His name was Roman and he wandered the park with a handwritten sign: “FREE MASSAGE.” The sun was inviting, it was lunchtime and there were plenty of places to sit. Across the street was public transport, a multi-level supermarket and a shoe store. A movie theatre was a block away. Roman moved among the loiterers, stopping at each group long enough to illicit a rather meek pitch, one that assumed rejection. He was pale, but broad in the chest, wearing all white. A baseball cap topped his head. He also carried a durable grocery bag, a shopper with handles, sold by the market nearby.
Turns out, Roman had a philosophy that all massage should be free. He told me this was his way to “occupy” the industry, adopting that now acceptable protest term that translates to commerce rejection. At the time, there was no actual Occupy (capitol “O”) presence in the area, just scruffy kids banging on trash cans. So even though Roman wasn’t a pro and I am the nervous type, I decided to let him massage my feet.
Four twenty-somethings took a gander at Roman and I, making note of his sign, which had been carefully placed nearby. Being the age they were, the twenty-somethings exuded smirks and a smile-slash-frown judgmentalism that stemmed from yet-youthful insecurity and confusion. Who ever heard of a free massage? In New York, it’s strictly hugs and advice, nothing else. Roman, clearly, did not apply their math. He didn’t care that the twenty-somethings were not interested in their environs being TOO different, that they only courted the grade-B, tried and true outlier, and lived in neighborhoods long converted to Wi-Fi coffee culture.
Roman and I agreed to five minutes: true to my age and subculture, I had a meeting with a business coach in a half hour’s time. He finished, declared he needed to wash his hands, and (for him) fled the scene. The twenty-somethings didn’t talk to Roman, but settled nearby. That’s as close as they could get to Occupation.