You Are Now Entering a Hug Free Zone
There are many things that I can think of where President Richard Nixon and I strongly disagree: his broadening of the Vietnam War into neighboring Cambodia; his enthusiasm for the creepy cult-like "Up With People" singers; his deputizing of a drug-addled Elvis as a "Federal Agent at Large" for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs; even his preference for vanilla malts (I've always favored chocolate malts).
But there is one area where Nixon and I are in complete agreement.
Whenever I look at the picture of Nixon being embraced by Sammy Davis, Jr. at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, I feel our late-President's pain. It's almost as if Sammy's gripping my right arm while burrowing the side of his face into my shoulder. Nixon, to his credit, is smiling, but beneath that rosy front of good will belies our President's evident discomfort, bordering on shock. You can almost hear his silent plea: "Will someone please tell Sammy to stop hugging me!"
You see, I, too, am not a man-hugger!
Oh sure, for years I've tried to go along and give in to man-hugs, even awkwardly initiating them on occasion. But lately, I've come to the conclusion that these were just "faux hugs" --misplaced attempts to try and fit in through peer pressure. It's not that I don't get the mechanics of how to execute a perfectly respectable man-hug; I just never put my heart and soul into it unlike some of the more accomplished man-huggers that I know.
So I've finally decided to put my foot down, so to speak, on man-hugs.
For as long as I can remember I've not been a man-hugger. In fact, I've never been much of a hugger at all (with the exception of my dear wife, of course, and our beloved late black Labrador retriever, Berna). I do recall when I was around age seven being introduced by my parents to a pretty woman in a fluffy angora sweater and wrapping myself around her ample bosom and waist, refusing to let go. The next big hug I remember was around age 16 when I met my father's girlfriend after my parents' divorce. Denise was a lanky Wilhelmina agency model who, when first introduced, embraced me in a tender bear hug (I still recall how great she smelled) and happily handed me a copy of her modeling flier showing her in a bikini and a fur-lined winter coat.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no prude. And this isn't a gay thing. As far as I know, I've hugged the entire spectrum of the LGBT community. Perhaps psychologists have a name for this condition (No Man-Hug Syndrome?), but simply put: I just don't enjoy being hugged. That's not to say I oppose others' man-hugging; I just think it's gotten a bit out of hand (no pun intended). Indeed, some of my best friends are skilled practitioners in the art of man-hugging, never missing the opportunity to ensnare someone in a friendly squeeze. Serial man-huggers do not require much pretext or encouragement in which to practice their tactile arts, either. You can find them plying their skills at bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, reunions of any kind, and even at the unlikeliest of events like your child's violin recital. When word leaks about your new job, man-huggers are usually the first to greet you with open arms. They'll clutch you after a New York Giants victory, loss, or even tie. They're also quick to console with a cuddle after the passing of a beloved pet (dog, cat, parrot, guinea pig, ferret, turtle, goldfish, salamander -- it really doesn't matter). For there is no rhyme or reason behind man-hugging -- it just happens. And that's the problem.
There have always been a number of situations where man-hugging is perfectly acceptable behavior, even expected, but you can count these instances on one hand: funerals, movie and book deals, winning the lottery, conflict resolution between warring parties (this one's a bit tricky, though -- as evidenced by Don Vito Corleone's hugging of Phillip Tattaglia and guarantee not to break the peace between the five New York families in The Godfather, only to see the Don's son Michael proceed to wipe out the heads of the rival families after his father's death), as well as professional athletes (and weekend warriors) celebrating after winning a game. I've learned that all bets are off with man-hugs, however, when alcohol's involved, especially gin and vodka.
I can usually spot a man-hugger from a hand-shaker such as myself. There are certain telltale signs that give them away. First, their head tilts slightly off center, followed by a half-smile of recognition. Then they extend their arms while waving their hands invitingly like a seal flapping its flippers as if to say: "Come here!" It feels as if the Death Star's invisible tractor beam has been activated, pulling you in for the inevitable hug and all resistance is futile; it would be foolish at this point to not respond in kind. I've attempted to thwart a man-hug in mid-sequence only to have my feeble handshake swatted away like a bothersome gnat in exchange for the full-throttled embrace.
Still, I have devised ways to avoid the man-hug, but you have to be quick-witted and determined. If you spot the man-hugger first, you can act like you don't see him and try and walk by, and even duck into the nearest broom closet, if necessary. But when you're in a narrow hallway or entering an elevator and there is no escape route in site, my tactic is to thrust out my hand first before the man-hugger has a chance to extend his arms. Most reasonably minded man-huggers will grudgingly accept this antiquated form of greeting, although not without a shrug of disappointment and regret.
I have found, though, that honesty is the best policy when it comes to avoiding man-hugs. Recently, I had to break the news to my long-time friend Ben, a serial man-hugger whom I've been watching Green Bay Packers football games with at local bars for the past several years, that henceforth there would be no more man-hugs, and that a simple handshake would have to suffice. Ben took it well (I think) and we have continued to enjoy Packers games together, only sans man-hugs. There are still plenty of high fives, fist bumps, and friendly pats on the shoulder, but I can tell Ben misses his man-hugs. He even admitted to me as much, but that he did not hold it against me, which, to me, is the true sign of a friend. He even concluded a recent email message to me with the initials: (HFZ - Hug Free Zone).