Monday, May 5, 2014

Massage Parlor

Massage Parlor, by Jennifer Sills
January, 1973  Ace Books

A ‘70s sleaze “true story” that sold millions of copies, Massage Parlor is an obvious cash-in on Xaviera Hollander’s trendsetting The Happy Hooker. Like that book this Ace PBO purports to tell the tale of a sex-loving gal who comes to big-city New York and finds fame and fortune establishing her own massage parlor.

Copyright Ace, the book is credited to Jennifer Sills, who informs us in the opening pages that this is just her working name. However, Sills was actually the pseudonym of a prolific ‘70s writer named Stephen Lewis. Ironically, Ace didn’t do much to hide the secret – a 1973 Ace publication from Lewis (Sex Among The Singles) openly proclaims him as “the author of Massage Parlor” on the cover. But the ruse apparently worked, as what few online comments you can find today are from people who long assumed that “Jennifer Sills” was a real person.

And to tell the truth, Lewis easily fools the reader into thinking that this is the legitimate account of a brothel worker. The voice he uses for Sills sounds just right, of a wide-eyed young woman who doesn’t have a mean bone in her body (so to speak), who fully and openly embraces the sexual revolution (so to speak). The novel is mostly made up of anecdotes and sort of “case histories” of the men (and few women) our narrator has had sex with during the course of her career. And “she” gets quite graphic in her descriptions, so here once again we have that strange conundrum where a male author writes the first-person POV of a female character who explicity describes her sex life.

There really isn’t much of a plot to Massage Parlor, although it opens with the makings of one, as Jennifer is arrested by a “john” just as he’s about to have sex with her. Turns out it’s a raid on the massage parlor in which she works, the Pleasure Palace in the Midtown district of New York, and the john is an undercover vice squad cop who has waited until the second before inserting himself into Sill’s eager body to jump up and tell her she’s under arrest!

Our girl though is able to talk herself out of it…and the cop, Tom, likes her so much that he gets her out of the parlor before the rest of the cops can get there. To pay him for his kindness she takes him back to her apartment for a freebie! This opening makes one think the story will follow from here, and while it does, it takes about a hundred pages to get back to this point. Instead Jennifer tells us about herself and how she got into the business – a wanna-be actress from Chicago, she found herself surrounded by thousands of other wanna-bes in New York, and eventually in desperate need of cash she answered an ad in the classifieds and became a masseuse at the Pleasure Palace.

Lewis doesn’t really bring to life sleazy ‘70s Times Square, like Len Levinson did so capably in Without Mercy, and truth to tell, beyond the general sleazy vibe, there aren’t many topical details to be found in Massage Parlor. In fact we don’t even get a description of what the Pleasure Palace looks like, though you’d expect it would be pretty grimy, given its location and the era. And also per Len’s comments on that time and place, the women to be found in those parlors were a pretty rough-looking bunch, but Jennifer Sills you won’t be surprised to know is a gorgeous and stacked blonde.

Our narrator blithely recounts her many, many sexual experiences in the Pleasure Palace, dealing with all manner of men, from “regular johns” who just want regular sex, to “freaks” who request all sorts of wacky shit. We also learn the many dollar-making schemes of NYC massage parlors, circa 1972, courtesy Dom, Jennifer’s mafia-aligned boss. We go from random “off the top of my head” reminisces, hopscotching around from Jennifer’s brief trip to Vegas as the personal masseuse for a mafia don, to her first day in the Pleasure Palace, where her first client (who of course was a good looking stud) took her through the ropes, telling Jennifer when she should ask him for money and etc.

Each chapter is basically a sex scene, as Jennifer tells us about some john who comes in for a rub, a blowjob, some sex, or whatnot, and the merriment that ensues. Along the way she gets hit on by another masseuse (Jennifer waiting until after the girl has gone down on her to inform her that she’s just not into the lesbian scene!), gets tips on how to invest her money, buys a new apartment due to her new wealth, and eventually decides to go solo, once the Pleasure Palace has been busted and shut down.

In what comes off today as hilariously unsafe, Jennifer starts putting ads in the classifieds and, after a mere phone call, will go to the homes of strangers to have sex with them! Yet it is presented as a super-smart business move, and fun to boot! When placing the ad she meets another masseuse, this one a guy: Tony, an “Italian stud” who also works solo and does both men and women (literally). In another element that comes off as hilariously unsafe today, Tony has unprotected sex with both genders on the job, yet he and Jennifer immediately hit it off and start their own thing. Tony also introduces her to amyl nitrate poppers, which they snort during one of the book’s most descriptive sex scenes. 

Eventually Jennifer, Tony, and Jennifer’s co-worker pal Darlene decide to start their own place, mostly thanks to vice squad cop Tom, who re-enters the picture and tells Jennifer he’s crazy about her. He also warns her how unsafe her classifieds ad is, telling her about a recent case in which an independent masseuse was murdered. Hence, a posh parlor in a better area would be safer. Not only that, but Tom offers to help fund the place!! So Jennifer finds a ritzy 6-bedroom penthouse on the East Side, which costs a bundle, and opens business as “Massagarama,” which I assume is intended to be read as “massage-a-rama,” but instead looks like the name of some Indian dude.

Advertising to a select clientele at much higher rates, Jennifer is able to rake in the cash. She hires a few more attractive women, with Tony helming the front desk and catering to whatever women (or bi-curious men) might happen to come in. (Jennifer also informs us that she and Tony are now “just friends,” due to her hot and heavy romance with Tom, whom she loves…) Jennifer herself is advertised as the parlor’s elite masseuse, and clients must inquire for her prices and availability.

Here Lewis delivers another long sex scene, even in the novel’s home stretch, as a Canadian hockey team comes in and Jennifer handles three guys at once! I should mention that Lewis doesn’t skimp on the descriptions, and Massage Parlor is not one of those novels that clouds its explicitness in metaphors and analogies. After this we get a last-minute plotline in which a few hoods try to extort Jennifer, but after a call to her handy cop boyfriend she sets up a sting which ends with the hoods arrested and Jennifer considered a hero for her efforts!

Suprisingly enough, this was actually the start of a veritable trilogy. The following year saw the publication of the unimaginatively-titled Massage Parlor, Part II, also from Ace, and in 1976 there was Jennifer’s Boys, from Fawcett Crest – given the publisher switch-up, I’m guessing the sales must’ve dried up. I’ve got them all, though, and look forward to continuing the adventures of “Jennifer Sills.”

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