On the day I become older than my mom lived to be, her advice calms me

by Brian Arbenz

Mom for nov 2017Today, Nov. 20, 2017, is disorienting for me. I reach exactly the age, to the day, at which my mother died in 1983.

Yes, a person would have to be an obsessive number cruncher to know that today is the precise number of days since my 59th birthday last summer that Mom lived past her 59th. And a person would have to be just a little insecure and into the mystical to be preoccupied with this fact.

It’s not a health concern that’s on my mind. I fully expect to be as fine tonight when I drop off to sleep as I am typing this – spry, mobile, and with a nearly ideal body weight since losing 90 pounds nine years ago and keeping it off since.

But something just isn’t right – I will be older than Mom ever got to be.

Older than Mom. No way. Can’t be.

I am not ready to be senior to my source of wisdom and nurturing. Mom will always be older and savvier than I am.

Millie Morrison raised my older sister and myself as a single parent, starting when that was too new even to be a phenomenon.

I will still look to Mom in my memories and in my modern day conception of her for a more mature perspective on things.

Of much more importance than the fact that Mom was our sole financial provider during 15 years when no child support arrived, she was our moral and intellectual guide. A high school English and Humanities teacher, Mom made sure we would love learning as we grew up by incorporating it into what we enjoyed.

When she saw I was fascinated by maps at age five, Mom introduced me to reading by going over the Indiana page in an atlas and teaching me to read our state’s city names. (I’m not sure if it was state loyalty or an abundance of short words; Gary, South Bend and Fort Wayne were great starter outers.)

In a few years I was a sports lover, helped along by the NBC Baseball Game of the Week, so Mom brought home sports themed fiction and non-fiction books she bought through her school to keep me developing my reading skills while liking the experience.

Mom earned her master’s degree, taking classes at a downtown Louisville college while our grandmother and other adults came over to child sit. Mom also enrolled in a non-credit institute to study the culture and politics of India.

She rose at 5 every morning, fed the beloved cats who owned us, then worked the crossword puzzle with coffee in hand — all before taking her son and daughter to school, then driving on to her job to teach other people’s children.

We didn’t think of Mom as extraordinarily disciplined as such, because we had no comparison. But in retrospect, oh my, how she epitomized efficiency and focus, while maintaining an easy, approachable manner (despite a son who tested her patience).

We did appreciate Mom serving as a fountain of information. Friends, students and even a television news anchorman at a station where my father had worked decades earlier would sometimes call asking her to resolve a grammatical matter, which Mom would do in seconds, then go back to cooking supper.

Mom 1945 copped for June 6, 2017

Books by Hermann Hesse, D.H. Lawrence and Alvin Toffler shared space on her shelves with parenting guides and her college yearbooks – and Mom’s issues of The Atlantic.

Their pages each month represented the eclectic spheres Mom would have seen more of in person, but for tight finances and her firm belief that her children came first.

Besides, Mom was happy sharing minds and hearts with the educated friends she had, in our area and other nearby places.

Of course, she gave us needed advice in a rapidly changing world. And today, as I reluctantly walk past that chronological point where fate took her from us, becoming – as impossible as it is to behold this – older than Mom ever was, she gives me the same advice on my number fixation about today’s date that she often did when I’d overthink and anguish about the shallowness and incongruity of the world:

“Tune that out. Enjoy life.”

Thanks, Mom. I’m ready to go on now.


Can’t Buy Me (Platonic) Love

hug1One person’s dismal experience with a “cuddling” service.

It is not for sex – the company stresses that on its web site. And I’m fine with that.

This would-be customer of a “cuddling,” or “therapeutic touch” service known as The Snuggle Buddies wanted platonic feelings of intimacy and was totally in synch with the company’s rules forbidding fondling, or anything phallic. The statement that each professional “cuddler” insisted on clean premises, and carried self-defense devices further impressed me that they and their employer were legit.

And The Snuggle Buddies’ online video showed clients receiving this service who were perfectly together and apparently socially normal – they were just busy all the time, so active were their lives. The company’s cuddling providers were shown in the video to be morally clean and as professional about the personal contact involved in their work as a nurse or exercise instructor.

Of course, what promotional video mirrors real life? I take it for granted that many of the clients are socially impaired and their providers are – well that’s where my speculation ends.

You see, the “cuddler” whose services I procured from The Snuggle Buddies never showed for our initial meeting, which was to be for discussing arrangements.

My happy anticipation of soon finding touch began to sour minutes before that service provider — who in a phone call days before was bright and pleasant — was to join me at a sandwich place for that discussion. As I sat in the restaurant, she texted that a personal errand had come up that would require rescheduling. Fair enough. But she did not respond to more communications, and the next morning, a check of the company website showed that she was gone from it.

A sudden career change is anyone’s right, but leaving someone waiting isn’t good, particularly when that someone had bravely texted this woman about his life’s social impairment. Moreover, I had already paid money to The Snuggle Buddies, which is one of the many recent start-ups wed to the “no refunds” policy becoming standard in today’s Pay Pal world.

A second cuddler soon contacted me online, saying she had been referred by the company as a replacement. But she then pulled the same disappearing act, never returning my e-mails, though she stayed listed on the company website.

And her open arms were more than 100 miles away, a distance I would traverse at my expense.

This essay is about my experiences with The Snuggle Buddies. Anyone else’s could differ. But I am not alone, I soon found out.

Some cuddlers also were complaining they had been taken. On a website, one former Snuggle Buddies cuddler said:

“I did two sessions for this company that were paid beforehand using a credit card. Between the two sessions I politely… asked [via texting] if I could be paid for the first session, and the owner… was exceptionally rude, heartless and not helpful. He told me he’d pay me after both sessions were completed. His exact words being:
” ‘You text too much.’
‘You will be paid after your second session…’
and my favorite:
‘You are annoying.’

“I quickly apologized for bothering him, happy to have a job…”

After this cuddler finished the second session “with a very kind and polite man,” she again texted that the two sessions were complete and asked for payment. Two weeks later, no pay and no response to repeated requests.

After reading of this woman’s troubles, I forgave the cuddler who left me waiting at the restaurant. It is evident that she, like me, had innocently walked into a scheme.

The story on the website linked readers to more terrible reviews of The Snuggle Buddies on Yelp.

There, descriptions of the owner as a “liar” and his company a “total scam” pushed my self-reproach buttons. I should have read these beforehand. But zeal about the chance to beat loneliness had made me jump off the deep end. What a fool I’d been.

And I soon found out that The Snuggle Buddies has as much contempt for its customers as its cuddlers.

“What in the actual fuck is wrong with you?” That was how an e-mail to me from an unnamed high-ranking person from the company’s headquarters began.

In full context, this communication came after I filed a suit in Small Claims Court to try to get my money back. (Using that court had worked perfectly twice in the last 15 years in getting a publisher to finally pay me what they had promised and to prompt a supermarket to make good after a check processing error.)

The e-mail continued: “It says on the website we don’t do refunds…. What kind of person goes to a lawyer instead of emailing me if there was a problem?

“Seriously – what the fuck is wrong with you?”

Odd that an outfit that stresses it is not for sex used slang for intercourse twice in one brief missal.

Could that choice of abusive language be related to what a former Snuggle Buddy recounted in a 2015 article in Paste Magazine dot com? Erin Menardi wrote that she was hired and her pic placed on the company website three hours after she first contacted The Snuggle Buddies.

“I was given my first cuddling client that night. I thought I’d be getting some sort of training soon after. Maybe some best practices. Or the copy of The Cuddle Sutra I was promised. I got nothing. Except for a call from the founder’s wife. A cuddler herself, she explained her philosophy over the phone — complete with a thick New Jersey accent and a lot of profanity. ‘Maybe you have to deal with a guy’s bullshit for an hour, but then you get to go home,’ she said. ‘If they get inappropriate, tell them to keep it therapeutic or else you’ll leave. They’ll fucking behave. They don’t want to waste their money.’ “

Yep, that sounds like the same “corporate culture” displayed in the “What the fuck” e-mail to me.

My response to it, however, kept to professionalism while stating, first of all, that I did not go to a lawyer, but handled this suit myself. I then explained that I did indeed e-mail “you,” with you being the two service providers, the only people who had represented the company to me.

“Both of them,” my response continued, “had agreed to provide the… services which I had purchased, then both failed to follow up…. Though your company’s policy is not to offer refunds, you are still obligated under Warranty and Implied Warranty laws to rectify the problem you have created.

“Your company’s representatives promising in personal e-mails to provide the service purchased, then failing to do so and making it impossible to reschedule, as one of them agreed to do, constitute actions which exceed proper business practices covered by a no-refund disclaimer, and I am certain I will be able to convince the court of this.”

You’d think such citing of the law would carry weight in a case like this. But I have learned in recent years that f-word ridden rants sway more people than professional writing, and cocky corporations already have won any battles like this by placing provisions in their Terms of Service that essentially say to the customer, “Don’t bother.”

Moreover, I would have to take a day off from my job for the court session; I’d already lost a half-day’s work hours to go downtown to file the suit. Those intangibles aren’t compensated, and the whole amount I had paid Snugglebuddies was less than $80.

I dropped the suit.

What’s my next step? The no-refund policy is combined with a lifetime guarantee to receive The Snuggle Buddies services I paid for, so theoretically someone out there someday will place their gentle and caring extremities around my torso in an act of platonic affection-by-the-hour.

And I’ll walk away refreshed and affirmed by the experience, if aware that I had to endure an f-bomb, a trip to the courthouse and being abandoned twice before I could get a hug.

As difficult as social interaction has always been for me, using the marketplace as a quick fix has failed. Makes you wonder what in the actual f is wrong with it.