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JOEL STEIN

Cuddle studs and stunted spoonings

September 26, 2006|JOEL STEIN | jstein@latimescolumnists.com

I DON'T LIKE being touched by strangers. And by "strangers," I mean anyone I'm not having sex with. I don't like massages, I don't like hugs, I don't even like to high-five. I just don't see the point. Either we're going to do it, or we're not. And, as I've learned the hard way after overreacting to a cheek kiss, apparently we're not.

So, as a radical form of immersion therapy, I drove to an office building in West L.A. on a Friday night to pay $30 to cuddle with strangers for four hours. The Cuddle Party was invented two years ago in New York and has spread to 13 cities, including L.A. It's a sex club for the most stunted generation in history. Because, for an adult world that takes cupcake breaks, reads "Harry Potter" books and goes on trips to Disneyland, it's possible that Cuddle Parties might replace cocktail parties. We are just a few years from a fad where adults crap their pants.

I was told to wear a set of pajamas, which, it turns out, are in short supply because of it being past 1958. My lack of pajamas turned out to be for the best, because the location for the Cuddle Party was inside a ReMax realty building, where guys in suits stood in the lobby, punching it out. I'm pretty sure they would have punched out a guy in silk pajamas, as he fell to the ground whimpering about how he doesn't like to be touched by strangers.

I changed into my sweatpants and ALF shirt in the bathroom, got a name tag, stood by the table of Altoids and bottled water and tried to make small talk with 20 strangers who were about to touch me. Luckily, before that happened, Cuddle Facilitators Andrew Schwartz and Rebecca Reagan made us sit on a bunch of blankets in a "welcome circle" while they went over the rules.

Many of these rules were about erections. I found out that an erection is "sexual energy just saying 'hi.' " I had always thought erections were sexual energy saying "FORGET EVERYTHING ELSE AND FOCUS ALL OF YOUR ATTENTION ON ME RIGHT THIS SECOND!" But "hi" made sense too.

Then Andrew, who was trained as a Cuddle Lifeguard at Cuddle Headquarters in New York, talked a lot about feeling free to say "no" to a prospective cuddler. "We can practice rejection here without it meaning anything," Rebecca explained. I think there was a flaw in her logic. I'm guessing if you get rejected for cuddling by people at a Cuddle Party, it might be a sign to steer clear of Social Hollywood on a Saturday night.

When we went around the circle to talk about why we came to cuddle, there was a lot of talk about "body image." This, I noticed, was the first group I'd ever been part of in L.A. where I had the best body. Also, everyone had a job I'd never ever heard of: holistic health counselor, face reader, public school teacher.

We were about to break to cuddle when my panic set in. Worse than touching these people was the idea that no one would ask to touch me.

Luckily, Lynn asked if she could be my first cuddle. She instructed me to lie down and spoon her. We were about four minutes in when she said, "My parents were monsters." Looking to change the subject, I asked her what she did for a living. She told me that she gets rid of psychological blocks from people's bodies. "Oh," I said, "by getting them to face their fears?" She looked at me strangely. "No," she said. "With a machine. I get rid of the psychological blocks in their muscles."

That's when Lesley asked if she could cut in. She cuddled me face to face, which caused her to make lots of happy gurgling noises. Throughout most of this, someone kept leaning his or her head against my ass, no matter where I moved. This caused me to make unhappy, guttural noises.

The rest of the evening was a blur. At one point, a woman named Kimberly asked to rub my feet. Another woman used a little girl voice to tell me about her family's alcohol problems. In one corner of the room, Rebecca stroked a woman while she cried for an hour. One guy was making out the entire time with a woman. Although the room did not smell bad, it felt like it did.

It all ended when Andrew and Rebecca had us all lay on top of each other in a "puppy pile." I got on the very top as revenge for listening to everyone's psychic pain. I shouldn't have to do that without having sex at least three times.

After a group hug in the "closing circle," I went to the bathroom to change out of my ALF shirt. When I saw the dude who was making out the whole time, I asked him if he had fun. "I always have a good time at these things," the Cuddle Stud said.

I asked if he made future plans with the stranger he made out with all night in front of us. "I gave her my number. We'll see if it leads anywhere," he said. "You get any numbers?" I told him I got some e-mail addresses. "That's a start," he said, and left.

Even though I hadn't cuddled with him, except perhaps accidentally with my ass, I felt exploited by the Cuddle Stud. He was a marksman on a canned hunt, while I was dealing with my fears of rejection, intimacy and being seen at a Cuddle Party. In the end, I respected these people for their bravery. And I hope to God that, for just this week, my editor lets me keep my e-mail off the bottom of the column so that none of them try to keep in touch with me.

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