Sunday, April 16, 2017, 6:02 pm, my apartment, Texas
Before I started this job, I didn’t do any research about the ‘traveling massage gig’ industry. Of course, I read other massage ads on the sites on which I was going to post my massage ad…but, that was about it. Why didn’t I do more research?!?! It very happened quickly. I should have anticipated what my job would be like by, at the very least, getting a half dozen sessions from my future competition.
When I began doing the traveling massage gig, I was a little oblivious to some of the obvious aspects that this type of work might include. For example, it never occurred to me that the person offering massage should probably be hot or good looking. Or, that most clients would want to touch the massage guy during the session if the massage guy was naked. And, I never asked, “Why would a massage guy be naked?” And when I say touch I mean not only from the waist down but also from the waist up. So, if I had been told that one must be hot to be a traveling massage guy, I never would have ever tried to do this work.
“Why,” you ask? I grew up skinny, nerdy and pale. Until I was thirty-five, I was six foot five and between 160 and 170 lbs. So, when I looked in the mirror during my body building years in which I weighed between 210 and 230 pounds, and, eventually 240 lbs, all I saw was a 165 lb geeky nerd. Boyfriends would make positive comments about my looks, but, I always thought that was love talking.
Since I was fourteen years old, I had always been told from different groups of people in my tiny sheltered world that I was ugly or unattractive. I grew up in my Dad’s company and my coworkers used to say to me frequently, “Wally, your brother and sister turned out soooo good looking. How did you turn out the way you did?!?!” On reflection, I’m sure they were just giving me shit because I was the boss’s son. I was naïve and gullible and that made me a fun target. But, I took them seriously during those teenage years and those interactions tilled the soil for my future self-image.
The train of thought that solidified that I was the ugly duckling came from someone I loved: My Aunt Bootsie. And, despite her name, she was my hero. Her sense of humor was quick and clever and she ALWAYS made me laugh out loud. She was gorgeous, fit, donned long dark hair, and dressed as if she was about to get on a plane. Remember those days? Twenty or thirty years ago, just as flying was becoming mainstream, people put on their Sunday best to fly.
She was southern and had a declarative way of speaking – almost like Olympia Dukakis in Steel Magnolias. She was a mannequin model in a store window when she was younger – the job required her to stand completely still in some unusual and uncomfortable pose. Before dinner, during one of her visits from her home in Flahr-ruh-duh (Florida), she relived her days as a mannequin model for me. She stood motionless in the den. I was mesmerized. “SISTER!! BROTHER!! COME QUICK! AUNT BOOTSIE IS BEING A MANNEQUIN!!” My mother hollered out from the kitchen, “if that mannequin wants to eat, she’d better walk her plastic butt in here to help!” Like a Stepford Wife, Aunt Bootsie slowly and deliberately eased upward into a relaxed posture and moved creepily in an overly graceful stride into the kitchen. As she approached the dinner table, she picked up the dinner plates and began to set the table. Suddenly, her movement slowed as she leaned over the table holding onto the edge of a plate while setting it onto the placemat across the table from her. Before she came to a complete stop, she turned her head toward my mother while wearing a frozen over-the-top enthusiastic smile. Mom gave her an “mmmhmmm”.
The knife that sliced into my very young self-image came during a family gathering celebrating a confirmation or a graduation or some life event – and dinner at one our favorites was in order. My Aunt Bootsie was still visiting at the time and I negotiated a seat next to her.
At dinner, in between bites of her salad, she looked up at my sister and said, “honeh, you are so beautiful. You should get into modlin’.” Her gaze immediately went to my mother, “Sistuh, you need to get yore daughter into modlin’! She is goh-jus!” Before she took another bite of her salad, she looked at my brother, and said, “And, nepheeew, honeh, yore gonna be a ladee killuh one day! You should be a model too.” She took that bite of her salad, and, as she chewed, she realized her greatest fan was sitting next to her staring up at her and awaiting similar acknowledgement. She reached behind me, patted my back, and, risking un-lady-like chewing, said to me, “Wally, honeh, I hope yore goin’ to college.”
My sister looked up in surprise and giggled at the absurdity of her words, and, at the same time gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t believe she said that.” It was like laughing at someone who had just tripped and then running up to them and asking, “Are you (giggle giggle) alright?”
Electricity plowed through and over my bod. My stomach sank, my shoulders slumped, and it felt like the air had been sucked out of my brain. “I guess my coworkers were right,” I thought. That information held power over me for years.
I didn’t hold any resentment for my Aunt Bootsie for saying what she said. She didn’t say those words to me out of any malice. In addition, she didn’t have any idea where I was in my personal development. However, because of those words, I presumed that I would arrive into adult hood as the one that someone would ‘settle for’ looks-wise. I imagined friends trying to set me up on dates who would respond to the question, “what does he look like?” “He’s got a nice personality”.
And, those beliefs would be reinforced later in my thirties and forties when AOL chat rooms (or, as I like to say, WHORE-O-L Chat rooms) came on the scene, and, then later, with smart phones apps like Scruff, Growlr, Grindr, etc. Whenever I would send face pictures, I would get ignored or blocked. Many years later, a photographer friend of mine in Dallas said, “Augh. You take bad pictures. Some people require lighting – some don’t.”
But, the change in my warped self-image was on the way. The first significant crack in my disfigured looking glass landed five or six years ago. Before I began working under WallyMassage.com I had been working out with my trainer three days a week for months. I usually always ate what my former nutrition coach instructed and managed sugar cravings strategically. David, my former boyfriend would sneakily take pictures of me when I wasn’t looking and show me this ‘hot guy on his phone’ in hopes that I would see myself objectively. At first glance, not knowing that the picture was of me, my reaction included cartoonish bulging eyes and a devilish grin as if to say, “I’d like to get into that!”
But, the real change in my self-image came about a year after my massage work on the road. It was the revelation that I might not be bad looking when I realized “I’ve worked on hundreds of men, most of whom don’t know each other, and, most who say that I’m good looking or hot! Maybe I’m not ugly after all.”
It was a revelation that arrived many years too late. But, the bucket of water in my face came when a friend said to me after reading the preview for this post “so it took the admiration of hundreds of men to erase the words of one person (Aunt Bootsie).” I hollered out, “OH MY GOD, YES, Exactly.”
My hero began to fall from grace in my twenties and early thirties when I saw how she fueled the fighting between my mother and father who eventually divorced. Later, when I opened up to her about my uncertain sexuality, she spread that information to the rest of our Florida family both distant and close. My mother was not happy that I shared that information with her. But, no one told me that Aunt Bootsie was a careless blabbermouth.
Two years ago, I drove my mother down to my Aunt Gracey’s house in Florida. My Aunt Gracey had degraded in health and was brought home to die. As I visited with my relatives, I was given a heads up about Bootsie and how she had taken advantage of one of my younger cousins who had acquired an extra house in which she squatted without paying him rent.
As I stood at Aunt Gracey’s bedside, I looked up and saw Aunt Bootsie standing at the bedroom door and surmising the visitors near her dying sister. When she saw my mother next to me, she realized who I was and slowly walked toward me with much effort. Her gate was stilted and painful and I didn’t recognize her at first because she had gained fifty pounds and looked like she was a person missing her walker. I kept my familial distance from her but gave her a polite ‘two hands patted on the back’ hug. I wasn’t trying to be rude. I didn’t want to be near her.
It shouldn’t matter if I see myself as hot, good looking or average looking – but that I am fit, acknowledge others, and earn an honest wage. But, deep down, it still matters to me. And, THAT’s an issue for therapy.