Would you pay $80 for hugs?

Published 11:19 am Thursday, January 15, 2015

On second thought, maybe I should discourage my son from pursuing a career in engineering.

Sure, Gideon, 10, has a knack for design; but he has another talent that could be even more lucrative (and cooler).

He has always been a boisterous, bowl-you-over hugger — and now the Wall Street Journal reports that there is a booming market (I kid thee not) for professional huggers.

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Websites, phone apps, spas and an upcoming convention are all part of a phenomenon in which people pay up to $80 an hour for hugging, cuddling, spooning, tickling and other forms of nonsexual human contact.

Jaded Americans are fascinated by the trend. (“Well hush my mouth! I could kick myself for not discovering this sooner! Hmmm… I wonder if there’s an app for finding people to hush my mouth and kick me?”)

Remember when companies had inspiring slogans such as “Ford has a better idea” or “The pause that refreshes”? Now we have an industry that trumpets, “Hey, it’s not as creepy as it sounds.”

Although professional huggers take great pains to point out that their services are purely platonic, they inevitably encounter disgruntled clients who (wink, wink) KNOW that hanky panky must be shortly forthcoming. Maybe this will start a trend of businesses that routinely disappoint large portions of their clientele. We’ll soon see people paying good money to wield unloaded pistols on the gun range, flail about in an empty Olympic-size pool and more. (“No refunds, lady. The fine print says this is the sort of pony party where kids just get to polish a saddle.”)

Admittedly, we’ve long had sure-to-disappoint industries with phrases such as “I’m Senator Phogbound, and I approve this message.”

To be fair, a hug can be invaluable for the emotional well-being of assault victims, disfigured individuals and others. Once upon a time, I had no girlfriend, got swindled out of my life’s savings and got fired from a radio DJ job. Expensive professional hugging would have come in handy. But I just hugged my cat, sang a hymn and put my future earnings into a 401(k). I’m just saying.

As with perfectly healthy people addicted to painkillers, too many faddish people with more money than good sense risk getting hooked on the luxury of professional hugging. Of course fans will tout the “therapeutic value” of the practice, but the Society For Conveniently Trotting Out Therapeutic Benefits has also endorsed the benefits of watching paint dry, putting your tongue on a frozen flagpole, receiving a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and getting trampled by panicking mobs when a city-sized asteroid approaches.

A timely hug can be priceless. But if we place a monetary value on hugs, we’re asking for trouble. Children will be traumatized by a double-whammy as slobbery old great-aunts whisper, “This is being deducted from your inheritance, Sparky.” Havoc will strike the Postal Service. (“Insufficient postage? Dude! This envelope is loaded with X’s and O’s!”)

If a professional hugger is what you really need, go for it. If it’s a lark or a crutch for not forming meaningful relationships, get a grip on yourself!

No, wait — not literally. Now I’m in trouble with the Professional Huggers Union enforcers. They’ll probably have me busted on charges of “alienation of artificial affection.” Readers, please don’t hire me a hugger in the Big House.


Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at tyreetyrades@aol.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” Danny’s’ weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.