Saskia Larsen had a very busy December 31st. Her professional services were in such demand that she needed to move three clients to New Year’s Day. As a purveyor of personal intimacy her time is in high demand. At eighty dollars per hour you might think she is selling herself cheap, but that is the going rate for a cuddlist. That’s correct, Ms. Larsen is paid to hug people. Sad people, I imagine. Apparently this is now a thing. Her time is in serious enough demand to provide a living wage, and most of her customers keep a regular schedule. If you need to be held and have four twenty dollar bills that are not otherwise occupied, satisfaction is there for the asking. At the risk of sounding like every cranky old fuck I used to make fun of, I think we need to take a breath here, and seriously give thought to the notion that we may be passing the point of no return. At the very least it seems we’ve moved beyond the best part of the evolutionary bell curve. I realize that as an acknowledged Libertarian I’m not supposed to be interfering with uncoerced behavior between two adults of sound mental capacity. In the most important ways I’m not. I’m not petitioning the government to make this transaction illegal. I’m not about to get on a soap box regarding the moral decay of our society. At the end of the day it isn’t any of my business. Still, there’s something about the whole enterprise that suffuses me with a real, if vague, combination of nausea and embarrassment for the slow migration toward an increasing infantilization we appear to be undergoing. I think what bothers me most about this (forgive me) phenomenon are the lost opportunities for the huggee in this scenario.
For starters, without the misery of an unmet need for human affection I’m not sure I would ever have been able to get a handle on the subtleties of social drinking. It takes some practice to be able to imbibe just the right amount of alcohol so that easy commiseration with those we only know on a casual basis doesn’t cross the line from arch, pseudo-profundity into Lifetime movie whining. The true barstool artist can get to that place in twenty minutes and fine tune his or her consumption so that they can remain at cruising altitude for hours on end, without ever scaring off their fellow inebriates. This isn’t the kind of thing most people are able to master right away. Like most important life skills, it takes persistent practice over time (the 10,000 hours rule) to develop the unusual blend of superficial openness and deeper mistrust that allows us to speak at length about our woes without actually saying anything of meaning and seem to listen to the maundering of other over-served losers while at absolutely no time experiencing a moment of authentic emotion concerning the fire-in-an-orphanage that is their day to day grind. For those of us that are chronically uncoupled a pleasant night out in a public drinking establishment requires being able to carry on that way for an extended duration, possibly even after we’ve run out of change for the jukebox. If, at this point in your reading you’re congratulating yourself on having had a more mature, well adjusted life than I did, let me just say, so what? If you’re a regular reader you may have noticed that I’ve set the bar low enough in this regard to create a metaphor for a limbo contest, not the high jump. If you feel that my sarcasm indicates a frivolity in the referenced skill set try and recall the last time you went looking for a job, or tried to talk your way into a raise. Remove the eighty proof impetus from my description and you’re left with a not unreasonable accounting of the interview process, or the equally dreaded possibility of trying to pry a few extra bucks out of the boss on the anniversary of your indentured servitude. So, there you go, career counseling as well as the ins and outs of alcohol management. If that isn’t of sufficient value there’s always the cultural aspect to appreciate.
I can honestly say that without an unknowable number of lonely, desperate nights in my younger days my musical education would have been strikingly incomplete. As luck would have it there has never been a period in history when there wasn’t a market for songs focusing on the anguish of unchosen solitude. Or as Seinfeld might have put it, theme music for the undate-able. If you have eclectic enough tastes, and eight to ten dollars in quarters you can engineer a soundtrack for the lovelorn spanning multiple generations. As I’ve alluded to in the past (The Song and…, The First Time, Again) music has always been a big part of my life, but my time as a heartbroken barfly served as a sort of graduate degree in the field of rejection, and I have to say that without the correct musical accompaniment the whole thing would have drifted from edifying, if painful, irony to the worst kind of bathos. From Sinatra (In The Wee Small Hours) to Tom Waits (Ruby’s Arms) songs of loneliness and heartache seemed to help me acknowledge how unhappy I was without getting mired in that place. I think that admiring the artistry of the work gave me enough of an external locus to keep me from romanticizing my own misery. If nothing else it occasionally took me outside of my own head and let me contemplate my circumstances in ways that were sufficiently bereft of self pity to leave room for more constructive, if less soothing thoughts. And really, that’s the larger issue here. Being open to the sadness that accompanied that sort of analysis eventually left me with no choice but to ask myself some hard questions about what, exactly, it was about me that made it so easy for other people to decide that their time was better spent in ways that didn’t involve the dubious pleasure of my company. As ugly as all of that was, there wasn’t any way I could have moved forward if I had avoided it.
If you’re availing yourself of the services of Ms. Larsen or someone like her on an every now and again basis I suppose that it’s not terribly different from getting oiled up down at a local bar and standing arm in arm with a stranger or two while you all pretend to know and understand each other. A small investment in an admittedly temporary reprieve. But if you’re ponying up eighty dollars a session with metronomic regularity I can’t help but think that you might just have yourself a real problem on your hands. Wanting to avoid the pain of isolation is understandable, but indulging that avoidance in a transient and frequent fashion might just be keeping you from taking the steps you need to get to a place where you can laugh at things, instead of listening to strangers pretend to care about you.