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Getting Personal | Tell

Sometimes you have to grab hold to let go

September 16, 2004|T.L. Stanley | Special to The Times

Ihad threatened to show up to the inaugural L.A. Cuddle Party dressed in a head-to-toe hazmat suit, complete with breathing apparatus so I'd sound like a menacing, if smallish, Darth Vader. And when I spoke in a bad James Earl Jones imitation, I intended to say not, "Luke, I am your father," but something more along the lines of, "Stranger, remove your hands from my torso."

I'd also said that I would use my buddy, fellow writer Dog Davis, as a human shield in case I was bum's-rushed by an overzealous hugger.

Turns out I didn't do either.

I was expecting to arrive at the super-secret Cuddle Party location to find a bunch of cretinous mouth breathers who were so sad that they didn't even have friends to touch them or so lecherous that I'd need a shower simply after being in the same room.

Throw in a few pasty-faced clowns and it would be my own personal "Fear Factor."

Who could blame me for thinking the worst? Even a cursory glance at www.cuddleparty.com is enough to give a rational girl the shakes. People who don't know each other will be canoodling in sleepwear, intertwining physically, yet it's a "safe environment" where everyone's supposed to feel "comfortable" and "free."

Huh?

I don't know about the rest of you, but my dysfunctional Southern upbringing dictates that nuzzling and other up-close-and-personal activities are reserved for two groups: those who are previously acquainted and those who've consumed copious amounts of alcohol. Neither was the case at the Cuddle Party.

But I looked at it as a social experiment. I've been carping to anyone who'll listen lately that there's no love in L.A., and as fluke would have it, I had the chance to go a-cuddling. I simply couldn't refuse, no matter that it sounded like a bizarre mix of New Age hokum and "Ice Storm" sleaze.

I soldiered through the stress-inducing preparation (I have to wear pajamas?), determined to make it at least to the threshold of this party, if not to the final "puppy pile" and group hug.

I'd heard a local radio interview with one of the founders, Reid Mihalko, so I knew the mechanics and the philosophy behind the events, which were born in post-9/11 New York. Reach out and touch somebody, we don't have enough human contact in our lives, closeness is therapeutic. OK, I get it, and to a certain extent, I agree. But what if the guys were, like, gross?

They weren't. They were the very picture of normal, in an almost Midwestern way. When four of them asked to cuddle with me, I said yes without hesitation. In that monitored and ruled environment, what was stripped from the male-female dance was the kind of second-guessing, cynicism and suspicion that looms large everywhere else. They seemed harmless and the activity, though weird, was darned innocent.

Experiences at these parties vary, I'm sure, depending on the personalities and agendas of the people there. And if they become popular here, will they take on a hollow Angeleno feel, complete with waiting lists, velvet ropes and poseurs? Hard to say.

I had expected to be incredulous at best and traumatized at worst. Instead, I emerged unscathed and actually a little serene. I let go, I joked, I spooned with strangers in a sweltering apartment in Park La Brea. I spent at least five minutes gazing into the dreamy brown eyes of a sweet guy I'd never seen before and may never see again. But it doesn't matter. I wasn't thinking about the next stressful workday or the refrigerator in need of defrosting. I was just, dare I say it, comfortable.

T.L. Stanley can be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

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