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20 minutes, $21 in New York

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

“Joy” was her name, written in red marker, with a stencilled five-pointed star next to it on the plastic nametag. A surly New York November evening, walking tiredly up 14th St toward Union Square. The sign: “Foot-rub $20,” in a storefront below street level was too surreal for my aching feet to ignore.  The establishment was long, rectangular; celotex ceiling, sharp white fluorescent lights. Shabby, but not seedy. To the right, a row of oversized, high-backed faux-leather armchairs, foot basins, stools on casters, where the masseuses sat.


Chinese, to my inexperienced eye, but they could have been Korean, Vietnamese, wherever. Plastic aprons over black trousers, white polo shirts. I spoke to the middle-aged lady at the plywood counter. “Sure, have a seat.” Unshod, jeans rolled to the knees, sinking into the chair, looking down, a little uncomfortably, at Joy.


New York has, my friends say, changed under Michael Bloomberg, mayor for three terms, who recently demitted (term limits) to Democrat, Bill de Blasio. New York’s most successful mayors have been Republicans with authoritarian tendencies, like Rudolph Giuliani. All that liberalism needs a firm hand. “You want chair massage?” Joy touched a switch on the control panel and the back of the chair started undulating; knobs beneath the upholstery pushed firmly into my tense shoulders as she filled the footbath.


“Hot,” she said, blandly, pulling on thick kitchen gloves, and reaching for a squeezy-bottle, squeezing out green, thick fluid, applying to my feet, lathering, scrubbing. Her face was expressionless. But what expression would have been appropriate?


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