Below the Beltway

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 2, 2001

Have you ever gotten so darned angry at work that you just had to grab $60 from petty cash and head off to a massage parlor? Me, too.

I was steamed because of a letter I had received from Joel Oxley, general manager of Washington radio station WTOP. Oxley objected to a recent column in which I criticized his station for airing ads that offered a cure for a scary-sounding-but-nonexistent medical condition. You are throwing stones from a glass house, Oxley wrote: The Post runs questionable ads, too, he contended, saying we routinely advertise "massage parlors" that everyone knows are actually houses of prostitution.

Now, other journalists might sit idly by while someone slanders their employer. Not this one. If a business advertises in The Washington Post, I say, it is legit. And so I set out to prove it.

The first thing I noted is that Happiness Tanning and Spa on 10th Street NW has not only a reputable address but a sacrosanct one. It is across the street from Ford's Theater, a couple of doors down from the sepulchral solemnity of The House Where Lincoln Died. Plus, Happiness is so classy it has only its address on the door, not its name. (Buckingham Palace doesn't have its name on the door, either.)

"Hi," I said to the middle-aged proprietress. "I saw your ad in The Washington Post. I have a crick in my neck and I was hoping your staff of trained professional massage therapists might help me."

She stood there, blinking.

"Your neck?" she said.

"Yes, a crick," I said, trying to look afflicted.

She seemed suspicious. Had her years of massage training alerted her to something fishy about my story? Wordlessly, she wheeled around and escorted me into Room 5.

I had expected one of those metal massage tables, but was pleasantly surprised instead to see two comfortable-looking beds and many towels. Lights were low. Soft rock played. Instantly, it became clear that this establishment's first concern was hygiene. "You take off your clothes," the proprietress said, "and the girl will give you a shower and a massage."

"I don't want a shower," I explained. "Just a neck rub."

"No shower?" She narrowed her eyes. "It's $40 for half hour," she said. I was impressed. This upfront discussion of fees is a common courtesy too often lacking in modern business. Gratefully, I ponied up.

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