I bought a massage on Groupon today, because, you know, it was time, and I had off from work. I signed up for a 4:00 appointment.
The place was down some steps in a basement-like area, with walls a deep crimson and lined with beds separated by curtains. I could hear a fountain running somewhere. When I approached the front desk, which was just a table pushed toward the front, a little old lady descended upon on me in fragmented English, asking for my name and phone number and appointment time and confirmation number. When I told her, she fished out a pink Post-it from a carefully organized row behind the desk.
I saw that she’d written my name in tiny block letters next to a price that was higher than I’d paid online — so I mentioned, somewhat hesitantly, that I’d had a Groupon — and she immediately began scolding me. The price of a normal massage was much higher, she said, and I really should have let her know ahead of time that I had a deal. I tried to explain that I’d done it online and there was no space for that, but then stopped when I realized it wasn’t going to make a difference. She didn’t care, and continued to harangue me as I scrolled through my phone for the order number. She was doing me a favor, she said.
When I finally got to the room, I was slightly annoyed. Was it really necessary to get on your customer about something that was really nobody’s fault? And even if I really had messed things up — wasn’t I still a paying customer?
But as I settled onto the table and noticed the carefully-applied tree applique stuck to the wall, and the little shelf with a plastic candle and a stick of old incense, I realized: this place was that lady’s life. She had probably worked here for years, in a country that wasn’t her own, dutifully copying down each person’s information, filtering them to the right room, counting out tips — making sure the business ran smoothly. Day in and day out — this wasn’t just what paid the bills, but, if it was her job, it was also what took up most of her time, attention, energy and effort. Of course she was upset that I was disrupting the process.
I think it can be easy to forget that everyone has their own little lives that they’re absorbed within and cultivating and caring for like a child every single day. That while the massage parlor might just be somewhere you’re stopping by once, on a free afternoon, or the coffee shop just a pit stop on the way to work — for someone else, that’s their reality. That’s their own little universe that they’re living in every single day (particularly if it’s their job), and if you’re doing something to disrupt it, their gut reaction is going to be to defend it.
I think sometimes it can be hard to grasp the idea of the world as billions of people existing just like you – with insecurities and worries and passions and pride within every single stranger that walks by you down the street. It’s an overwhelming thought, and much easier to just retreat into our own realities where people who aren’t are family and friends are just Monopoly pieces on our precious little board. But just as you’re perceptive and fragile and aware and just doing your best, so is that man taking up your space on the metro seat next to you — and if a glare from a stranger would stick with you for the rest of your day, it would probably stick with him too.