Sam Michael, 26

W 125th St between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Malcolm X Blvds

Sam Michael
Sam Michael

Photograph by Jay Muhlin

What are you up to? I'm waiting for the food-stamp place to open.

Huh. Does the system work for you? Yeah. The government has plenty of money. People should be more aware of the social services they can tap into.

What do you do? I'm a massage therapist, and I do yoga and martial-arts instruction—mostly kung fu. [Demonstrates some flips and kicks]

Man, shouldn't you warm up before doing something like that? If five people jump you, you can't be like, "Hold on, let me stretch first." [Laughs] "Let me do some breathing exercises, light some candles...."

Okay, okay, point taken. So do you observe a martial-arts lifestyle? Meditation and breaking boards on your forehead? I do meditate. I don't do the board thing every day. It's quite easy, actually. It's just a matter of confidence and follow-through.

Just like dating! Do you ever use your massage prowess to get chicks? [Laughs] Um...that's not usually my first line.

Do you mind touching strangers? When I first started I was like, "I'll touch this person, but that person is way too gross and freaky." But then you get desensitized.

There must be some smelly people who come in off the street and want a massage. Yeah. You gotta fumigate the room first. Aromatherapy!

Anyone ever ask for a happy ending? Of course. I'm just like, "Um, no." As long as they don't try to hurt me, it's not a big deal.

Anyway, you've got your killer kung fu skills. Yeah, I can always just deliver a lethal blow at any minute.

—Kate Lowenstein