by George Cramer
“Sarge, why me? I’ve never even been in a massage parlor.”
Someone chimes in, “Hey Navarro, what’s wrong? You still a virgin?”
The sergeant explains my assignment for the next night. “Due to a large number of citizens’ complaints about flagrant prostitution in massage parlors, the mayor and city council demanded that the Chief take action.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
“The Chief ordered every unit in the department to assign officers to assist the vice cops in a crackdown. You drew the short straw for Friday.”
“Aside from the fact that I said you’re doing it, this’ll give you an idea what they do in vice. And look on the bright side; it’ll get you out of uniform for the day.”
Friday, nineteen-forty-seven hours, I’m at the vice office. “I’m Officer Navarro, I was told to report for massage parlor duty.”
The sergeant, the only woman in the room, is a petite thirty-something blonde. She smiles and says, “Grab a seat, anywhere’s fine.” At precisely twenty-hundred hours, she introduces herself. “I’m Sergeant Deborah Jordan, you can call me Sergeant. Thank you all for volunteering and showing up tonight.” Her comment is met with a litany of expletives.
An hour later I’m sitting with a vice officer outside Golden Joy Massage in a rundown strip mall in a part of town called Little Saigon. Most of the inhabitants are of Asian descent, and as the name infers, many are Vietnamese. Of the seven storefronts, three are boarded up, the panels covered with graffiti.
“What if someone recognizes me?”
The vice officer’s head slumps forward, his chin almost touching his chest, as he shakes his head from side to side. “Look Navarro, it’s simple. No one will recognize you, but if they do, leave. Otherwise you talk with the girl and get her to offer you sex for money.”
“How do I do that without mentioning sex or money?”
“Jesus Navarro, haven’t you ever propositioned a woman?”
“Yes, but never a prostitute. What do I say if she makes the offer?”
“Have a change of heart, make up a story and get out. We won’t arrest them tonight.”
“I thought we’re supposed to bust as many hookers as possible and slow down the trade; at least enough to get the mayor and city council off the Chief’s back.”
“If we arrest one girl, every parlor in town will shut down faster than you can say pussy. If you get a clean solicitation, come out and we’ll write a crime report.”
“Okay, what happens next?”
“Sergeant Jordan will review the reports for accuracy and identification. For those that justify an arrest, we’ll get positive identification on the girl. After that’s finished, she’ll take the whole package to the District Attorney’s Office. Once we have the arrest warrants, we’ll bring you guys back and coordinate it so that we hit every massage parlor at the same time. Otherwise half these girls will be on their way to another town within the hour.”
“Okay, so if I get a solicitation, I make an excuse and leave, what else do I need to do?”
“Get a name if you can, it’ll be a street name, but at least we’ll have the girl’s working name. When you come out, I’ll pick you up as soon as you get around the corner. We’ll park and you’ll write your statement with as much detail as possible. While you do that, I’ll write the crime report. Once I’m satisfied with the report, we move on to another parlor. Now get going.”
Inside, I’m surprised to find the anteroom is neat and clean. It reminds me of a dentist’s waiting room. There is even a rack with travel magazines. The walls are a soft shade of tan with pictures of seascapes, to the left is the receptionist’s station. Seated behind it is an Asian woman of undeterminable age. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s anywhere from forty to sixty. Wearing a modest summer dress, she greets me in unaccented English. “Good evening. How may I help you?”
I stammer out a clumsy, “Ah, I want a massage.”
The woman smiles, “You’ve come to the right place. What have you got in mind?”
At a loss for words, I stand there like a twelve-year-old at his first boy girl party. She takes pity on me. “This is your first time, isn’t it?”
Another clumsy answer, “Yes, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
“That’s okay, we do. The massage is forty dollars for the first half hour. If you want anything beyond basic manipulation, that’s between you and the girls.”
The vice cop had given me two hundred dollars in twenties. He said, “Make sure the gal in charge sees that you have a roll so she knows you have enough for extras.” I take the roll out of my pants pocket and give her two twenties. She deposits the cash in her bra.
Coming from behind the counter she says, “Come on honey. Let’s get you fixed up.” She offers me her hand. I take it and she gives it a squeeze as she pulls it to her bosom. She says, “This way,” while opening a door leading to a hallway. The walls are the same color as the waiting room. The carpet is deep plush beige with visible vacuum lines. I hear muffled voices coming from one of the rooms. She knocks at the last door on the left. From inside comes a female voice. “Yes.”
“Julie, I have a gentleman for you. May we come in?” Without waiting, she opens the door and leads me in to a room that is as neat and clean as the anteroom. The walls are a pale blue with a matching carpet. Besides what appears to be an oversize massage table, the room has two comfortable looking easy chairs, a freestanding cabinet painted the same color as the walls and a small table with a lamp. Next to the lamp is a book, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.
“This is Julie. She will take good care of you. Julie, this young man tells me he’s never been in a massage parlor.” She lets go of my hand and steps out. The masseuse comes as a surprise. To begin with, she’s Caucasian, not Asian, as I had assumed she would be. She’s in her early thirties and looks more like a soccer mom than what I imagined for a prostitute. I was sure that every woman working in a massage parlor was a whore. She doesn’t look like one. She’s attractive. Her hair’s light brown, long, to the middle of her back. She wears it in a ponytail. Her face is clean, almost devoid of makeup. She may have on a small amount of powder with a touch of lipstick.
“You know my name. What’s yours?” She asks in a friendly tone.
The sergeant hadn’t told us what to say if a girl asks our name. I figure the less I lie the better. “I’m Hector.”
“Well Hector, what can I do for you?”
Shrugging, I say, “I’ve never done this before.”
Julie’s quiet for a moment. It’s as though she’s sizing me up before deciding what she’s going to do. I’m staring, my eyes locked on her boobs.
“Do you like what you see?”
I glance up. Feeling the red flush of my checks, I look away. “Sorry, I was thinking.”
With a smile, and almost laughing she says, “About my boobs? We can talk about them later.” She pauses as I consider that statement. “Do you want anything special? If you want a massage, you need to strip and get on the table.”
My discomfort obvious, she smiles as she opens the cabinet. It contains a stack of neatly folded sheets and towels. She takes out a large towel and hands it to me. “I’ll step outside while you get out of your clothes. Wrap this around you and get up on the table.”
Julie leaves the room and I search for an escape route. Shit, I can’t get out of here. Taking my clothes off, I feel exposed. I’m undressing for a woman I know nothing about, except she’s probably a hooker. I wrap my tidy whities inside my shirt, which I roll, along with my socks, inside my chinos. I‘m happy to see there are no skid marks on the skivvies. As soon as I wrap the towel around me and lie down on the table, as if by magic, the door opens and Julie comes back into the room. How did she know? Am I on camera? Embarrassed, I blush again. I’m almost naked with a woman I’m sure is a hooker and I gotta get her to proposition me. Why me? I guess my hesitancy shows because she says. “Okay, will it be a straight massage or something special?”
What did the sergeant say about special? Does that qualify as sex? I say, “What’s the difference?” I know little about massage parlor sex, but hey, let the games begin. I realize that this woman is no one’s fool. She won’t blurt out something as simple as “I’ll fuck you for fifty bucks.” This is like being a welterweight up against a middleweight.
Julie smiles at me with, I swear, a twinkle in her eye. “What do you think a massage is?”
“I roll on my stomach. You rub oil on my back.”
“That’s about it, I do more. I work your neck, shoulders, legs, and feet. Is that what you want?”
“I guess. What’s a special?” I’m lying on my back with my hands behind my head. It’s uncomfortable. Standing silently at the foot of the table, Julie does nothing to help. I gaze at the ceiling trying to gather my thoughts and plan my next move. Like I have a move, who am I kidding? Glancing down, I swear she’s looking under the towel at my junk. Squeezing my legs together, I say, “Do you like what you see?” She doesn’t’ blush. She shrugs and makes one of those faces where you just know the person is thinking, “I’ve seen better.” This time my face doesn’t redden. “Come on. What’s a special?”
“It’s whatever you tell me it is. What kind of work do you do?”
“I’m a truck driver.”
“I doubt it.”
Julie crosses her arms over her chest, squints and says, “Your hands. They’re too soft for a truck driver, too smooth, no callouses. You want to give me a massage with those soft hands?”
This isn’t going to be easy. I’m sure she’s figured me for a cop and is playing me. I might not get you lady, but I’ll give it my best shot. We go back and forth for about ten minutes before she asks, “Why are you here? You say you’ve never been to a massage parlor before. Why today? Why here?”
“I’ve had a long day. I’m beat. The stress is getting to me. I was heading home when I saw your sign.”
She gives me one those, “I doubt that” looks followed by, “And?”
“I thought I might as well give it a try.”
“I don’t think you’re stressed out.”
“I wish I had a joint. Maybe if I had one, I’d relax enough to tell you what I want?” Julie gets a weird look on her face, her mouth opens and she takes a step back. I swear, one second before she looked at me as if I’m a bigger liar than Clinton when he said, “I never had sex with that woman.”
“You really want a joint?”
“Yeah, that would be great.”
Julie smiles and relaxes. I can see the tension going out of her. My request takes her off her game. She’s ready and armed for the sex-for-money dance, but not this. “I’ve got a couple,” she says as she moves to the side of the table. She kneels, pulls out a purse and stands up. She opens it and takes out a Marlboro cigarette hard-pack. Flipping the lid open, she bends toward me, revealing her boobs. Nice. I can see that the box contains several small hand rolled cigarettes along with some regular ones. She gives me one of the joints, saying, “You can’t smoke it here. I’ll get fired.”
“Thanks, I’ll save it for later.”
“You time is up. If you ever figure out what you want, come back. Maybe I’ll make it happen.” Julie leaves.
As soon as I get my clothes on, I’m out of there like superman, faster than a speeding bullet.
Back at the car, the vice officer exclaims, “She did what? You gotta be shitting me.”
“Honest. I couldn’t get a proposition, so I asked her for a joint and she gave me one.” I show him the small hand rolled marijuana cigarette.
He convulses with laughter. I’m afraid he’ll piss his pants. Getting control, he says, “We’re done here. We gotta go to the station. The sergeant is never going to believe this.”
Sergeant Jordan is upset when we show up hours early. Once she hears my story, she starts laughing. “Nobody’ll believe this. I can’t wait to tell the lieutenant.” She picks up her phone. “Lieutenant, you got a minute. Can you come down to the vice office? I’ve got something here you’re never gonna believe.” She pauses and adds, “I’m as serious as a heart attack boss. You gotta see this for yourself.”
When the lieutenant and sergeant finish laughing at the “hooker gives cop weed instead of blow job” story, I suggest, “Maybe we should test it to make sure it’s marijuana.” It is.
It doesn’t take long to identify Julie. Like I thought, she is a soccer mom. A single parent with three girls, she is an insurance adjuster by day. A few nights a week, she supplements her income by working a shift at the Golden Joy Massage Parlor.
The day the arrest warrants are served, fifteen women are taken into custody for a variety of sex related crimes. Julie, the sixteenth, is brought in on a charge of providing marijuana. I persuaded the sergeant and D.A. that justice would be better served by charging her with a misdemeanor like the other women. It turns out that not one undercover officer got her to make a solicitation.
Julie must be asking herself, “Why me?”
George Cramer served in the U.S. Navy from August 1965 until May 1968. The Navy granted him an early out to accept employment with the San Leandro, California, Police Department. He retired from SLPD due to on-duty injuries in 1984.