Back in NYC – but not for long

“We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance” ~ Harrison Ford

During my 6 weeks of “beginner rolfing” training, it came up more than once that things inside me are very sticky – my colon sticks to my psoas muscle, my pericardial sac to the lining of my chest cavity, a neck nerve to a brain membrane, all of my lumbar vertebrae to each other…the list goes on. It would appear that my body is freakishly in sync with my spirit – I’m STUCK. Have I tried to “unstick”? Of course I have – more than once and in more than one way. But things haven’t improved. [Warning: Possible overshare coming – skip to next paragraph if you’re not comfortable with that.] I am still alone and afraid of personal connections, I am still overweight, I am still taking Rx happy pills, and I’m still a semi-hermit. I am also still a massage therapist and still in New York City. Well how about changing three of those things completely and seeing if the others fall into place?

So I’m giving up the apartment that has been my home for 7+ years (they were raising me $75/month anyway). I’m walking away from my gasping massage practice. I am moving to Boulder in about 5 weeks and will remain there until I complete my certification – I’m guessing December. And I’m starting a rather bizarre diet plan in 10 days.

Now for the financial nitty-gritty behind all of this…

My Home Trade-down: I have a place in mind that’s available to move in next month on the 23rd. I’m trading my $2200/month (new rent that I refuse to pay) including utilities studio apartment for an $830/month + utils one-bedroom. I’m getting my current place inspected next week so that they can tell me what they think I’m responsible for and give me a chance to defend or fix without having it hit my deposit. Oh that’s right – new deposit is $300 and I’m hoping to get back my full $2125 security on this place.

The Move:  I’ll by flying either Frontier Classic or Southwest in order to get 2 x 50-lb bags checked free. I have gift cards for both from my non-massage job. One of my classmates has offered to come in with her pick-up truck and drive around getting furniture for free or cheap off Craigslist – ideal – because I am not bringing my things. My friend-sublettor is moving back into his place and doesn’t have a stick of furniture, so he’s more than happy to use or store whatever I want to keep for my return (bed, couch, trunk, massage table). The apartment complex I’ve got my eye on has offered me $200 off my first month’s rent if I sign on the dotted line by March 25. The plan is to furnish the place on that budget…yeah it might suck but it’s only 8 months. And I’m moving in at the same time the colleges break for summer…could work for a few of the things I need. Probably not a bed though…eww.

Income:  I won’t be hanging out my shingle for massage work. I will stick to my other job which should be just fine. I anticipate grossing $3K a month while needing $1700 for “bare bones” costs. I’m budgeting $300/month for self-care, which leaves me with $1000 to put towards tuition and that burdensome whole life policy. And if my half-plan comes off I’ll be working in Manhattan again in a year, earning the market rate (nearly double what I charge for massage now) and inching towards a healthy 6-figure income.

Tuition:  my last post mentioned having $9K out of $18K saved. Well I’ve paid up the $4K for the first part and it turns out I had $2K more set aside in my savings account than I thought, and I’ve added to it. So I’ve got 2/3 of the remaining $14K  tuition saved – and I’m getting that security deposit back to add to the pot. As much as I’d like to keep it set aside for my return, it’s a timing thing. I need it when I need it and I’ll earn & replace.

Couponing & Shopping:  I will be living around the corner from a Rite Aid – yay! And there’s a Safeway supermarket across the street from Rite Aid, which I believe is a good one for couponing.

Transportation:  I’m within walking distance of everything I need except the school, but I’m located right on the bus line. I hope my sister meant it when she said she’d lend me a bike – could use the exercise and Boulder is very cycle-friendly.

Possible Glitch:  This would actually be desirable. If I get bumped from the waiting list and onto the course that starts in a few weeks, I’ll be paying for my Manhattan apartment for 2 weeks without using it. Ouch. And flight prices could be as high as $450 for a one-way ticket – but Greyhound is feasible ($120), and after being subjected to sanctioned sexual battery by the TSA last week (thanks for the cameltoe-inducing enthusiasm, bitch – and no I’m NOT exaggerating), 44 hours on a bus with very strange people doesn’t sound awful.

And so it begins…the second half of my life. I have no idea if what I’m doing is right or wrong for me, but if it’s a mistake I’m the only one who will suffer – and pretty minimally at that. What’s the worst that can happen – I don’t like Boulder and quit the course? So I’m out a few bucks and a few months of my life. I’ve made much bigger mistakes (divorced from a crossdresser, remember?). This would be so much easier if it was a more dramatic change – I’m oddly wired to do that well (Japan, Scotland).

Good-bye NYC, Hello CO!

In a couple of weeks I’ll be making a temporary move to Boulder for training at the Rolf Institute. It has taken me 6 years to find a way to do this – and I still think it’s the most insensible schedule ever. It really should not take 16 months to complete 5 actual months of training. I’m sure they think they’re attracting ultra-dedicated types (they’d be correct in my case), but I’m sure there will be a fair share of those who don’t have to save and work to manage it. I hope my pre-conceptions are wrong…I really do.

So how can I afford this? In the past year I’ve saved $9K towards the $18K tuition. I also landed a secondary job that is totally flexible 24/7/365, is done from home and is totally mobile within the US & Canada. Will I be able to make enough $$ in my drastically reduced hours of availability? I should be able to make enough to live on without dipping into that $9K, and my customers at this job buy me presents from time to time. The most pertinent and useful for Rolf attendance are the pair of Boggs all-weather boots and a $250 Frontier Airlines gift card.

I am applying for financial aid but I don’t hold out any real hope. I don’t really feel I deserve any since I got plenty for my bachelor’s and then did my master’s in the UK at domestic tuition rates (read: peanuts). But what the heck – a grant is always welcome, and just having access to a relatively cheap loan would be nice as a back-up. None of this will be necessary until Part 3 which could be this fall (hoping to be accelerated because I’m awesome) but will most likely be about a year from now.

I will not be giving up my apartment this go-round. I’ve had a friend couch-surfing for months while his place finishes up its sublet, and his sublettor wants to extend thru March. He accepted so that he could hold my place for me. Yes that’s awesome of him…but remember – he’s had a free place to sleep 3-5 nights a week for 3 months already. I wanted to give my place up and go at first – until I saw that it would be OVER 5 FREAKING MONTHS before the next segment of the course. The math says that I need to earn $350/week from massage to make up for the difference between what I’d pay in Colorado rent v. what I’d pay in NYC. I can totally do that.

What happens if my p/t job income takes a nosedive? I have back-up plans that included shaking my brother down for the $4200 he owes me from 2003 (his company didn’t get sold so he didn’t get a fat fat bonus after all – but he did just get a big fat promotion this week!), liquidating my sad-ass non-Roth IRA portfolio ($8K), retrieving money from my UK account – $5K at today’s exchange rate, and depleting my $12K “emergency” savings. It makes me feel good typing all that…not much for a 40-year-old but enough to get me to a healthy 6-figure income by age 43 (would be 42 if it weren’t for the impractical scheduling). And no, I haven’t forgotten that painful $9K whole life premium due in August. I hate that. I was just doing sooo well when I signed on for it and thought that basing it on a 10-15% lower income than I had was very smart of me…didn’t anticipate having it halved.

So, bring on 2011 and all the upside-downness that will no doubt come with it. I love change (and not just the kind that you find in your couch cushions)!

Most underpriced massage gig ever

I got a call from a massage therapist in NJ who had accepted a job through an agency for a 6-hour stint at Madison Square Garden this week, providing massages for the crew and members of a rock band. The deal is worthless to anyone who isn’t a big fan of the rock group. I’ve heard of him, he was the front man at one point for a major rock group that’s been going for 30+ years. In fact, if we were still together, my ex-husband would give up crossdressing for a year just to carry my table in and out.

Crappy Terms on Offer

I don’t know if the arrangement on offer is the agency’s standard one, or one requested by the concert manager, but it’s truly pathetic. Even strapped-for-cash dance companies and off-Broadway theater productions wouldn’t attempt to lowball this low.

  • $1 per minute. In NYC, that’s what untrained Chinese slave spas charge.
  • You have to hardsell – there is nothing lined up or guaranteed.
  • Bring your own table ($20 for cab fares + too much carrying).
  • And my personal favorite: Pay the agency $50 for the privilege.

What “6 hours of massage” realistically looks like

So I’d be there for 360 minutes but let’s get real for a moment – finishing at 8pm, concert kick-off time, who’s going to be in the mood for a massage in that last hour before performing, as things get more – not less – energetic? So now we’re down to, at best, 320 potential minutes. The earnings from the first 70 just get you to break even. And don’t give me “but they tip!” I’ve worked on unfamous band members and back-up guys for big names – and not only do they not tip, they make it clear that they expect a discount. With just one very noteworthy exception circa 2005, they behaved abominably – pushing nonstop for freebies/bargains, sexual servitude and fawning admiration (yeah, good luck). I much prefer my Broadway stagehand guys whose back and legs are such a mess that it doesn’t cross their minds to step out of line.

Let’s run the numbers

The woman on the phone says the events are usually good for $200-300 and some make $500 (no doubt the smart ones who avidly pursue the actual stars and their close entourage). Now, every massage given will require a few minutes in between to wash hands, change linens or Fantastik the table, and then hustle for the next client. So by my calculations, out of 360 minutes realistically reduced to 320 minutes, minus gaps of 3-5 mins to clean, prepare and hawk your wares, you’ve got maybe 260 viable massage minutes at best if they’re lining up … maximum gross income of $260 – $70 in expenses = $190 net profit for 6 hours. “Plus tips”. So based on her relatively sunnier pre-expenses guidelines, my assessment of how this job would go down are bang-on. Reality check: I make $200 for a 90-minute outcall after 9pm *without* that godawful 35-lb table.

In summary, the average self-employed female no-hanky-panky massage therapist in Manhattan charges $90-$130/hr for incalls and $150-200/hr for outcalls. We are not going to pay $50 + expenses for the possibility – not even a guarantee! – of making $40/hr or if we schmooze our asses off, as much as $80/hr. Screw that, say we.

Dear Dumbass Agency

This is Manhattan. This is 2010. Put that rate at no less than $7 per 5 minutes minimum. Better yet, $22 for 15 minutes and then $7 for each additional 5 mins, leaving a convenient $3 of wiggle room for those who might be feeling generous. Then that 260 viable minutes could yield 17 mini-massages for $380 gross instead of $260. If that price is beyond the means of the client(s), then they can make a different arrangement or not engage the service. I suggest no fee to the therapist (honestly, wtf?? that’s a strip club practice!) plus $20-$30/hr subsidy at tour management level to offer it for $1 per minute. Then you have a shot at generating more than a smidgen of interest from a professional.

Big Professional Step + Karmic Justice

Hey, remember last year, when I was exiled from that massage school in NJ that ran an approved-but-not-prestigious course in Rolf Structural Integration? Quick recap: I wanted to take a weekend intro course in Rolfing and then the full program, but no one answered my weekly emails/voicemails, which around #4 became exasperated and mildly snarky. In the last one, I said something like “No one returns my calls, does this school even exist??”  They changed the entrance requirements so they could reject me, and then the instructor (my Rolfer) brought me as his demo model and she screamed at him for 20 minutes behind closed doors, telling him to get rid of me. Because I was rude to her… well, to the answering machine that does a really bad job playing receptionist, but she felt personally affronted, and she’s the Big Cheese.

I expressed disdain for her business practices, both in terms of inadequate admin and her inability to see me as a viable, lucrative customer. Well, surprise surprise, the school is out of business.

I’ve finally got a few spare bucks in my wallet, and I went to get Rolfed last night to head off a monster pain problem (could feel it building). In fact, I’ve got enough “spare” cash to go to the Rolf Institute! My Secret Job is bringing in a consistent, decent income that will only get better as I become more established. But even if it doesn’t, I can live anywhere but the most expensive cities in the country and not have a problem meeting my expenses, obligations AND tuition … which is about $17K, divided into six payments over the course of a year. So I’m assembling the application materials and hope to be part of their January intake. As much as I’d love to start in October, and that course is actually very well-timed for my lease and my other Colorado obligations (school is in Boulder, sister’s wedding is 10 days before that in Aspen, and lease is up 4 days before the course starts), I just don’t think I’ll have the funds to pull that off because of that whole life policy premium due in August.

Know what’s really sweet? I’ve had so many offers to be a temporary roommate from my cyber-coworkers (whom I’ve met, so it’s not that weird) and my BFF who’s local here in NY. Also, both the admissions counselor and my Rolfer said it’s not uncommon to get moved along more quickly than the official “must wait a minimum of 3 months between segments”, because they’d rather fill the next class completely if at all possible. And he’s pretty sure it’ll be possible.

Next post will be about all of the changes looming in 7 months…

Would you do a job you were too embarrassed to admit to?

No, I’m not going to admit what my new sideline is, but since it affects my income, I can’t really brush over the fact that I have one. After all, this is me being financially proactive before I need to get reactive – there’s no other way I’m going to make my whole life policy premium in August without a few changes.

I make my own hours, which can be anywhere on the clock…can be 2 hours a week or 102 hours a week, or anywhere in between. It’s 100% legal and has nothing to do with massage, and my flair for the written word is my greatest marketing tool. Actually, it’s partially because of that flair that I was able to slot right in at the top of the food chain. Anyway, because of all the writing I need to do to get this fully up and running, my blog posts will be fairly brief over the next two weeks – brief, but hopefully entertaining.

So, have you ever done a job that you were too embarrassed to admit to? I would love to hear about it – and the best part is, you can just mark yourself as anonymous when leaving a comment. So far, thanks to Twitter, I’ve found someone who…

– designed a BDSM website
– made lunch trays for a prison catering service that was likely running drugs
– stocked sex mag/toy vending machines (in Tokyo)

Care to add to the list…?

Advertising Decision Time: Was I Wrong?

Last week, a client told me that a site where I had a free ad on was quite racy. I update my posting there every few months so that those searching for a massage there know that I’m still active, so this was news to me. Lo and behold, I found that the default search results are “pictures only” – um, since when did that become the #1 criteria for a massage therapist? And the majority of the photos were women with at worst a bikini on and at best a good cleavage shot. Honestly, stiletto knee-high boots and fishnets?? Oh, this did not bode well for the likes of me. So I searched for my ad by plugging in my zip code, and I didn’t even show up.

So I found out that MassageAnywhere had become a subscription site, but us unpaid “promotional members” grandfathered in from their free days will randomly show up in results. I thought about it … their annual subscription rate was fair, but then I thought about how little business I’d actually gotten from my ad there over the past 5 years v. how many obnoxious calls. I would often get a spurt of inappropriate inquiries that made me wonder where the site was advertising itself. I mean, when you get 2-3 calls a month on average from a particular advertising venue and suddenly you get 5 calls in a week for “pr0state massage”, you know it has something to do with the site’s advertising, not yours.

Now here’s the scariest new addition to the site: As a user from the client side, you can pay to become a “Friend” and maybe (but not guaranteed) get a Token for your donation that gives you “Unfettered Access” to provider profiles. I can’t begin to describe how shady and provocative that sounds.

So I wrote a pissy email to the folks at MassageAnywhere, explaining why I wouldn’t be upgrading to a paid membership and wasn’t sure I even wanted a free ad on their site. Their reply boiled down to “whatever” because obviously it was more lucrative to have lax rules. And then yesterday, I had two appointments with people who found me through that site and made a BIG chunk of change. Yes, despite preliminary conversations that started with me confirming that they’d read my rules, they both had an interest in “more than a massage”. One wasn’t at all pushy, though he texted me later to say he wished he’d tried, and the other claimed an enormous attraction to my personality as his reason for getting a bit het up (but in no way threatening). I am highly adept at sticking to my code of ethics without getting confrontational when someone attempts to push the envelope – I just give my wiseass side free rein, because it’s somehow face-saving for them while getting my point across exceptionally well.

So now I’m thinking that, if I got 2 appointments in one day from a posting that shows up at random rather than every time NYC is searched, I should reconsider my feelings about paying to advertise on this particular site. I mean, just yesterday I made enough to cover the subscription for 5 years. I’m now wondering if, despite its many drawbacks, MassageAnywhere now has a significant-enough presence on the web to take a chance. Or I could just stick with the freebie.

Should I start taking credit card payments?

CreditCardsI had a little chat with one of my cousins at the wedding rehearsal barbeque last week, and he has started a sideline that he’s hoping will take off so he can quit his dull-as-dishwater day job (he used to deal with subprime mortgage lending, loved that…but that gravy train came to an end for him about 18 months ago). He’s getting into the sale of little credit card machines and processing. Worried that I was on the unpleasant receiving end of a sales pitch, I told him right off the bat that the basic cost of a machine was too much to be worth it for a one-man band like me ($300-800), so by cutting the CC vendor commission from 2.9% through PayPal (which a lot of folks don’t like or want to use) to 1.47% wasn’t going to make up for the initial outlay. He looked at me like I was an idiot – “You’re family, I don’t want to make money from family, I’ll get you the machine for free”. Well, that doesn’t feel right to me, because the actual cost of the machine to him is about half of what he sells it for. Sure, he keeps a piece of that 1.47% and gets a bonus that would make up for the gadget once I hit $20K in transactions…but honestly, that could take many, many years.

Still, I remembered a conversation I had with my financial adviser a few years ago, when he was establishing how I ran my business. He deals with a lot of little guys like me and he didn’t push hard, but he advised me to take credit cards because if you’re in a business where they’re rarely taken, that payment option alone will attract customers. He mentioned that a client of his who owns a dry cleaners nearly doubled his bottom line when he started taking cards. I found that interesting because it’s easier to pay a $20 dry cleaning bill in cash than it is to pay cash for a $100-200 for a massage. It also occured to me that I might be able to attract more female clients that way, since studies show that we distinctly prefer to pay with checks and debit/credit cards while men lean more towards cash.

So I followed up with my cousin, who texted this afternoon to say he was putting together a really great deal for me. Huh? As long as the machine is free and the vendor commission isn’t more than PayPal, as discussed, it was a phenomenal deal for me already (which is darn near word-for-word what I texted back). Maybe it’s the suspicious “no such thing as a free lunch” New Yorker in me, but I’m wondering what’s really involved here. I mean, I had it in the back of my mind that if taking credit/debit card payments had a significant impact on my ability to attract new business, then I’d send him a check for the wholesale price of the machine in a few months. And if it didn’t, one of us could resell it on eBay or craigslist for the going market price (which he keeps an eye on and knows is still above cost). 

So I’m trying to think through the possible “terms” that won’t work for me right now. First and foremost, I can’t afford a big initial outlay, as I sit in the middle of my fourth week out of the last five of making less than my “survival” level income. I really want to pay my mom back ($2K) without hitting up my savings, which is why I borrowed from her in the first place, and I’d love to buy the set of Myoskeletal Alignment DVDs from that course I took two months ago (about $250). Second, I don’t want to tie myself into a contract longer than 4 months. Third, I don’t know what kind of fees are involved that my cousin can’t waive. And fourth – which I mentioned to him by email – I’m self-employed and not incorporated, and I don’t know if that’s a qualification for taking plastic. He’s looking into that one.

Now if all of the above are in place…what else should I be worried about? My cousin started talking about services that their competitors don’t do so well on, like how long it takes for the money to be processed into your account. I should also ask how disputes are handled. But beyond that … well, does anyone out there have any experience with this? Because I’m a little bit clueless, and it’s just not in me to blindly trust anyone with this sort of thing.

10/2 Update:  Heard from cousin – his boss thinks I’d be better off using an online CC form instead of a handheld gadget, which would save me $100 one-time cost for the machine (because I won’t be putting through $5K a month in charges – hah, I wish!!). The fees he got me are 1.59% (3% for AmEx or reward cards) + .19 per transaction. All set-up fees and things like that are being waived because I’m family – sounds like that saved me about $200 right there – and apparently there’s no such thing as a contract in this particular industry, anyone saying otherwise is lying. All I need to get this up and running is a blank voided check and my business card. Oh, and get this – they process the payment into my account in 24 hours, woohoo!