Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Massage Therapist Me pt.1

The story I always tell is that my interest in massage started in 1977, the year I spent driving non-emergency "Medi-van" for Hall Ambulance.
This was before they had hydraulic lifts to get wheelchairs up and into the van. So whenever it was possible and the wheelchair using patient was fine with it I would seat them in the regular passenger seat next to me. We were supplied with a sturdy little step stool to make climbing up into the seat easy. Even with the extra step some of the patients were unable to do it but still liked sitting up front. Part of the job was knowing a number of techniques for lifting people. I was happy to pick them up and settle them into the front seat. It was better for everyone, safer and allot easier for me than walking backwards up the steep ramp with the chair tilted back wheelbarrow style.

The people (patients) for the most part were elderly and what used to be called 'shut-ins'. For some the trip to a doctor or clinic was an ordeal because of their condition. Most of the others really appreciated getting out, seeing people and breathing different air. What I kept noticing over time was the effect all of this had on the people that I picked up and placed in the front seat. It was a kind of joy at having their isolation broken in a thoughtful and tangible way. More than just a car ride to the Dr.

Between 1978 and 82 when I started going to the Santa Barbara School of Massage this impression of the good done by simply touching a person with awareness and compassion kept coming back to me. Also the place I had been working was going out of business so it was time to move on. Just like the flood of people going to massage school now somewhere in the back of my mind I had the image of me as the official massage guy on movie sets or someplace glorious.

Massage people starting out as massage therapists today have lots of competition to deal with, for me except for a couple of sleezy ads in the yellow pages I was it, as far as massage in Bakersfield. Later I discovered a woman doing massage in a Chiropractor's office and another in a different hair salon. Even later I heard about an old woman who'd been massaging in this area for 40 yrs. I however was the only real massage you could find right out of the telephone book. It's true I had little competition just as true is that most people only knew massage as half of "Massage Parlor" and the connotations of that.

My first job was a commission arrangement at a place notorious in the 70s and into the 80s called "Hair West". It was giant in hair salon terms.  21 "beauty operators" 7 "nail ladies" 2 tanning beds a gift shop and an aerobics studio. Oh and me. It had been a neighborhood grocery at Oak & Chester lane in the shopping center there. As it turned out the first shopping center in the county with off street parking. Among the arcane regulations massage people were subject to at the time was a requirement for shower facilities and handicapped* parking.  (*a very new thing at the time) Since the parking lot hadn't had a reason to be striped in it's first 34 years in operation it was never striped for parking. Until I showed up.

My massage work room was 6 feet by 9 feet. In the corner a 3' by 3' section was taken up by the shower plus a small sink/vanity thing. Leaving just enough room along that wall for a chair the clients could use for changing. Not one person ever asked about using the shower. I kept the laundry hamper in there. The shop owner's dad had made the massage table for estheticians to use. It had only 1" of foam.
It was kind of roughing it but some things were good. Laundry service did all the sheets and the 1" of foam meant that I didn't have to press as hard to work out the knots in people's muscles.
Culture shock was another thing. South Park and a return to shallow values has ruined the meaning of the word hippie. I was in the tradition of the early hippies or even the beatniks. My new co workers were from a different planet, I think it was called 90210. This was also just before the outbreak of AIDS so very flamboyant and gay was was common in hair salons and in society as a whole. In some ways gay folk enjoyed more rights or at least social acceptance than they do now. It didn't take too long before I grew accustomed to them and they forced me to wear a more 'in stlye' hair cut.

It took a couple of weeks but I got my first ice breaker. Then my first perv. It kind of shook me up. I had to exude confidence in my own professionalism and genuine concern for my clients well being. Once my specific roll was reflected in my manner I got few offers to go beyond my scope of practice. After a while I had a number of regulars and even had spending money.

It was such a joy to go to a job doing what you love, people are always early to their appointments, polite, eager to see you and then give you cash before they leave.

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