The stage is smaller than I was expecting. The spotlights feel hot on my skin and my eyes water from the white light. I begin my routine. I don’t have to wait long for my first buzzer. I stay focused and don’t pull my eyes off my model. I suspect it was Simone who buzzed my act. I’m thirty seconds into my routine. I have three judges left to get me to two minutes. After that, it won’t matter. Today isn’t about winning. Well, it is but not in a conventional sense. I have zero expectations of winning AHT today. I’m playing a longer game.
My first music track finishes as I complete jostling Laurie. By the time the second track starts, I’m sure of it, today will be a success.
I’ve had success. I invented the one-hour, one-stroke, full-body massage.
It was surprising I would create a one-hour massage routine. The old me hated one-hour full-body massages. I can’t remember how many clients would come in for an hour session, complaining about neck and shoulder or low back and hip pain. Every time, I reacted the same. I would think, ‘Okay, great, so a focused massage then, right?’ My low-back pain protocols can go head-to-head with the best of them. I mobilize glenohumeral joints like a champ. But when I would ask them to confirm they wanted a focused massage, they would look at me like I was crazy and say, “No, I want a full-body massage.”
I’m not a wizard. I can’t make fifty minutes longer than it is. You’re getting nothing special when you give your therapist a laundry list of areas to focus on and request an FBM all in an hour session.
I prefer focused massages. If you’re there for an hour and a half then give me your trouble areas and I can do it all and provide a decent full-body experience.
One of life’s secrets is never to stop growing. To that list, I would add never stop questioning and never stop learning. One day, I questioned whether my assumptions regarding massage were true. I decided to test my hypothesis; could I develop a full-body massage that would satisfy both me and my clients?
To be fair the product I came up with wasn’t a single-stroke massage. The bulk of my fifty-minute routine was a thirty-seven-minute stroke. I begin on the left sole of my facedown client, work up to their hips, then up the back, then down and up the left arm, then the right arm and back (with a two-minute scalp routine embedded between the two halves of the body). I worked my way down their right hip, leg, and sole of that foot. I would undrape and drape along the way. I moved so slowly that before finishing their left leg, they had gone into a parasympathetic response mode. By the time I reached their hip, they were a warm ball of clay and were pliant under my slow-moving hands.
I would turn them face up, then repeat the routine in reverse on the front side of their body. I began on the left sole and finished on the left instep.
It was a tremendous success, but only after I committed to moving hyper-slow. Slow, sustained pressure, a deeply soothing stroke, left sole to the left instep. Some of my early test subjects rewarded me with hundred-dollar tips. With what I was charging for an hour session and my tips, I could meet all my financial needs by only working twelve hours a week.
Investors were drawn to me like a shark to fresh chum. Of course, I created a trademarked brand of massage, a school, my smallish corporation, and seventeen spas spread across the DFW metroplex, including two facilities in Austin.
Still, I had a problem staying booked. At that point, money was no longer an issue, but I got into massage to help people, and I found it absurd that even I couldn’t stay fully booked. It made no sense.
That was when I first thought about America Has Talent (AHT).
There was no way I could perform my entire one-hour routine on the stage. Even the basic idea was crazy. Massage as entertainment? No one ever accused me of dreaming small.
My routine was twelve minutes of jostling and compressions followed by my thirty-eight-minute, intricate, single-stroke, full-body massage.
I fully expected the judges to buzz me off early in my audition. I just wanted the exposure to attract more clients. Personal clients for me. Not for my 147 therapists, but for me.
I streamlined the jostling down to a tight minute and a half. Then I added a new phase of tapotement. Tapotement is slapping, pounding, cuffing, cupping, and rhythmically hitting the client with soft palms or loose fists to stimulate blood flow and arouse a client after a prolonged period of relaxation.
Traditional thinking held that tapotement was too ‘gross’ of a technique to lead the subject to a deep state of relaxation. But I felt such thinking was limited.
I segue to the tapotement just as James buzzes me. Luckily my music is loud enough to almost cover the annoying sound.
Only two minutes left. I hope.
I undrape Laurie’s back and begin the rhythmic slapping that had been retooled towards a relaxation effect.
My rhythm is spot on perfectly in sync with the music.
However, massage isn’t entertainment, regardless of how artistically it is presented.
The crowd has grown silent. I think the judges perceive that as boredom or indifference to my act. That’s not how I read it at all.
I get it. It’s hard to open yourself to seeing something so unconventional and not reacting in any way that isn’t a conventional manner.
But, as I said, I’m not chasing or even expecting to win anything here today besides a huge list of clients.
The crowd grows even quieter. Bonnie buzzes me.
I’m coasting now. Today has been a huge success is my feeling. Soon, the fourth buzzer will sound, and I will have to stand there on the stage, penitent, and explaining just what the hell I was thinking.
I can do that. I’m happy to do that.
I know something the judges don’t. I spent months developing, tweaking, and polishing every aspect of my massage routine. The quiet from the audience now? It’s not unexpected.
I will answer all the questions and apologize in private to each of the judges if I have the chance. It’s not their fault. They are presiding over a competition and judging it with their ordinary, conventional, indoctrinated ways of reacting to the world.
They hear the silence, and their instinct is to reach forward and press their comically oversized red button.
I hear the same silence and I’m very happy. I know I will never want for clients ever again.
It’s the silence. It’s familiar to me by this point.
Henry buzzes me. My music switches off.
For a few pregnant seconds, there is not a sound anywhere. It is surreal in its fullness. If I could die now and live in this moment forever, I would be utterly content.
The crowd, not burdened with the expectations of judging per any conventional standards, doesn’t know what the hell they’ve just watched. But they know they like it. Most of them would trade places with Laurie in an instant.
When the standing ovation starts, the judges look surprised. I am not. I am supreme. I have fully realized my potential in my favorite, most gratifying of all professions.
I step to the microphone, mentally preparing to explain my unconventional act.