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M told me he’d be taking a chance on me since I hadn’t worked in sales before. He said he figured I knew plenty about massage tables, however, which was true. I’d been doing massage in northern California’s Wine Country for years. By the time I met M, I’d done hundreds of massages—frequently using tables manufactured by his company. I already knew that therapists who did outcalls preferred his tables because they weighed less than most, requiring less effort to carry and transport.

“These tables will be easy to sell,” I said.

M was built like a middle-aged gymnast—compact, fit in his polo shirt and slacks, gray streaking his dark hair. He led me through the showroom past massage tables and chairs. They were set up and ready for customers to fold and adjust them, test the cushions for softness, the legs for sturdiness. Shelves stocked an arrangement of oils and lotions, a stack of flannel sheets in pastels. Innocuous new age music—something with a rain stick—reminded me of the spas at which I’d worked.

We were seated in M’s office when he asked if I wanted to hear his demo tape. I didn’t understand the question. Or rather, I didn’t understand the question in the context of a job interview.

“It’s three songs, all about massage,” he said. Now I noticed the portable stereo. He was sliding the cassette into the slot. “You ready?”

I shrug-nodded: Okay?

The acoustic guitar was pleasant enough, as was M’s voice. The lyrics, however, were cringe-worthy. It’s tough to pull off a line like everybody wants to be touched.

“Wow.”

M seemed satisfied with my reaction. He asked if he could train me over the weekend–when the business was normally closed. “It’ll be easier if it’s just you and me here.”

Hester 2001

It was the year my favorite Beatle died, just a few months after the WTC terrorist attacks, early in my second decade at the nursery. Everyone needed diversion from the news. In the evenings I watched videos of Jane Austen novels, daytimes left my desk and went often to the nursery’s growing fields, the farthest ones out, started collecting snake skins, tortoise shells, looking for the rare mule deer antler.