Jan. 04, 2009
People always ask where I get my ideas. My wife thought of this one. Then she begged me for months to make it happen. I've rubbed people the wrong way all my life, but never as badly as when I play masseur.
"Honey, you suck," Jo Ann said.
So I approached Tony Jaynes of Professional Massage For Health, master of the chair massage. When his fleshy mounds make contact, angels sing. There are rhythmic tapotements, crescendos and descendos. As Jaynes himself boasts, clients feel "a symphony on their body."
This morning, at his post in the middle of the Miracle Mile Shops, Jaynes, 45, taught me some of his most famous moves. They're a mixture of Reiki healing, Lomi Lomi Hawaiian massage and "sanding drywall." (The Las Vegas native worked for his dad's painting business after dropping out of Sunset High School.)
Jaynes' most important move is busted out before he even starts. He circles his seated clients with outstretched hands, gathering all ancient-god energy available outside the ABC gift store.
"You have to get passers-by to notice you," Jaynes says. "If you're just standing there in one place, rubbing and looking at your fingernails, you're not gonna make the money." (Jaynes averages $200 per day in a 50-50 split with his employer, which charges from $10 for 5 minutes to $45 for 25.)
Rita Nagarasan approaches. The 27-year-old Orange County, Calif., receptionist says her neck is stiff from sitting at her computer all day. She accepts Jaynes' offer of a five-minute freebie from his newest trainee.
I begin with my own energy-sucking circles, looking not so much like a Reiki master as a "Gilligan's Island" headhunter dancing around a tied-up castaway.
"This is free, right?" Nagarasan double-checks.
The benefits of the ancient art of massage include stress reduction, pain relief and temporarily reduced blood pressure (also, when referred by certain ads in the back of certain publications, illegal sexual gratification). Seated massage -- although practiced for centuries around the world -- was not popularized in America until 1982. That's when David Palmer, director of a San Francisco massage school, designed the chair that brought this traditional spa luxury to public places with laws against naked people lying around.
A purrlike noise emanates from Nagarasan. Assuming this is not a death rattle, my lessons are paying off. Down I go to my right knee for a walk up the spine with my forearm in circular rivulets. My elbow then jams the coccyx, working out any sciatica. Finally comes what Jaynes calls the "Thailand Pec Stretch," my knee pressing between Nagarasan's shoulder blades as I gently pry her arms backward.
If only my college suitemate could see me now. Ronzo, as he dubbed himself, claimed to be the best masseur at the State University of New York at Albany. His specialty was the type of massage used to trick girls into having relations with him; loud relations in the next bedroom with the door open, just to torture me as I went to bed accompanied only by my astronomy homework.
The link between massage and sex in popular culture is as unfortunate as it is strong, Jaynes complains.
"I've heard every happy-ending joke," he says, refusing to repeat any. "We spend a lot of time in school studying anatomy, doing cadaver labs and memorizing the names of every muscle in the body.
"We all take our profession seriously."
I am not exactly living proof of this thesis -- standing here in the face cradle cover that I appropriated as a hair net. But right now, the biggest threat I pose to the profession is that my fingers are winding down way faster than my client's five minutes are.
"My hands used to get sore when I first started, too," Jaynes said earlier. "That goes away. You build up a tolerance."
After his father died in 1998, Jaynes became a stagehand at the Las Vegas Convention Center. But healing was his secret ambition, not wheeling.
"I remember when my mom used to get massages," he said. "I was always fascinated with how it made you feel and the way it relaxed you."
In 2002, Jaynes attended the Nevada School of Massage Therapy. After graduating seven months later, he became one of 91,000 U.S. therapists certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage.
"My favorite part of the job is seeing people when they lift their head out of that face cradle and they go, 'Oh my God!' " Jaynes said.
When Nagarasan lifts her head -- after I prompt her at what I hope she doesn't notice is the four-minute mark -- no references to a deity are made. "It was a little tight" is all she says. (Later, when asked to name her favorite part, she responds: "When you stopped and the other guy gave me a real massage.")
That's all right. The real test is my wife, who is videoing for the R-J. At the end of our day, so I've promised, she will receive a Jaynes massage, my treat.
After circling my wife twice, Jaynes lasers in on shoulders tightened by months of dealing with unprepared legal clients and my insanity. Clouds part as the knots untie.
At the two-minute mark, according to a sinister plan I hatched while Jo Ann was in the restroom, the master's hands get replaced by mine. (If only Ronzo allowed me to try this back in college.)
I hold my own for a minute. But then I lose it, unable to keep a straight face. My involuntary client turns around.
"You jerk!" she blurts, adding, "I knew!"
Jo Ann elaborates: "It was an even transition, but then it started kind of sucking."
Maybe it's a good thing Ronzo never let me try this back in college.
Fear and Loafing runs on the first Sunday of every month in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.