Low-hanging fruit

Miss Communication

You can find Lolito alone at the bar, propped up against the record machine or looking demure in a dimly lit corner. He’s dark, sultry, devilish. I like to think he has dark hair and darker eyes, that he grows facial hair well but always keeps a close shave. He only drinks gin and tonic and he always knows exactly what to say.

Lolito doesn’t exist — it’s the name I use on my Seeking Arrangements account, because the site recommends you don’t use your real name and because Lolito was exactly the alter ego I needed. I’ve been around long enough to know that certain online behaviors require an alias. I joined Seeking Arrangements, a dating website that connects sugar babies with wealthy, older suitors, at the beginning of fall. The thought of my impending graduation and my own financial stability were making a sugar daddy sound more and more appealing.

I wanted someone to pay for lunch and bolster my savings account. And everyone assured me that it’d be easy, low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking. In the hollowed-out carcass of the city that used to be the glittering mecca of queer culture (San Francisco), there are plenty of older men willing to pay for the company of a younger man. So I was told.

Seeking Arrangements gives you a free premium account if you sign up with a college email. I didn’t know the difference between a regular account and a premium account, but I thought it couldn’t hurt. I typed in my berkeley.edu address and hit enter.

There is a certain businesslike formality to Seeking Arrangements that reminds me of LinkedIn. I guess the sites have similar purposes — the display of qualifications in hopes of employment. You need a photo, one that has to be approved by whoever approves these sorts of things. They don’t want nudity because they operate in a sort of legal gray area, not prostitution and therefore legal, but verging on prostitution and therefore precarious.

You also need a short “about me” and a “heading.” Because I figured the “daddies” on this website liked sappy shit, I went with, “Writer and creative hoping to try new things with new people. I love to be challenged and capture people’s stories. Let’s write a new one together.” I didn’t mean a word of it, but Lolito can be manipulative when he knows what he wants.

My heading read, “Have you read Nabokov?” because the “Lolita” reference was just too tempting. And yes, that’s where I got the name. Then I decided that was too literary and I thought daddies might also like someone a bit dumb, nonthreatening and airheaded, so I changed it to: “writer, reader, lover.”

“What’re you seeking?” the account setup page prompted. It gave me a list of options. Money wasn’t one of them. Instead, there were euphemisms such as “Vacations” and “Life of leisure.” I checked “Luxury lifestyle.” Then I checked “Fine dining,” “Rent support” and “Tuition and school support,” the basics. I threw in “Shows and entertainment” and “Designer clothing” for good measure.

I was online.

I waited for them to come to me, confident that they would, cocky in the end. After a few days, my inbox sat empty, a barren wasteland, no fruit in sight. So I took a more proactive approach. “Platonic Massage” didn’t have a profile photo, but his bio said he was looking for someone to practice his massage therapy on and that he would pay for the time. That sounded nice, so I shot him a message: “I have some tension in my lower back, think you can help me out?” I baited the hook, cast the line, but no fish.

Bailey was 47, lived in Sunnyvale — I had to open a new tab in my browser to check where that was. South Bay, must work in tech. His net worth was half a million dollars. The site gives you a spot to list that and another one for your annual income. I typed a quick “Hey.” Nothing.

I did this a couple more times liked some graying, balding man’s profile and hoped he’d hit me up. I imagined he’d say he was just looking for company, nothing sexual, but that he’d pay my rent because he was generous. Then one day I would leave him, disappear into the night without a trace of my real identity because Lolito does that sort of thing all the time. But it didn’t work, I gave up eventually. My account sits dormant.

I go to work almost every day and find it hard to get ahead because my rent is so high and my cost of living exorbitant. Other college students are turning to Seek Arrangements out of necessity. It’s no wonder that while the cost of college is soaring, so are alternative ways to make money. Here’s an idea: Why don’t we tax the wealthy people who can afford sugar babies, fund public education and then the whole exploitative apparatus falls apart? Too much to ask?

I guess it is, so here I am, reaching for fruit that’s just too high.

Josh Perkins writes the Friday column on the absurd realities of modern communication. Contact him at [email protected] .