Thursday, October 11, 2007

Noble Poverty and Cheap Cars

I never had doubts that I knew of that I could finish a massage program, so it's a little odd that I should feel such relief at being done. I was worried about clinic, I guess, and I came through that -- with an A, even, having scraped through with 91%, despite my deep lack of connection with the teacher. (An odd experience for me: I usually connect with teachers. But somehow Linda and I just weren't from the same planet.)

The relief is odd too because I loved massage school. I have been as happy this year as I've ever been in my life. But anyway I am relieved. And excited to go on to the next step. The first of my two exams is scheduled for Saturday after next; I'm still waiting to hear back from the Oregon board about when my second, the practical, will be.

Zhoen warned about the inevitable disappointment. But I am temperamentally so given to expecting disappointment that I don't think I need prepare for it. Of course there have been times when connection doesn't happen, when massage is just a chore. But I think that if I continue to hold it as a vocation, and to approach it with reverence, it will continue to feel this important, and this sustaining. The only really discouraging scenario I can imagine is just not getting the clients.

Of course, at some point being relatively poor may begin to rankle. The pinch has not yet come. And it's been interesting gradually assimilating my external status in the world. Here on the West Coast, and particularly in the People's Republic of Multnomah,* a good proportion of people hold massage to be a healing art, worthy of respect; but a good proportion also -- and a considerably higher proportion, in the rest of the country -- view it as somewhere on the continuum between prostitute and cosmetician: the sort of work that no-good cousins drift into because they can't do anything else.** I don't think you ever get the full impact of such changes in status until you're fully in them. I still remember the shock of the change that being married brought about. I was taken more seriously in some ways, and less seriously in others. It's not until you meet strangers, and it's among the first facts they know about you, that you really get it. And for the first time in many years I have no brand name to depend on. Yale and IBM guaranteed a certain amount of respect. Everyone's heard of them; everyone knows they're exclusive clubs. But an independent massage therapist could be any kind of gormless fool or untrustworthy scammer -- there's just no telling.

One consequence of this is that, for the first time in my life, I am embarrassed by the car I drive. My father-in-law, as his sight deteriorated, gave up driving, and so, very generously, gave us his car, a white Ford Taurus station wagon.

I have to confess that I loathe this car. It has so little headroom that if I've pushed my reading glasses to the top of my head -- as I generally do, nowadays -- I don't fit; the glasses scrape the roof and I have to snatch them off and toss them onto the passenger seat. Everything about it feels cheap, awkward, and shoddy. Our 1984 Honda handles far better, and feels much roomier, despite being a smaller car.and having three times the mileage on it. But I have to use the Taurus sometimes. My massage table fits comfortably in the back. So when I'm doing outcall I use it.

What I really hate about the Taurus, though -- I blush to admit it -- is that it's a loser car. The Honda may be ancient, and indicate noble poverty, but it was a good quality car to start with. It shows taste and discernment. The Taurus began life as bad value even for cheap.*** It indicates stupid poverty. And with neither the IBM nor the Yale brand backing me up, to belie the impression, it galls me to pull up somewhere in that ugly, ill-proportioned, ill-made car. I feel like the no-good cousin. There will be more things like this, as the reality of living on a third of my former income sinks in.

* The People's Republic of Multnomah. Note for foreigners: The city of Portland occupies much of Multnomah County, and its radicalism (much exaggerated by friend and foe alike) has gained it this moniker in Oregon.

** With apologies to any prostitutes or cosmeticians among my readers. But you know, better than I, how people think of these occupations.

*** This is not to say that my father-in-law is a loser. The man had driven Ford and Chevrolets since the days when you used to order them and then take a bus halfway across the country to Detroit to pick them up. That's different.

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