“An artist in search of good material”: being a receptionist in an Auckland massage parlor | New Zealand
I got a job at Belle de Jour in 1998. I was 24 and had just finished art school. What did I need next? Life experience.
The neon sign hung from the ranch slider window. The logo for the massage parlor was that of a vintage femme fatale: a raven haired Betty Page-ish beauty with bright red lips who wore a cheetah V-neck and black gloves up to her elbows and smoked a cigarette in a cigarette holder. Like Lauren Bacall. One of those classic screen sirens, a joke at your fingertips. You know how to whistle, can’t you, Slim? You just put your lips together and …
Wait. Back it up like a Tonka truck. I just researched how to write a good essay and found a list of nine practical steps to follow. First of all, I’m supposed to give you a thesis statement, make a plan, start with the body and not the introduction, and then I’m supposed to turn you around and oil you with credible sources. But I can’t promise that I won’t pretend before we rush to our gripping conclusion.
In addition, I do not have a thesis statement. I’m not sure I have an argument either. But I have an outline and a body. The Belle de Jour logo was a sketch, a designer’s response to the brief that is still in use on the massage parlor website today, although I notice many other changes including the pop-up women who dance naked in the lower right corner of the screen. But when I got the job, the massage parlor didn’t have a website yet and I responded to a newspaper ad. The logo, I say, is timeless.
The femme fatale at the window held her cigarette holder and smoked the night I walked up the stairs to my interview. Beneath her, a red neon sign flashed: OPEN. The logo was the job description, as far as I was concerned, and I had come to loosely embody it as a new receptionist. Only I did not smoke. I opened the ranch slider. The front desk reminded me of a used car dealership. The boss sat behind a window like a cashier in a bank. I was called for my interview in room number eight.
âHave you ever worked in a massage parlor? The boss asked.
“No, do I look like I have it?” ” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
Looking back, it was probably the most honest interview I have ever had. It didn’t require a CV, and it’s not on my CV now either. I was wearing a sticky, glittery blue Lurex T-shirt. I was sitting on the bed, vaguely twinkling in the dark. The rooms all had dimmers, put at half mast. And a shower in the corner. For him and for her, but above all for him.
The boss wore a gray V-neck and black Versace jeans. He reminded me of a pit bull. I think it was the short neck. He had obviously decorated the place. The walls were gray, the sheets black, the frosted red lamps smoldering from the inside. The decor seemed inspired by Robert Palmer’s video Addicted to Love. Or maybe it was actually played through the speaker system.
In the clip, Robert sang in his suave black business suit, âThe lights are on, but you are not at home. Your mind is not yours. A line of identical models strummed their sexy guitars behind him, accentuating his point. It was a classic, but in hindsight also a mission statement.
The boss explained the pricing system.
A one-hour massage costs 160: sixty dollars for the house and a tip of 100 dollars for the girl. âFantasiesâ cost extra. Fantasies included, but not limited to, two or more girls.
I nodded. I was an artist in search of good material and I thought that working at Belle de Jour would add a certain je ne sais quoi to my autobiography. But at what cost ?
Each bedroom had a prominent long wall mirror opposite the bed. Affixed in the corner, a plastic sign read: “A tip maximum of one hundred dollars.” Â»Signed, Direction.
The sign meant that each worker was only to receive a tip of $ 100 from her client – never again. However, a girl, Holly, later told me that whenever a customer asked her what that meant, she said it meant you couldn’t tip management more than a hundred. Indeed, no one has ever done it.
âDon’t make friends with the girls,â the boss said during our interview.
It was the only rule. It only remained for me to follow him.
But the character of the femme fatale is not characterized by obedience. I have no intention of following the nine practical tips on how to write a good essay, including using credible sources. I don’t have any credible sources to cite either, just incredible sources.
“Belle de Jour, Megan speaking, how can I help?” â¦ Yes, we have nine lovely ladies tonight.
In the living room were two charming ladies; the one called Charlie was on the alert.
“Are you really?” He asked. “The last time I walked in there was hardly anyone there.”
âWell, they could have worked in the bedrooms,â I said mischievously.
Belles had eight bedrooms which could be occupied at any time.
He hung up.
Next caller: “Do you have someone squirting?”
He hung up.
I walked down the hall, past eight closed doors and a line of hazy red lights. In the living room, the girls are lounging on the black leather sofas, ashtrays full of cigarettes.
“What is a nozzle? ” I asked. The girls laughed.
The worst part was not that I didn’t know. The worst part was that I had missed a sale. Rox was a squirter.
Another caller: âDo you have a backdoor? “
No question was simple enough.
We had a back door. Belle de Jour was nothing if not discreet. You can enter through the parking lot.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
âWell if you don’t know what I mean. ” He hung up.
Another failed sale.