Once upon a time I was a naive teenager. I lived in a kingdom called Midwest suburbia and the summer before I left for college, I worked at an illegal massage parlor outside Chicago for a day.
This wasn’t something that I meant to happen. Growing up, I didn’t foster this dream of administering the holistic health practice most commonly associated with blow jobs. Instead, I grew up with dreams of flying without wings and telepathic communication with my best friends. After I graduated high school, when I realized those dreams would never be achieved and that I desperately needed a summer job, I headed to the treasure trove of employment for unqualified minors: Craigslist.
I remember looking though sections like “art/media/design” and “writing/editing.” But when all I could find were postings like “CO-WRITE MY SCREENPLAY!!” and “**Wanted: Copywriter for Real Estate blog**,” I headed to sections like “food/bev/hospitality” and “salon/spa/fitness.” In the latter section, I saw an opening at a nearby salon called Luxe Tan & Spa. The listing didn’t have an exorbitant number of exclamation points or asterisks, which was a pretty good sign. I mean, it wasn’t my first choice. But when you have no choice, last choice starts to look pretty good.
I sent an email to Jason, the man who would become my boss. He scheduled an interview for the following week and I stopped looking at Craigslist in the meantime. The day of our meeting, I wore a fitted blouse and a knee-length skirt and strolled into Luxe Tan & Spa, a small business I had never noticed in a strip mall that I had actually driven by many times. On the outside, the windows were decorated with plastic decals of palm trees and seashells. From the inside, cheap plastic blinds covered the storefront, blocking out sunlight and suspecting eyes. Once we got to the back office, Jason asked me a few questions. I was surprised when he recognized the small east coast university I was planning on attending. I was charmed when he said my choice to study English was “great.” He asked me if I had any experience working at a salon and I answered honestly that I did not. “That’s fine,” he said. “You can start with reception and work up.”
“Lastly,” he said, slowly. “Are your parents okay with this?”
What an odd question, I thought. Do my parents want me to be an independent individual that attempts to earn my own living?
“Yes,” I replied.
BOOM I AM HIRED.
The next day is my first working at Luxe Tan & Spa. Jason schedules me to work from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. for $8 an hour. I wear a forest green dress with short sleeves and a scoop neck. Upon my arrival, Jason introduces me to two Asian ladies wearing denim cutoffs and says they’ll be taking their appointments in the back. He teaches me how to turn the tanning beds on and off and how to answer the phone. As he leaves for the afternoon, I proverbially pat myself on the back. I am being paid to sit in a chair and press buttons, I think to myself. Cool.
An hour goes by.
One of the Asian ladies brings in her two young children and their dog. They speak to each other in Mandarin.
The second hour goes by.
A woman comes in to tan. When I was in high school, the Bravo series Real Housewives of … was not a thing yet. But that is how I would describe her. A Real Housewife of “Dot Dot Dot.” She’s about 5’7″ with short spiky hair frosted blond at the tips. She sports a maroon velour tracksuit. I give her goggles and press buttons like a pro as she enters one of the tanning rooms. Fifteen minutes later, she leaves the premises looking like Valentino. That is, if Valentino wears maroon velour tracksuits. Which I’m sure he does in the privacy of his own mansion.
The third hour crawls by.
A portly middle-aged man walks in. He doesn’t look like he tans or gets his nails done regularly (i.e. man is pasty and unkempt), so I assume he’s here to buy a gift card for the lady he cheats on his wife with.
“Hi, I’d like a 30-minute massage,” he says.
“Oh, sorry; I don’t think Luxe offers that,” I say, pointing to the sign advertising tanning, manicures, and pedicures. Because I feel useful and informative, I don’t realize how disgruntled he looks until one of the ladies comes out from the back and says oh no, we actually offer massages now. That’s weird; Jason never mentioned it, I think to myself.
The fourth hour passes.
The man’s long gone but the day is growing longer and the phones are getting pretty busy. One man calls for directions from O’Hare airport. Another man asks me what I’m wearing. I’m starting to think something’s up. Another man walks in and requests a massage specifically from me. I tell him I’m not trained to do that and then he says don’t worry, it’s okay. He’ll teach me. SOMETHING IS DEFINITELY UP. I vomit in my mouth when he undresses me with his eyes and forces his business card in my hand.
It’s almost 5 p.m. when I pick up the last phone call. “Are you Asian?” the voice asks huskily. “What kind? Chinese? Japanese? Not Korean, I don’t like Korean. Filipino? I want an Asian massage. You know.”
I hang up.
I am working for a surprise massage parlor. THIS IS THE WORST, I think. I revisit Craigslist that night and after some poking around, I find that Luxe Tan & Spa is not only listed in the “salon/spa/fitness” section of Jobs, but also in “services offered” and “casual encounters.” There is an overabundance of asterisks, exclamation points, and hearts in those postings and tanning, manicures, and pedicures are not the only things advertised. I also find Luxe Tan & Spa’s information on naughtyreviews.com and escort-finder.com. I am nauseated, but I don’t tell Jason that when I quit over the phone the next day.
“Yeah, you’re just not old enough,” he says, as if me quitting is his idea.
No, I guess I wasn’t.
Since then, I’ve learned to cross-reference any job offers on the Internet so I don’t accidentally end up advertising services I’m opposed to doing myself. Sometimes it helps to Google the company you intend to work for with terms like “illegal sex” and “awkward surprise.” Most of the time, though, it just makes for embarrassing hits in your browser history.
In recent news, Luxe Tan & Spa no longer exists. As of my last trip to my hometown, the tropical themed storefront has been replaced by a powder blue sign advertising Kumon, a tutoring center for kids. How quaint, I always think as I drive by. Precocious kids from Chicagoland suburbs are practicing multiplication tables on the same premises that middle-aged businessmen got their jollies off. Bad jobs come and go but some stains don’t wash out.