In the happy endings business, it pays to put on a happy face.

Claire knows this well. On a sunny fall morning last year she took the train from her home on Long Island to a storefront in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan where the windows were taped over with yellowing paper. She walked in past the dangling doorbell, which hung loosely to one side, and the two teddy bears clutching chocolate bars, then continued along a narrow hallway lined with treatment rooms. A maroon sign with white letters provided the only clue about what business was being conducted here: “Spa."

Inside, it was as dark as a movie theater, the paper and heavy curtains blotting out any semblance of sunshine. The smell of sweat rose from the carpet like mist. Three of her colleagues clustered around a desk, gabbing and scrolling through messages on their phones. Soon the place would fill with customers, so Claire changed into a strappy zebra-print dress and steeled herself for the job of giving massages, and occasionally more, to a parade of men, something she does for 80 hours a week.

By Tamarra Kemsley and Brad Hamilton

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