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Nerve Classics: Hair-Removal Technician
My months spent waxing the genitals of Manhattan’s wealthy.
By Sarah T. Schwab
Maybe it's the bourbon, but lately, we've been feeling nostalgic. With writing this good, can you blame us? "Hair-Removal Technician" originally ran in 2010.
I dressed up as a dominatrix for Halloween when I was thirteen. My friend's parents looked questioningly at my red lipstick, tight black dress, and knee-high heeled boots.
“I’m a witch,” I said.
“What’s with the whip?” they asked.
“They were out of hats."
This was the year my parents allowed me to have a television in my bedroom; it was the year I stumbled across the HBO documentary filmed at Pandora’s Box — one of New York City’s most luxurious BDSM and fetish parlors. I was intrigued by the dominatrices — elegant, confident, powerful. At the time I was a shy tomboy and highly unpopular (my peers called me a “potato on stilts” because of my hefty upper frame and long skinny legs). I could hardly speak to a boy, let alone boss him around. It’s no wonder those women became subconscious role-models.
In college I joined a gym, lost my baby fat, and learned how to wear makeup and clothes that flattered my body. I left with a BA in women's studies and journalism and an MFA in creative writing, and worked for the campus paper. My writing, however, still felt stunted. And so, like many before me, New York City became an Emerald City in my mind, a glowing, bustling place that would both get me out of Hicksville and make me a writer.
The night after graduation, I U-hauled my life to Queens, where I was quickly forced to acknowledge the naivete of imagining I'd “find myself” in the bright lights of the big city. For a month, I applied to writing jobs and internships, and submitted samples — without a single reply. Then turned to Craigslist. Three places responded: an escort service in the Bronx, a diner in Brooklyn, and a laser hair removal office on Madison Ave. Number three seemed like the best option for making money (and not getting mugged) so I went in for an interview.
Located in the Diamond District, the office was on the third floor. The walls were mauve with white trimmings and the floors were mahogany. What I considered “sex music” (a mix between Massive Attack and Sneaker Pimps) filled the waiting room.
A petite Indian woman in six-inch designer heels and a white lab jacket casually looked me up and down.
“Who are your shoes?”
I looked down at my beige, crocodile-skin heels, a Canal St. purchase. “Gucci.”
I was hired. All I had to do was obtain my certification — for a mere 3,000 dollars.
“Believe me,” she said, “you’ll make that money back within a month."
Desperate to pay my bills (and excited to play the part of a real New Yorker), I signed up for the classes. A month later I was standing in the lobby, wearing a white jacket, calling out expensive-sounding names.
At this particular office (one of the least expensive in Manhattan), one session for the upper lip costs 100 dollars; underarms or full bikini costs 300 dollars; full legs, full back, or full chest is 600. Most people don’t realize it takes at least six sessions (usually eight) to see results. And even after that many sessions, few people are one-hundred percent hairless. Most end up with between twenty and eighty-five percent less hair.
No matter how many times I told people this during consultations, a lot were dissatisfied at the end, especially since one zap of the laser feels like one-thousand wasp stings. The upper lip, pubic areas, men’s beards, and the flanks of their backs are the most painful spots. They’re also the most popular. On an average day, I treated six clients. Five of these were usually full bikini treatments. In other words: I saw a lot of vaginas. Most women were hygienic; they would come with their wet wash hankies and excuse themselves to the ladies' room before the treatment. Others had remnants of toilet paper sticking to their bodies. A few even came during outbreaks of herpes. It was at once disgusting and enlightening: Louis Vuitton, diamonds, and purebred Yorkies do not automatically equal refinement.
Technicians wear gloves. Even so, to make sure every hair is lasered down there (in the industry, that means up front and in back), there is a lot of maneuvering to be done. It’s uncomfortable, which most clients handle by talking — a lot. They’d ramble on about their lovers, cats, or jobs. And I’d respond politely as I moved their labias back and forth and shot swarms of bees in for the kill. I’d started as an aspiring journalist, and ended up a cross between a therapist and a sadistic gynecologist.
I’ve never felt entirely comfortable in my body — I was taunted a lot as a child — and looking at other people’s nude bodies still makes me self-conscious. I somehow hadn't understood that this was such a large part of the job. But I also wasn’t about to give up and crawl home because of a few hairy vaginas.
After a month it became routine. Most clients — female and male — were just as uncomfortable as I was. So I practiced controlling my uneasiness; when I managed to stay poised, I generally was rewarded with larger tips. Like a palm reader, I became an expert at disarming people by watching their reactions.
Larry, for instance, was the president of a major law firm in Manhattan. He was affluent, conceited, and charismatic. He also had an extremely hairy back. During our consultation, I warned him about how the laser would feel. “I can handle pain,” he said. He winked at me, “I’m not a pussy.”
I refrained from reminding him that most pussies could handle a lot more pain than the average dick, and I smiled politely, “Great! Let's get started.” About thirty minutes into his two-hour session, Larry was writhing about, crying, and cursing.
“You probably get off on hurting men,” he said. My childhood bedroom entered my mind: I was lying on my bed in my over-sized T-shirt, a bowl of popcorn sitting in front of me, dominatrices strutting across the television. I thought about the “love note” that had been slipped into my high school locker: “Dear Sarah, 1-800-Jenny-Craig. Love, Jason.”
“Not at all, sir,” I said. I pushed my palm into his back and continued the treatment.