Body Business At Tokyo House

Sam Corey is making a fortune from scantily clad girls, body oil, and talcum powder. For a man who almost became a priest, is that enough?

September 1973By Comments

Samuel C. Corey of San Antonio, Texas, was once described by a lady reporter as “that humongous, huge person,” and Sam himself certainly fits that bill. His round, puffy, impish face, graced by a well-trimmed black mustache, sits precariously atop a set of thick shoulders which themselves are atop an immense chest which, for its part, recedes into a protruding, undulating, almost unfathomable belly. His trousers sink gradually through the day under the weight of that belly until their crotch hangs so low it rubs against his knees. In the office of Sam’s extraordinarily lucrative business he is as likely to be found wearing thongs and voluminous jockey shorts as he is a business suit. He smokes cigars, pulling them out of his mouth with stubby fat fingers, gesturing with a wave of cigar-filled hand, then sticking the cigar back in his mouth and puffing contentedly whether the thing is lit or not.

Sam runs the Tokyo House massage parlors where they answer the phone, “We love you for calling Tokyo House.” Sam’s parlors are, according to Sam, places where perfectly nice girls who have, also according to Sam, “all the grace, charm, intelligence, and sensuality of the highest paid New York call girl” massage, and massage only where the law would allow, gentlemen made weary by the cares of the world. Those weary gentlemen, after perusing a sheet called “Tokyo House Menu,” pay either $10 for THE NOONER, a “quickie” but “hard penetrating massage”; or $20 for MOTHER SUPERIOR’S FROLIC after which “you’ll understand why Mother Superior polevaulted the convent wall”; or $25 for THE WORKS, an hour experience conceived when the “mind of Western man ingeniously fused the centuries of Oriental tradition in massage with the best in American sensate experience.” How is this done? “The masseuse gets on the table with the customer and massages with her toes and feet in true Oriental style!!!”

“I’m very selective in the girls I hire,” Sam says leaning back in the chair behind his desk. On the walls around him are a few framed documents and pictures of his wife and two kids. On the desk before him his clip-on tie has been casually tossed across an unorganized pile of papers, notes, clippings, files, and folders. “I insist on beautiful legs,” Sam goes on. “The girls who want to work here must come to their interviews in Hot Pants.” (Hot Pants evidently mean a lot to Sam. During his campaign for mayor of San Antonio last spring— a campaign whose principal slogan was “Let’s put the nitty gritty before the city”— one of Sam’s promises to the voting public was that the mayor’s limousine would be chauffeured by a “beautiful chick” wearing you’ve already guessed what.)

But Sam looks for other things in his girls besides good legs. “They must have a real liking for men,” Sam says, breaking into a grin that makes his round face look like a naughty pumpkin. “In fact it’s got to be more than a liking. They have to enjoy pampering, pleasing, and being subservient to men. That’s why gay girls don’t qualify. But my girls also have to know how to resist sexual advances. And then I teach them everything they need to know to give men pleasure. They learn all the techniques of massage, they learn how to dress, how to talk, how to walk. Then, after all that training is done, I give them my personal course in the Psychology of Men.” Sam readjusts the bulk of his belly, his thonged feet sprawl out in front of him, a cigar wilts in the corner of his mouth. He grins. It is the same naughty grin as before, the same one that appeared when he announced for mayor. It says, “Now look, not everything I do is 100 per cent serious.”

Sam Corey was born on a summer day 40 years ago in the small town of Mansfield, Louisiana. Not too long after that his family moved to San Antonio which Sam has since called home. In 1950 he graduated from Central Catholic High School and embarked on a career which many might call contradictory but which Sam sees as one of consistent and dedicated service. The year following his high school graduation he became a novitiate in the Society of Mary, a Catholic teaching order, and remained in the order for six years. Along the way he acquired a B. A. from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. After spending the better part of his young manhood in the religious life, he decided in 1957 that a priest’s life was not what he wanted and left the order. He taught school for the next eight years and after earning an M. A. from Trinity University, he was for two years a professor of American History at San Antonio Junior College.

Toward the end of his teaching career Sam met and later married the former Rita Frankenfield, a funny, earthy registered nurse whom Sam is the first to credit for her help in his next two operations. The first was a nursing home, The Arms of Mercy, which Sam and his wife ran for five years. But in June of 1970, while Sam was at a convention in Vancouver, he received his first massage from a masseuse in a local parlor. “I realized immediately what a wonderful service this was,” Sam says. “I knew right then that I wanted to make those services available in San Antonio. I came home, sold the nursing home, and started Tokyo House. My wife was my first employee.”

Sam was on to something all right. Now, barely three years since he opened his first parlor in San Antonio, his business has expanded to include one location in Richardson, three in Irving, and another on the way in Oklahoma City. Sam has brought a case against the City of Dallas to strike down their law prohibiting members of the opposite sex from massaging one another. If he wins, there will be new locations in Dallas. Sam started another parlor in Austin which has since been sold although the new owners retain the Tokyo House name. The original Tokyo House in San Antonio now employs 18 girls who among them massage from 50 to 70 men a day. Sam refuses to talk about his receipts (“The last person I told was so amazed he turned right around and opened a competing parlor.”); but a little multiplication on the basis of those averages reveals he has probably grossed $1000 to $1400 in San Antonio alone by the time he closes his doors each midnight.

The Tokyo House in San Antonio is a single story building of composite bricks and stucco whose colors are an odd combination of black, grey, red and undefinable others. The effect, hardly oriental whatever else it may be, is maintained on the inside as well. A leatherette couch and a few motel-gothic chairs sit brazenly in the small lobby. Above them, dominating the whole room, are huge paintings on black velvet of women posed so their intent cannot be mistaken. These paintings are basically in brown tones with only occasional touches of red where anatomy calls for them and splotches of yellow for the hair of those lovelies the artist knew in his heart had to be blonds. These women are, to use the phrase of movie-maker Russ Meyer, “fabulously constructed.” Those are not breasts the visitor sees but huge depositories of flesh whose size would make even the largest watermelon seem pea-sized; those are not eyelashes but coy broomstraws; those are in fact not even eyes but huge pools of essence-of-lynx which peer out over those Gargantuan breasts, those Leviathan torsos, those Brobdingnagian legs, those colossal arms. The paintings are almost frightening. Should the masseuses prove as large as these Amazons, their slightest touch would break bones.

The visitor is greeted by a receptionist who, seeming simultaneously blatant and preoccupied, instructs him to have a seat, his girl will be out in a minute. The visitor crouches in a chair, freezing in the air conditioning and smelling the heavy, lingering odor of human bodies, of body heat, of rubbing oils, of bundles of locker-room towels. The visitor is a little embarrassed, nervous with some undefined sexual feelings. He sneaks quick glances at the receptionist while at the same time he pretends to watch the thoughtfully provided television spew melodrama and commercials. After reexamining the way the carpet has worn and studying again the women in those paintings, after refraining from another quick peek at the receptionist, the visitor begins to wonder why he’s there and what it is that’s about to happen to him.

There is, of course, an obvious reason the visitor might be there. Massage parlors from Texas to the Orient to points beyond have a reputation for being hand to mouth bordellos. But Sam Corey insists that the girls at Tokyo House, though they may work in provocative costumes, though they may have the “grace and charm of the highest priced New York call girl,” are still not going to do anything that would put them on the wrong side of the law no matter what the inducement. Playing it safe he has a private company give polygraph tests to the girls to make sure that they have not succumbed to any of these inducements. And the San Antonio police admit that massage parlors are not a law enforcement problem except that officers have to waste time investigating bogus complaints made by competing parlors against one another. “I tell every girl,” Sam says, explaining his secret, “to start at the forehead and massage down as far as possible; then start at the feet and massage up as far as possible; but, whatever you do, keep your damn hands off possible.”

The girls are, by and large, attractive enough. They come bouncing into the lobby to greet the visitor who is still crouching in his chair. They’re wearing a variety of costumes: leotard outfits cut something like the tank suits women olympic swimmers wear; bikinis not at all like what women olympic swimmers wear; rehearsal shorts and halters; filmy blouses and white jeans. Their greeting is a simple “Hi” accompanied by the broadest smile they can manage. (“Smiling,” Sam says. “is a tradition among masseuses.”) There is nothing languorous or sultry about them; they are— sigh of relief! — nothing like the Amazons in the paintings. Theirs is a small town, well-scrubbed, healthy attractiveness combined with an air of clinical efficiency, something reminiscent of dental hygienists more than ladies of the night.

The visitor is led to a small room with a folding partition for a door and left there alone. Inside he sees a rub-down table, a small, plastic clock radio, and a metal table holding folded towels and plastic squeeze bottles of various sizes and, apparently, various contents. In a corner a wooden chair stands righteously straight. The visitor disrobes, folds his clothes on the chair, selects a towel from the stack on the cabinet, and casts a wary eye toward those squeeze bottles. He sits nervously on the table, but it’s so high his legs dangle in the air. Off the table, he leans back against it which proves uncomfortable as well since it cuts into the small of his back. Still he can’t sit on the chair because that’s where his clothes are. So, while the radio blares bubblegum musak, the visitor paces back and forth, a towel so discreetly wrapped around his middle he feels absurd. During his pacing he is met at one wall by another of those Amazon paintings.

Then a girl slides back the accordion-like partition and closes it behind her. She is short, about 20, with thick little legs, round brown eyes heavily mascaraed and shadowed, and rather stiff, orange-blonde hair. She is preoccupied. She walks past the visitor and gives the table top a pair of quick pats. That is the only invitation the visitor gets; the girl has turned her attention to the row of plastic bottles.

The visitor crawls onto the table. Without turning around the girl says, “Lie on your stomach first.” The visitor obliges and turns his head away from the shelves in much the same way he was trained not to look at the needle the doctor was about to use. He sees himself, lo and behold, staring straight into a mirror. Behind him the girl is already squeezing some kind of liquid into her hands. Then, holding the bottle over the visitor, she squirts a stream straight onto his backbone.

“Aggghhhhh!” he cries.

“Something wrong?”

“It’s cold.”

“Oh. They all say that. I always forget to warn ’em.”

They all say that. They. Among the most consistent and universal male fanstasies concerning prostitutes, topless dancers, B-girls, masseuses, cocktail waitresses, go-go girls, can-can dancers, torch singers, and strippers is the belief that the girl the man has paid to get close to actually prefers him to any member of that slobbering, lurid, leering multitude of hard-ups who pay the girl for the same services. Each visitor to the Tokyo House, during those nervous moments in the lobby and while waiting naked in that little cubicle, must be searching his very being for that key phrase, that certain lilt of lip and tooth, that languid dangling of limb, that will separate him from all those theys. But one squirt from a plastic bottle proves how hopeless that self-searching is. Customers are they’s, never he’s. Maybe there really is something to that course in Psychology of Men.

The girl, however, will talk if asked: “I was working as a keypunch operator and wasn’t making much money and I had this girl friend who was working in massage. She said it wasn’t so bad so I came here and Sam’s been pretty good to me. Bought me some clothes and gave me some money to get my hair done. I get about $800 a month. Sam says a lot of crazy things and does a lot of crazy things, but that’s just the way he is.

“It’s a nice place to work. The cops come in here a lot, checkin’ us out and stuff. But you can always tell who they are by the way they dress and the way they act. They try to get you to do stuff to ’em and they keep after you and after you. They offer you a whole lot of money but you just have to keep tellin’ ’em no. You get all kinds of wierdos in here, not just cops. Some men come in and they’ve got on women’s underwear and a couple of men y’know, do themselves while you’re working. But I just decided that if that’s what they want to do, it was all right with me. They weren’t bothering me any. And then some men just like to talk to you. They tell you all about their wives and their jobs and their kids, how they learned to bowl, anything. I just listen, or talk if they want me to talk. There aren’t too many who come in just for massages. There’s nearly always some other reason.”

All those conversations, though, mean more to the men than to the girls and sometimes that causes problems. Fred was a man who came to the Tokyo House partly because his marriage wasn’t working and partly out of boredom. He was employed as a clerk in a very large office and spent his days shuffling papers from one file to another, filling in blanks with the proper checks, pulling staples and putting them back in, a job, in other words, that left a lot of time for idle interior fancying. After a few visits to the parlor, Fred began, like many other regular customers, to ask for a particular girl. Betty.

Betty wasn’t at all fond of Fred, but he did come in regularly. Since the girls are paid by the massage, he did assure her of steady commissions as well as giving some generous tips. And he wasn’t particularly difficult to manage. He mostly just talked, told her how much he hated his wife, said Betty was beautiful, a wonderful girl, he was so lucky to have found her. All in all Betty was willing to go along with the arrangement and let him say what he wanted. Fred did get a little ardent now and then, told her he loved her; but that was his problem. Other men had done that, too.

But Fred was not content with the status quo. He had convinced himself that he did love Betty. His appointments with her became more frequent and he called for her constantly. Once he tried to follow her home. When she confronted him about it, he became paralyzed with shame. He’d never do it again, didn’t know what had gotten into him. Nevertheless, he began calling for her still more frequently. “Who’s she with now?” he would ask. “How much longer does he have with her?”

One afternoon he called for an appointment with Betty. It wasn’t his regular time but something had come up and he wasn’t going to be able to make it then. Could she see him right away? Betty had a customer and wouldn’t be free for another 45 minutes. Fred calculated 45 minutes plus another 45 minutes for the massage. An hour and a half, too long, he’d be late. No, he had to see her now. Impossible, he was told. Fred slammed down the phone.

A few minutes later he burst into the Tokyo House, rushed past the receptionist, and in a heated fury began pushing back the doors to cubicle after cubicle looking for Betty. She was indeed with a customer.

“I caught you,” Fred shouted. “You are with another man. You are two-timing me.” Then followed a list of expletives. Fred told Betty, she was scum, he hated her, she was dirty, filthy. Then he burst into tears.

The man whom Betty was massaging must have been somewhat upset at all this; but Fred’s anger had given him, for once, some kind of power over other men. The man just lay there. But that temporary power did not extend to women. Betty knew her own expletives and let fly with all the disgust she had repressed for the sake of Fred’s regular visits. Sam, hearing all this, got his ponderous butt in gear , hauled Fred bodily into his office, and barred him from coming to the Tokyo House again.

But sin is followed by contrition. Fred began calling. He was prostrate with grief, begging for forgiveness. Sam, the former novitiate, could not resist such pleas. A subdued Fred is back having a regular massage with Betty and isn’t any happier with his wife.

Such contretemps, although Fred’s case was extreme, are not unusual. Customers bring the masseuses gifts, suffer agonies when their regular girl is sick or on vacation. Often a man who has been patronizing one girl will find another catching his eye. He wants to make an appointment with her. But what about the other girl? Can he leave her? Would there be talk around the parlor? How could he face the girl he’s left if he runs into her in the lobby? Sometimes these fears prevent the customer from changing girls. If he has come for contact with some woman besides his wife, he then finds himself in the sad position of being discontent with the new woman as well, while the girl he thinks could bring him real happiness is rubbing some lucky fellow in the cubicle right down the hall.

The masseuses generally find all this either funny or boring. As a group they have seen a fair amount of the underside of life not only at the parlor but before. Most of them have been married and divorced, some more than once. Many have children. Before coming to work for Sam they have been keypunch operators or cocktail waitresses or car-hops or file clerks or telephone solicitors, mostly dull jobs with little pay. Their education, in its varying degrees, doesn’t give them much hope for something better. They come to work for Sam, learn to put up with some things that might take a little getting used to, acquire a skill (the instructress is a registered nurse), and earn enough money to support their kids, buy some clothes, whatever. They like their work. Considering the nature of the business, Sam’s employees are remarkably loyal; some have been with him for most of the three years he’s been open.

Meanwhile the visitor has had his neck kneaded, his back and chest pounded, his legs squeezed, his arms pulled, pushed, twisted, and rubbed. Finally, the girl wipes off the lotion with a fresh towel and says, “That’s it.”

The visitor extracts his wallet from the pile of clothes on the chair and tips the girl. Thanking him, she leans against the door jamb looking more demure than he would have suspected possible while he fumbles through his disrupted pile of clothes for the ratty pair of underwear fate had led him to stumble into that morning. Another shorter, yet demure smile and the girl leaves the visitor to dress in peace.

In the lobby, several men are waiting their turn. They peer at one another through the privacy of their reflections. Silently the Amazons on black velvet stare down at them. The television, now with its sound turned completely off, flickers in its corner. “Sherry,” the receptionist is calling. “Sherry, you have a customer.” Sam is on the telephone talking about his political future: “I came in third in that mayor’s race. If I’d started sooner I might have come in second, even first. I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to run for the state legislature. I could turn Austin upside down.”

The visitor, his skin made so sensitive to touch that his clothes seem a burden, finds himself at odds. The relaxation of the massage has been defeated by the titillation involved; the pleasure in talking to the girl has suffocated in the heavy, musty mood of the lobby. But once inside his car, he forgets his own warning. “I think,” he says to himself, “that girl really did like me.”

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