Massage and Ethics



The phone rang. It was one of my clients who I sidelined the day before because there was too much rain on the outside and my love for massage does not include going into Port of Spain through flooded streets to get to a waiting client. He said he is here for a few days, so I could go over at my convenience. I got dressed for work. I finally got to his door after being drilled by Security. They know I am not his housekeeper, so they keep trying to figure out the nature of the visit. Over the years working with him I have jaunted from tall towers to hotel rooms. He prefers the towers; the view, and the privacy which is greater than in a hotel. The attitudes of the Security have varied too, from professional, to friendly, to those trying too hard to impress, but where he is now the Security is just plain fast in the name of doing their duty. I said I was a Visitor. I told the one with the log-sheet to just write Visitor. He asked my name…again. Rinalda. Rinalda what? I only have one name. He laughed and wanted to see my ID. I do not have one. I told him he could call my client to verify that he was expecting me, or I can call him on my cell. He called. Got the green light to send me up. He then wanted to know where I was from. I’m from San Juan. He said he’s hearing an accent. We all have one. I headed for the elevator.

The door looked like Christmas with a huge green fuzzy circle with the fancy stuff on it. When he opened it, I was glad to see that he had made provision for me…a pair of slippers. Usually his floor is so cold (I think it is marble) that I would quickly tiptoe onto the little fancy carpet that is very limited to the living room and stay there until he calls from the bedroom to say he is ready. Then I would hurry into the bedroom and put on his slippers which become available once he is in bed. This time, he was wearing a pair and there was one for me. Considerate. Both were gents’ slippers… Could still belong to the ‘other’ lady. I usually leave my sandals by the front door because I prefer not to strut around people’s house with what I wore on the road, and by the same token, persons entering my home are asked to kindly step out of their footwear. For the first day of class, I would put up a sign at the door, or allow everyone to enter with their shoes and advise them that from the next week we will leave the shoes outside.

The massage was geared to attend to the pain in his legs and back. Too much flying without wings. Birds don’t have back and leg problems. I asked him if he was crouched in a tiny place. He laughed. I did the back and when he turned over he was ready for conversation… about us. He reminded me that we met in December 2007. I did not remember that. Yes. He thinks we should celebrate, five years is a long time. Very well. Suggestions? Only one: that I massage him without clothes. I told him I’m already doing that. No, not without my clothes, without your clothes. Oh! I told him that I read somewhere that a courting couple should spend at least 100 hours together before they consider marriage, at which time the nakedness is dealt with. He is sure that we have chalked up over 100 hours between 2007 to now. I doubt. He insisted. Said he has been here every two weeks. Maybe, but I have not been seeing him every two weeks. Is this even a conversation? You are supposed to just lie there and enjoy your massage. Yes, but I want to massage you too. We had that conversation already. Then I remembered, it is not 100 hours, it’s 300 hours. God, you going to kill me with that. That’s too much. Sorry, that’s the recommendation.

This is a Spanish guy who is shorter than I and says he is 61 years old. His wife, who I left in the living room smiling through a picture frame, is someone he swore undying love for in an earlier conversation. She is menopausal and he is trying to discretely manage his stress. You know Rinalda, I don’t mean to offend you, but one day you will have to give me that thing. I told him I took no offense. Lack of sex is stressful for a man. That was said by a man. Sex beats a path from the bottom all the way to the top of that pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs where strong desires for sex are supposed to be relegated to the bottom. Somehow I keep meeting people who have accomplished all there is to accomplish whose cravings are just as strong as the man using sex to numb himself to the reality of his poverty. Someone should tell Maslow his theory if flawed.

As for my client, he is entitled to his desire/need/fantasy whatever he wants to call it. It really has nothing to do with me. If we were to take a closer look at the Chakra System we will notice that the Sacral/Navel Chakra controls our sexual desires as well as to our self-esteem/self-image, etc. And just as hunger and thirst are vastly different but the body receives similar cues when either needs to be satisfied, so too sexual desires are stirred when something pleasant occurs that boosts our self-esteem or something unpleasant occurs that breaks our spirit and creates a need for external validation. Sex is therefore considered an itch that needs a scratch. The scratching could be done alone in private, or public like the mad man masturbating on the corner, but the ‘sweet’ scratch seems to require the participation of another. Some persons are able to understand and/or control their desires, while others behave like a dog with a bad case of fleas and need to scratch all the time. I told him I am there to facilitate his relaxation, but not necessarily in the way that he prefers. He told me he will never stop asking. I respect his honesty. I will ask, he said, but I will not beg. Accepted. You know I like you a lot. Yes, I know. Then why you treat me like this? I would give you anything you want.

Anything? Yes, I’ll try. I know you are a good person, so I will try. I don’t think that he considered that ‘anything’ for me might mean an apartment in one of the towers in the West. Mine would be the only one with all the windows open as I would need to experience the panoramic view and the air up there, and I’d have to get special concession from management to allow parking for more than two cars as I suspect that my new batch of students would all be driving…high end vehicles, as persons in the West might suddenly find value in the progamme. But this is what I like about some men. They understand the concept of adding value to woman’s life. They are not just promising a good time, but are willing to provide tangible benefits. I wanted to know if he would feel the same about me should I decide to give him ‘that thing’ now that there is the possibility of perks. No. Noooo. You get what you want, and I get what I want. We’re even. I see. What about performance anxiety? Do you think you might have that problem? With you? Nooooo. That might have less to do with me and more to do with him having had much experience, years of practice. The spouse provides good practice and whoever is on the outside gets to benefits from those years of perfecting the art. I told him he might do so well that I’d have to call his wife and compliment her…which would be easier than tracking down the other women who would have contributed. He was doubtful that I’d be so malicious. No, I’m not being malicious, I’m being thankful. I try to give people their roses when there are alive, so I would want to give her the credit due to her.

Speaking of anxiety, I have students preparing for practical exams in February and March and based on some of the remarks I’ve heard so far, performance anxiety is a concern. I speak of massage because I am doing massage. Despite the twisted conversations I have with clients, I am trying to be an example, so I teach and talk, but I also put in my hours of practice. Tertiary or higher education is distinguished from general or secondary education by its focus on independent learning. Students are expected to study independently and do extensive hours of home practice to develop their practical skills. Quite often two are less massages are done per week which cannot be classified as ‘extensive’ practice. Some students come to class despondent instead of confident as there is something new to learn each week and they have not been able to confidently perform what was done in the previous lessons. The months fly pass and they continue to feel out of step. Then it is time for exams and performance anxiety disrupts the flow of the massage routine. I see the potential in students and know that they would do well, but that is not enough, each student needs to be confident in their own abilities. Practice helps. Please take your independent studies/practice seriously so that we get to keep stress at bay.

If nothing else, my sharing of these stories should help students to appreciate some of the factors involved in maintaining a ‘safe’ massage environment through recognition of ethical, confidential, and sexual boundaries. Quite often my environment can be classified as unsafe, but I have no fear of things going awry so I don’t see the unsafe part. When a client makes a sexual reference, a Therapist can easily decide that he/she is being unethical, and become emotional and offended, and try to opt out of the situation. It could be considered that the client is actually confiding in the Therapist about his/her needs that are not being fully met by the massage, but is probably getting off on the wrong foot trying to explain such. Instead of running away, we could think about what he/she is really saying and listen for any hidden meanings. We may also ask questions to clarify inconsistencies. If we conclude that that which the client ‘needs’ is more that we have to offer, we simply refer them to another professional. Isn’t that the ethical thing to do? Right. Prostitution is a profession; just as marginalised as Massage Therapy and maybe 100% more effective in much less time. So go ahead, refer the client to a professional.

On my way home from work I noticed that the taxi stand was full of people minus taxis. I went into the supermarket. By the time I was out there were three taxis and few people. I crossed the road and head for the one that needed one passenger. The driver greeted me enthusiastically. I said ‘good night’ and settled down. When we got to the Croisee the driver crossed the lights and stopped by KFC on the Saddle Road. I got out. There was a Policeman near me who suggested that drive could have taken him to the Station. I walked away, but heard when the driver said that he could not. A few yards later I heard a horn honking near me. There was much traffic, so I thought it was an irate driver. I kept walking. The driver drove ahead of me then stopped and leaned over to call out to me. I looked to see who it was. The same driver I came up to San Juan with, which was actually the same driver who had told me he is the man when he is home. I honestly did not recognize him all the time I sat in his car. It was night and I was preoccupied with my own thoughts. Strange enough, I never saw the guy before that fateful Sunday, nor after until this night. I waved and said: good night. He reminded me that I had already said that when I got into the taxi in Port of Spain. He wanted to take me home. I got into the taxi. I told him I believe business should be business. He is a taxi driver and I am a passenger. Let’s keep it that way. He agreed.

We were silent. When we got to my place he parked a bit. Said he is still experiencing the thrill of the discovery, but he does not care for the disappointment of losing the catch. What are we talking about, cricket? No. He’s talking about me. He feels like a fisherman who found a very big fish that he could benefit from for the rest of his life, but if someone steals that fish then he has to squash his retirement plan and go back out to sea. Really? You found me? Yes. I was the one who got into your taxi Sir. I know, but I was the one who stopped the taxi for you to get in, so I found you. Okay, before the conversation descended into some childish exchange, I opened my bag, took out a yogurt and held it out to him. He did not ask to be paid, and I did not feel to pay him, but rather leave a token. He took it and promised to think of me as he ate it. I asked why he chose to drop me home. He said that he did not want me wasting time on the taxi stand. Indeed, there was no taxi on the stand at the moment, but I would have waited. I told him I could have gone to another stand. There is the Laventille taxi stand and the Sun Shine taxi stand close by. So much stand? I ain want you on all dem stand. I wished him a pleasant night and stepped out of his car.