Asian Massage Vegas
Some Asian massage parlors promise 'happy endings'
By Newt Briggs
"It is unlawful for any person who is required to be licensed under this chapter to...touch or massage the genitals of a male or female client or customer or to touch or massage the breast or areolas of a female client or customer."
For a moment, I don't know if I'm supposed to be naked, and this uncertainty makes me uncomfortable.
It's a little after midnight and I am sitting in a chair in the corner of a room in the Sunflower Massage parlor at 2127 Paradise Road. A few minutes earlier, I was ushered through a swinging door into a clean-almost clinical-waiting room, where I indulged myself in a peppermint and gave a pleasant-looking Asian woman $40 for a 30-minute massage. The woman, who I later learn has recently immigrated to Las Vegas from Beijing, stashed the money and led me past a maze of doorways into a dark room at the back of the building. There, I was greeted by a monolithic naugahyde table and the lilting melody of a Chinese zither.
And so I am confronted with the most basic of existential questions: to strip or not to strip. My host has graciously excused herself, but she has not given me-a first-timer to Vegas' 24-hour massage parlor circuit-any indication as to what I am expected to do. In fact, the only guidance comes from a sign tacked to the wall stating that solicitation of prostitution will not be tolerated and that anyone soliciting sexual favors will be immediately ejected from the premises.
So I do what I consider a reasonable thing: I remove my shoes, shirt and belt and-in an absurd perversion of a Norman Rockwell painting-sit in my jeans on the side of the massage table. The scene provokes a chuckle from my otherwise demure host, who shakes her head and tells me in broken English to take off my pants. I follow her instructions, but she is not appeased.
"Everything, " she says, gesturing to my last scrap of Puritan modesty and halfheartedly averting her gaze. I kick my boxers into the corner and momentarily exalt in the prickly thrill of exhibitionism. She unfurls a small, white bath towel, which I slide underneath, and she commences to knead, rub and prod-first across my back and then along my legs. The experience is narcotic, and I briefly forget that I have come to the Sunflower on a fact-finding mission-to see what lurks within.
The conventional wisdom, writes Tom Dalzell in The Slang of Sin, goes something like, "Not all massage parlors sell sex, but those that advertise in the sports section tend to, those that keep late evening hours tend to, and most parlors that advertise as `Oriental' tend to sell at least manual release or they go out of business rather quickly." But whether this is rumor or reality remains a cosmic mystery.
Enlightenment arrives quicker than I expect. As I roll over onto my back, the towel is gently tugged to the side.
"You like me to massage here?" she asks, raising her clenched fist up and down above my exposed groin. "You like-yes or no?"
As Hamlet said, "Ay, there's the rub."
"Yeahwellumnotno, " tumbles out of my mouth. "No. No, thank you."
She is cordial about my rejection and returns the towel to its place. She finishes the alotted half hour and announces, "All done. Okay." Afterward, she offers me a Styrofoam cup of water and escorts me to the door.
According to Sgt. Gilbert Shannon of Metro's Vice Unit, this is a reasonably typical sequence of events in many of the city's massage parlors. "The normal routine is that sometime during the massage, these women will make a hand motion or otherwise indicate what they're intending to do. Then they'll say the dollar amount or they'll hold up fingers or they'll draw it on your body in oil or whatever. For the massage parlors that engage in this kind of activity, it's pretty much a hand job. It's not oral sex. It's not intercourse. Just a hand job and that's that."
Hands across the valley
"No person shall engage in, conduct or carry on, or permit to be engaged in, conducted or carried on, in or upon any premises, the operation of a massage establishment or the performance of massage as a massage therapist or as an independent massage therapist, without first obtaining and thereafter maintaining a valid unexpired license for that activity pursuant to this Title."
The city of Las Vegas currently lists 91 massage businesses with active licenses. The total is nearly double the 48 massage licenses registered in the city at the beginning of 2001. In fact, the number has grown so rapidly that the City Council has twice placed temporary moratoriums on massage licenses-one in 2002 and another in 2003.
"Initially, there was some concern by the council's office that the city was being inundated with a proliferation of massage establishments, " says Jim DiFiore, city business services manager. "They felt that there was a need to take a second look from the standpoint of providing some separation or zoning requirements for massage establishments, which eventually took place."
The additions to the municipal code described by DiFiore require that new massage parlors be located at least 1, 000 feet from any other massage business and more than 400 feet from any church, school, park, child care facility or any land zoned for residential use. The rules also limit the hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., "unless further limited by the City Council on a case-by-case basis." Still these provisions have only slowed, not curtailed, the growth-a situation that has left many trained massage therapists on tenuous financial footing.
One person who has felt the crunch is "The Massage Lady, " Terry Lohman, who completed the massage therapy program at the Virginia Learning Institute before setting up her own outcall massage service in Las Vegas in 2002. Lohman, a self-described ex-hippie, has seen both sides of the massage industry, having worked briefly in a parlor of ill repute on Spring Mountain Road.
Says Lohman: "I started to get suspicious when the police would show up, and all of the Asian girls-the ones without massage licenses-would suddenly disappear."
According to Lohman, the problems with the Las Vegas massage industry are twofold. First, the unlicensed masseuses siphon business away from legitimate massage therapists-some of whom have spent thousands of dollars on training and certification. More importantly, though, the illegal activities create an artificial expectation that all massage therapists also double as purveyors of sexual pleasure. The stereotype, says Lohman, places her in the unenviable position of having to cull the real clients from the johns.
To make the process easier, Lohman does not advertise in the Yellow Pages. She works almost strictly on referral and every page of her website states in bold, italicized print, "Please do not call if you are seeking sexual services." Despite her precautions, she still finds herself frequently solicited for sexual favors.
"Men have no shame, " she says. "At the end of the massage, no matter how much you emphasize that it is nonsexual, a few of them will say, `How about a happy ending?' or something to that effect. I guess they think there's no harm in asking, but sometimes there really is."