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By Tamarra Kemsley and Brad Hamilton. Claire knows this well. On a sunny fall morning, she took the train from her home on Long Island to a storefront in Chelsea, where the windows were taped over with yellowing paper. Inside, it was as dark as a movie theater, the paper and heavy curtains blotting out any sunshine. The smell of sweat rose from the carpet. Soon the place would fill with customers, so Claire changed into a strappy zebra-print dress and steeled herself with a smile for the job of giving massages, and occasionally more, to a parade of men, something she does for 80 hours a week.
Her parlor does not advertise happy endings — that all-too-familiar euphemism — but many clients expect them, she said. She refuses. And while most customers shrug it off if she turns them down, some take offense. One grew furious and slammed her against a wall. She slapped him twice in the face and he bolted, fumbling with his clothes as he ran out. But the encounter left her in tears, shocked at how much her life had changed from her time in China, where she worked for 20 years as an accountant for a respectable business.
Go in the morning, jerk a bunch of dudes off and go home at night. Claire is not her given name, of course. She arrived in New York from Shanghai in on a work visa, part of an army of Asian workers who support the booming business of illicit massage.
Approximately 1, are open just in New York City which, by way of comparison, has some 2, bars and nightclubs, along with or so Starbucks. And this market is trending up. The industry has become a pipeline for new immigrants, and brought paid-for sex to Main Street America with a veneer of respectability, or at least mystery. So, crossing over into something more? Claire never intended to become a sex worker. The single mom left her country for a better life, starting work in a Manhattan nail salon until she could no longer stand the fumes.
A friend offered a crash course in deep-tissue therapy, which led to her new position as an unlicensed masseuse. The trade is fueled by hopeful immigrants like her — predominantly from China, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. The owners take home much more, and an Urban Institute found that profits are primarily put into other businesses or property.