The words over at Three Word Wednesday at crumple, illicit and nerve.
Worth Every Penny
The first thing you’ll notice is the cardboard sign, torn from what looks like a packing box, rough-edged, but the lettering, immaculate.
Then you’ll notice his hands, but only when he takes off the cream-colored cotton gloves.
Lotioned and perfumed hands, soft and supple. Clean and pink.
And the nails. Ohhhh, the nails. Professionally manicured, each nail on each finger was filed to a elegant point, not like a spear of a missile nosecone – sharp and overtly sexual – but refined. Mesmerizing.
The rest of him? Unremarkable. Another homeless guy with a beat up Dunkin’ Donut coffee cup begging for your change. Wool trousers that needed mending, a black sweater and a tweed jacket over it, fraying fabric at the elbows, cuffs.
The sign read “Backs Scratched, $20 for 10 minutes. Guaranteed Satisfaction.”
He’d made an easel out of two dented aluminum trash cans and brownstone brick of the building near Washington Square. He was tucked into alley, keeping a sharp eye out for the cops.
“You for real?”
“What you mean, ‘Am I for real?’ he said, cracking his glove-covered knuckles, working the tendons, staying limber, moving his hands in gentle circles like he was conjuring a spirit from his chest. “Course I’m real. Twenty bucks, you’ll see.”
I laughed, despite myself. Looked at the sign. Looked at him. He took off the gloves, put two squirts of lotion into those magnificent hands, raised them, palms up, motioned me in with a wag of his fingers.
I fished out a $20 from my wallet, and pulled it back, just as he reached for it.
“You do anything illicit, go for my nuts or anything like that and I will crumple your ass.”
He laughed through dark teeth and told me to take off my jacket, loosen my tie.
And preceded to rake those nails across the Oxford cloth of my dress shirt. Deliberate, a pattern that seemed to hit every inch of skin across my back. Eyes closed, a dreamy trance, I didn’t see the line forming behind me until he patted the hollow between my shoulder blades and announce the end of 10 minutes.
I looked at my watch, woozy.
In a world where bliss is measured in ticks of clocks, it was one of the most satisfying 10 minutes I’ve ever spent. Top 5, anyway. Nearly better than sex. Nearly.
“This is my outlet location,” he said as he readied for the next client, more lotion, more knuckle-cracking. “Usually, you can find me on the Upper West Side, West 78th, near the museum.”
And tucked a cream-colored business card into my shirt pocket.
All it read was “BACKSCRATCHER” in bold block letters.
My back tingled the rest of the afternoon, the occasional gooseflesh shiver, bliss.
I got out of the taxi on Columbus Avenue, absently flipped the cabbie the fare, began a nervous search for the back-scratcher. Licking my lips, sideways glances, desire like burning lust guiding my breath. Short, addict gulps.
And there he was, six deep in waiting customers.
Except he had a new sign, same torn edges, same tidy lettering.
“Backs Scratched, $100 for 10 minutes. Guaranteed Satisfaction.”
Crestfallen, I cut in front of a woman dressed like Annie Hall, and blurted out my argument.
“You’ve got some nerve, jacking the price like that!”
He smiled through those dark teeth, sucked on them, grinned, put those glorious fingers together, pulled them apart, so just his fingertips touched and pointed them at me.
“The nerve? The nerve? I’m providing a valuable service here, my man. Get in line or get going down the road.”
Wiping sweat from my brow, I absentmindedly gave the last guy in line a $5 bill to hold my place, while I searched out an ATM.
“Worth every penny,” he called out, laughing.
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