pink lipstick, and heavily lined sparkling blue eyes peering out from under the brim of the hat. Valerie got up and the woman laughed, and said, “Hi, I’m Marie, sorry you had to wait, but you know how it goes.” She smiled and flashed a smile revealing a diamond imbedded front tooth. Valerie reached into her backpack, and pulled out an envelope, handing it to Marie. “This is my resume.” She told her. Marie laughed loudly. “Honey, I don’t need that! Follow me, and lemme tell you about the job.”

Valerie followed her through the waiting area, down another darkened hallway. Marie’s clunky platform wooden clogs lead the way along the floorboards. She opened a door to the left and let Valerie into a windowless room, which was all white. There was a massage table in the middle, and a bamboo screen on the side. On another side table stood a container of Clubman talc, and a large bottle of generic baby oil. Marie hoisted herself up onto the massage table, letting her clogs fall loudly to the floor. She looked at Valerie seriously, “Okay honey, listen. This is a massage parlor. You gotta give a good massage. I could interview you, but what I need to know is can you give a decent massage. So, basically, what I’m saying, is, you gotta give me a massage, and then I’ll know if you can do the job. After you finish, I’ll give you one.”

Valerie felt like leaving, but it was so cold out, and what could it hurt to give this lady a massage anyhow. She quickly justified the odd interview request, deciding that it might be worth it if she could make some money here. Anyhow, Marie was already taking her shirt off. Then, she took off her hat, stuffing the shirt inside of it, and tossed to the far corner of the room. Next, she stood for a moment, swiftly unfastened the tooled leather belt, and peeled off the jeans, throwing them over the bamboo screen. She kept the high-cut shiny red panties and giant matching brassiere on. Valerie let out a barely audible sigh of relief. Marie climbed onto the table, flipping onto her stomach, saying, “okay sweetheart, go ahead, gimme all you got.” Valerie, pushed up her sweater sleeves, and reached for the baby oil. She warmed it between her hands and took a deep breath. She massaged Marie’s thick freckled shoulders and neck, being careful to move the bleached blonde hair out of the way. Beneath the hair was a large faded tattoo of a rabbit on rollerskates, with the name “Lou” beneath it. Valerie kneaded deeply and slowly over the dense upper back, being sure to take her time. Marie moaned, and said “Oh, yeah, baby. That’s what I’m talkin’ bout. Mmm hmmm, you know what? You’re a natural. I can tell. Can you just massage my legs a bit and then we can switch.”

Valerie, massaged her thighs, with long sweeping strokes, steering clear of the panty line area. Meanwhile, she asked Marie, “so, um, how does it work in here? I mean, what kind of massage do you offer clients. Do I have to learn Swedish, or other types? How do they pay?”  Marie sighed. “Oh yeah, I practically forgot about the fact that you’re here about the job, I was gettin’ so relaxed up in here. Well, basically it’s up to you how much money you gonna make, you know.” Valerie asked what she meant. Marie laughed. “You know, some guys they like you to dress up like a nurse, or whatever, you know. You can say yes, or no. But, if you really wanna make the big money, you know what I mean, um, yeah you can do what you want. You know. I can’t tell you, ‘cause it’s really up to you, but you know what I’m sayin’.”

Marie let out a heavy smoker’s cough, saying, “You can stop now, it’s my turn, lemme show you how its’ done.” Valerie quickly answered, “no, thanks, it’s okay, I got it. I have to get going.” Marie smiled, “oh, yeah, well, baby, it’s your loss. Anyhow, if you want the job, you got it. And, did I mention it’s all cash? Yeah, honey, in this business you can walk out of here after every shift with a fat wallet if you play your cards right. You know what I mean. Alls you gotta pay out is a house fee flat, or do a 50/50 cut, the choice is yours. Most girls pay the house flat fee. You keep the rest. Tips are really up to how happy you make the client. You know what I mean.“ Winking a heavily lashed eye, she laughed boisterously, as she fluffed out her big blonde hair. Valerie, laughed too, and told her that she would think it over. Marie, got back into her outfit, adjusting the cowboy hat on her head. She climbed into her clogs and opened the door into the hall, allowing Valerie to exit first. As she walked into the hallway, the young girl who had answered the door, Irene, passed by, headed towards another massage room, followed by a client, a 60 something man, with a large protruding stomach and thinning hair. He had sunglasses on, which she found odd, considering how dark it was in this place. As they got to the waiting area, Marie excitedly whispered to her, “that guy there, well, you know who that is, right?  He spends a shitload of cash up in here. He’s one of our top clients. We got plenty, honey. Politicians, cops, traders, rockstars, all kinds of famous rich guys. I’m telling you, kid, you can do real good in here. Might not look like much, but what you see ain’t always what is seems, you know. You think it over, and call me. You won’t regret it. I can guarantee it.”

Valerie thanked her, as she pulled on her down coat, and wrapping the scarf around her head. She grabbed the mittens out of the backpack, making sure she was well protected before heading down the hallway towards the stairs. She could see it was getting dark out already as she reached the foyer of the building. Exiting to the right, the frigid wind pelted her cheeks with icy rain. It was sleeting again. She stopped at a corner deli to get a coffee for her walk home. Her mind raced. She needed money and Marie had been convincing, but the girls there sure didn’t look like they were doing very well. She sipped her coffee as she walked as fast as possible along the slick sidewalks. Finally, she saw her street. The light shining from her brownstone entry had never looked more welcoming.

Opening up the door to her apartment, she smiled and looked around. She didn’t have much, but it was cozy and homey. She felt grateful as she flopped down on her second hand sofa. Her tabby cat, Pierre, came over and purred against her leg. She noticed the blinking light on the answering machine, and picked up her home phone to listen to the messages. One from her mother, the usual Sunday check in, and one from her boyfriend Nick. She smiled as she listened to his message. He said he wanted to come over later, and he would love to treat her to a relaxing massage.