· The disorganised, draconian, incompetent management

· The cattiness of the staff

· The constant pressure to sell, sell, sell

· The shit pay

· The diva clients

This past Tuesday, I finished working for Bliss Spa, and gave my very last massage there. It was anti-climactic, given the grinding corporate machine of that place. I get no breaks because, as usual, they booked me solidly back-to-back with clients. This is the upside of spa work: they get you the clients and work, and you do with work and sell products. It sounds relatively easy, if you can numb yourself and have the physical stamina to slap body after body on the massage table. I worked for a marketing company basically, that happened to be a luxury, world-reknown spa.

I started at Bliss right after deciding to switch careers, from IT to massage. It seemed a good place to begin and gather experience, and indeed, I have built up a massive amount of self-confidence and physical endurance. I went from working in front of a PC, managing web development projects, dealing with code and web design to a small room where I, oil bottle in hand, interfaced with a person, who was naked, and faced down most of the session. When you’re faced with that, you had better know what you’re doing and perform well. The only thing that remained the same was crap management…managers that didn’t care if you had an issue, and just wanted you to be on time, consistent, and uncomplaining. Managers that just wanted to make the most amount in retails and service sales, and gave you a hard time if you called in sick or were late. Sickness was always an issue, but in order to save costs, the management did not have a back-up plan of therapists they could call upon in case of emergency. Such is the way of labour, supply, and production…translated into the spa world. This capitalist machine did not care to account for downtime, and strove to fill its schedule to maximum capacity every minute of its working hours. A discussion in Marxist labour theory – about worker’s roles, supply, and demand — can be examined for another time.

For now, let me dwell on my last massage. The woman? I don’t even remember her name or face. She is looking for pampering and relaxation. She is looking for her unique experience, maybe space for individual healing. My question is, can healing take place in such an austere place? Clients become faceless when you’re working in the MacDonald’s of massage. I repeat my instructions like an automaton: I have left a pair of disposable panties for you, please hang your robe behind the door, we’ll begin face down under this cover sheet, any questions? Most clients listen. Some pull up the entire bedding to lie under it, and that is exasperating. Some lie on top of the sheets so that when I open the door after 2 minutes wait, I see them in all their glory. The worst is when they don’t shower prior to the massage. They don’t heed the “please arrive at least 15 minutes early” and they don’t care to respect the session by being clean. Considering these are oil-based massages and you are required to undress, you would think the bare minimum would be to present yourself as clean as possible.

My very first massage at Bliss Spa almost caused me to retch. Why? Because despite wiping them clean with a hot towel soaked in eucalyptus oil, when I went to massage the woman’s feet, the smell was so strong it almost knocked me out. People’s feet smell, and some people’s feet, due to diet or poor circulation – smell more. It’s a unique smell that I surely won’t be able to erase from my memories…slightly sweet, and pungent.

My last massage reminded me why Swedish styled massage no longer held any meaning for me. I felt like there was this piece of meat in front of me, awaiting an oil marinade. The body felt like a dead thing. Used to giving Thai Yoga massage in which it is dynamic, Swedish pales in comparison as not much energy gets moved. The body lays there, as do the limbs. The massage couch and the smallness of the room does not allow me to shift the person about, does not allow for my creativity to flow. Hence, this feeling of heavy deadness. I touch the body and I feel nothing. There is no connection. The woman could get so much more out of a massage, but she will never know – her body will never feel it. When I bend down to use my elbow along the side of her spine, the smell hits me. The ass crack smell. The smell of someone who’s not washed herself and most likely took a shit before I picked her up at the lounge. It doesn’t piss me off, but there is no escaping the smell – also sickly sweet and smelling of soiled underclothes in nature. The smell…that is the memory I am left with.

Erica, 34, London, UK