A bunch of softies

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 12:00am

The murder rate may be a fraction of what it was, gentrification may have set in across neighbourhoods that were once best avoided, and September 11 may have shown that New York's inhabitants do possess a gentler side. Yet, the city retains an image as hard-driven and unforgiving. But that may be about to change, thanks to some new services on offer.

First, there is cuddleparty.com, a website that invites those who are not getting their share of affection into the world of, yes, cuddle parties. These are promoted as 'affectionate play events for adults, designed to provide a space to explore and enjoy touch, nurturing and communication'.

It seems that New Yorkers do not have sufficient lovers, family members or friends who will give them a cuddle - hence the need to do so with a group of strangers while you all wear pyjamas. For US$30, you get the chance to touch, massage and cuddle a group of strangers for about three hours. The sessions end with a 'puppy pile' - when everyone crawls on top of each other and snuggles up like puppies before they go to sleep. Sex is out - so out, in fact, that there are cuddle lifeguards on hand, although kissing is acceptable. The organisers, who currently hold the parties in their New York apartment, are already trying to spread the concept to other parts of the United States, and are even selling gift certificates, T-shirts and coffee mugs.

The second sign that the city has lost its hard edge (or, some might say, just lost it) is the establishment of a sleeping salon on the 24th floor of the Empire State Building, where tired people can pay to have a nap. For US$14 you can have a 20-minute snooze in a special module.

That may sound like a lot of money, but you must remember that many people are also prepared to pay a lot for bottled water these days. Serial nappers can pay US$780 a year, more than many health club memberships (although that only entitles you to one nap each day of the working week). The nap modules are best described as a cross between a first-class airline bed and a dentist's chair, with a fibreglass shield for privacy, and earphones to listen to classical music or soothing noises.

The idea is the brainchild of former investment banker Arshad Chowdhury, who first tested out paying for a nap while attending Carnegie Mellon University's business school, where he charged students US$1 to snooze on deckchairs.

It makes one wonder what will be next. Just think, for example, if these entrepreneurs got together to offer a package of cuddles and naps. Then, it would be hard to say that one lived on the mean streets of the city that never sleeps.