The patron saint of adult thumb-suckers is a 65-year-old Long Island salesman who looks strikingly like Hunter S. Thompson, down to the tinted aviator sunglasses and bald spot.
He's asked that I call him by his middle name, Lazur. He doesn't want to use his first name because he imagines his professional clients may stop doing business with a grown man who sucks his thumb.
On a Sunday night in early spring, Lazur sat in a booth at his favorite Nassau County diner sipping a chocolate milk ("light on the chocolate with a side of chocolate syrup"), his calloused thumb pressed against the sweating glass.
He sucks his thumb an average of two hours a day: in bed, on the couch, at his desk, and especially while driving. His most important prerequisite for a new truck is an armrest at just the right height for resting an elbow in thumb-to-mouth position.
Aside from his interests in business, astronomy, historical events, and bicycling, Lazur's real passion is the website he founded in 1999 — thumbsuckingadults.com.
The site is crude and rudimentary. It's written in garish neon greens, yellows, and pinks and looks like it hasn't been updated since it launched. But its message is a salve for anyone who has tentatively typed queries like "thumb-sucking" and "adult" and "Am I the only thumb-sucking adult in the universe" into a search engine.
"And Then Thumb," the frequently trafficked content page, shares statistics, surveys, articles, and thumb-sucking instances in mass media. The bulletin board and chat room had around 1,700 members worldwide when he closed them down years ago.
Lazur's aim is to legitimize thumb-sucking in a world that infantilizes or shuns adults who do it. And after more than fifteen years online, he is trying to figure out how to gather adult thumb-suckers ("ATS") for real-life meetings. His MeetUp group has encountered a hitch though: almost all the members continue to keep their habit a deep secret.
The shame and loathing began later — in kindergarten and first grade in a well-heeled New Jersey suburb. I was a chubby little girl in hiding, squeezing in her stomach, thumb in her mouth whenever and wherever she could take cover. Was it the thumb-sucking that made me retreat into young alienation and rebellion? Or was it my own alienation that caused me to continue sucking my thumb, a way of comforting myself through the awkwardness of elementary school, the solitude of middle school, the angst of high-school years? As a teenager, my favorite activity was curling up with a book, facing a wall, thumb in. A quick cure for any sadness or despair was finding a private place to get in position. I never spoke about it to friends or family. It was my shame and denial.I began hiding my thumb-sucking around the age of five — under covers, in closets, in bathroom stalls. I would press the ball of my right thumb against the roof of my mouth, keeping it balanced while I rubbed my upper lip with my middle finger, not exactly sucking my thumb as much as just leaving it there and breathing around it. This was most comfortable while lying on my side with my knees pulled toward my chest, but I could settle with being perched on a chair leaning forward. I imagine it all began in utero: around twenty weeks before being born, a fetus can suck her thumb. It's our earliest form of self-soothing.
All of a sudden I was twenty. An adult thumb-sucker.
"You stopped sucking your thumb around eight or nine," recalled my father when I asked him about it. He gently tried to curb my habit in elementary school by taking my hand away from my face and saying, "Stop."
"But then I think I saw you suck your thumb a few times around seventeen or eighteen years old, watching TV. I thought I saw you, but I wasn't sure."