Would-Be Criminal of the Day, with musings that ultimately turn serious

There’s a pretty funny story in here but you have to wade through some background first.

As some of you know, I have rather severe back problems and need regular, very-deep-tissue massage therapy to keep from getting to where I can’t bend over far enough to tie my own shoes. When I was in China getting married, Helen took me to get worked on by a blind masseur (the Chinese are a very practical people), and that guy was unbelievable. And also one of her uncles owns a bathhouse/massage/whatever-you-call-those-glass-vacuum-bottle-things place…at any rate, I came back to Houston and went looking for blind Chinese masseurs, of which there turn out to be approximately zero in Houston. There are, however, a lot of Chinese women who do massage. And some of them actually do massage with the hot stones and/or the walking back and forth and jumping up and down on your back — great stuff, makes an incredible difference. Unfortunately, though, a lot of “Asian massage” places (in Houston, at least) are basically brothels, and I have had the rather embarrassing experience a couple of times of having to explain hastily that I actually wanted a massage, and, um, nothing else. But I have found a couple of places with really top-notch, respectable masseuses who do a fabulous job and also give me a chance to practice Chinese; they may go back to China occasionally but never at the same time so I can always get worked on when I need it. And they like me a lot…because I am actually there for a massage.

See, it kind of sucks to be a Chinese masseuse in Houston, because there are so many “Asian masseuses” who are really providers of other services, that if you are a Chinese woman and you say you give massages, a lot of people simply assume that you are speaking in euphemisms and that your true profession is a rather older one. If you are a six-foot tall German lady and you say, “I am a massage therapist,” nobody assumes you do anything but massage therapy; if you are a five-foot-four Chinese girl and you say the same thing, half the men in Houston will ask how much of a tip you require for “full service.” So even the respectable girls spend half their time saying, “No, we don’t do that here” — and now you know why they like me so much.

Now to the story:

A few weeks ago, the girl who was working on my back was all upset, and she explained to me that her discombobulation was due to the fact that 公安 — the police — had shown up at the shop she manages (there are three or four other Chinese girls who work there, and they are nice people and decent masseuses, but I have real back problems and they just don’t do as good a job as Meili does). “He was in his uniform and with his gun and I was very scared,” she said. “I was saying, ‘No, no, I am a real massage person, I have a license, I only do massage….” Meanwhile I’m thinking, “In uniform?? Don’t they usually go to suspect establishments undercover?” And then she went on to say that the policeman had explained that he was obliged to respond to a complaint. It seems that she had had a customer who demanded more than a massage, and when she refused, he got furious and felt cheated — and he called the police to complain!!

Yes, that’s right — this genius called the police to complain, “Arrest that woman! She refused to engage in prostitution with me!”

Okay, I thought that was hilarious. But it did some temporary damage to our friendship when I burst out laughing, because SHE didn’t think it was funny at ALL. So I tried to compose myself, as difficult as it was; but then I told the story to everybody I met for the next few days because I still thought it was hilarious.

Now, though, I’m not so sure. Because the last time I was there, I got there just as Meili was finishing up with another customer, and she came straight out of that room and in to work on me. But just as she started to climb up on the table (she does the walking-on-the-back thing), there was a commotion in the waiting room, and one of the other ladies knocked on the door, calling for Meili (who also is the best English-speaker in the house) to come help. Meili went out to the waiting room, and there ensued what was clearly an ugly argument with an angry customer, who got louder and louder and angrier and angrier, to the point where I actually got up and put my pants on in case I had to go outside and help (a nice big towel strategically placed preserves one’s decency fine when one is lying still face down on a table and somebody is walking back and forth on your back, but I didn’t think it would do me much good in a physical altercation). But fortunately, just as I was reaching for the door handle, I hear him stomp to the door, slamming it violently on his way out.

A couple of minutes later Meili came back in, apologizing to me (!) for the disruption. “What was that about?” I asked, though I had my suspicions. “Well,” she said, trying to make light of it (though she was clearly still shaken), “he’s a Middle Eastern guy, you know? And they…” She stopped and didn’t say anything for a few seconds, then continued: “He wanted…” she stopped again, then made a universally recognized up-and-down motion with her hand. I nodded my comprehension. “But I told him I don’t do that, and I had already given him a whole hour’s massage. But then he got mad and said he would not pay me if I didn’t do it, but I said, ‘Then don’t pay me.’ And he said he knows people in the police force and he will get me into trouble if I don’t do it, but I still wouldn’t do it. But he finally left.”

She was still pretty shaken up, so I told her to just hang onto my money, and that I would go have some coffee and do some more work and come back later, a suggestion to which she eagerly and gratefully agreed. And I left, thinking to myself, “You know, when that policeman came and knocked on their door last month…come to think of it, I don’t think, actually, that was very funny at all.”

But there was one other thing I thought about. I said, at the beginning, that it’s a bummer to be a Chinese woman in Houston who is highly skilled at massage therapy, because so many people assume, since you are Asian, that it isn’t really massage that you’re skilled at. At the same time, it struck me forcibly that the first thing she had said when trying to explain what happened was, “Well, he’s a Middle Eastern guy, you know?” One of the finest men I know is Tunisian, and another is Palestinian, and I have a terrible time imagining either Naj or Nidal ever treating a woman like that. But in Houston, a whole bunch of the Asian women who advertise themselves as doing “massage” are really prostitutes; and there an awful lot of Arab men who treat Western or Asian women as if they were all whores. And people are people, and we generalize from experience. And that means that Meili will always have to deal with men who assume that she’s a prostitute, and it means that any Middle Eastern man who deals with Meili will have to get past her automatic expectation that he will be a jerk. There’s a whole lot of wisdom in the old Yiddish phrase, a “shanda fur die goyim,” meaning, “The kind of Jew who actually behaves the way Jew-haters say we all behave, and then we all get hated as a result.” By all means encourage people not to be racist…but you need to be a realist. If you don’t want people to get nervous around young black men, congratulations; but let’s start with a simple fact: you can harangue people all you want about how they shouldn’t be racist, but as long as young black men in actual real life commit violent crimes at five times the rate of any other demographic, you’re wasting your breath. And as long as half the “Asian massage spas” in Houston are actually human-trafficking-populated brothels, Meili is going to have to keep telling one new customer after another, “No, no, I don’t do that.”


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