It’s the smallest of silver linings in a massive COVID-19 cloud, but I’m ready to offer a heave-ho hallelujah to hugs and handshakes.
I get the desire for an occasional public connection inside a close relationship. If you’re married to someone and she or he has, say, traveled to Ice Camp Borneo to meet the helicopter bringing you back from six months of solitary research at the North Pole, an enthusiastic elbow bump is almost obligatory.
But all this indiscriminate hugging — what is it with the desire to squeeze torsos together? Unless, say, you hope to earn a living guessing people’s weight with a traveling carnival and need some practice judging body mass.
Problem: My wife’s friends are all huggers. A goodbye isn’t a goodbye without a full-on germ- or tick- or flea- or possibly even greyscale-spreading embrace. Over the years, I’ve done what I can to avoid them — the hugs, that is, not her friends. But then came the advent of the ambush hug, an embrace sprung upon one at the last moment.
One of Marcia’s closest pals was our guest for the weekend. Departure time arrived. I helped with the bags and then edged off to the side, preparing to offer my wave-in-lieu-of-hug farewell.
“Scot,” she said, and pounced, arms flung wide. My hands flew instinctively up into stop-right-there hug-repelling position. Suddenly my palms found themselves up against aspects of her person that not even the most enthusiastic of huggers intends to proffer for that kind of contact.
We looked at each other in shared dismay.
“I … I … I’m not a hugger,” I croaked.
She said nothing. Perhaps she was busy recalibrating the reward-to-risk ratio of the ambush hug. But it was, as the kids used to say, awkward.
Only one situation in my recent years rivals it, as mortifying mishaps go. That moment came when a friend and former protégé appeared on TV and posted a link on her Facebook page.
“Bravo, [friend’s name],” I commented. “Bravo.”
Problem: Bravo is apparently such an antiquated expression as to be unknown to Facebook’s word-recognition software. Thus it was that the comment was autocorrected to: “Bra off, [friend’s name]. Bra off!”
Sitting in a dimly lit Charlestown pub, I tried to correct my corrupted comment, even as my phone issued a malicious warning that its battery was low and it was thinking of shutting down. As is frequently the case in movies where a bomb is about to blow an airplane to smithereens, every second mattered. I frantically typed: “I DID NOT WRITE THAT!” and posted it below my previous remark.
But back to society’s germ-spreading practices. The only thing worse than the hug is the handshake. Personally, I’d rather stick my hand in a can of spiders than clasp hands in germ season. Unfortunately, one is seldom offered a shake-or-dare option, particularly not if you work around politicians, for whom handshaking is almost as cherished a practice as pension padding. Still, some years back, I decided to (try to) make a stand.
So it was that, after washing my hands, I left the State House with a colleague, headed for a hopefully germ-free lunch — only to encounter a former lawmaker-turned-lobbyist lurking near the State House entrance. He and my co-worker shook hands, whereupon he extended his likely-germ-laden mitt toward me.
“It’s not good to shake hands in flu season,” I said. He looked at me strangely.
My colleague asked what he was doing. Waiting to meet a client, he said.
A smartly dressed business type approached.
“Here he is now,” said the lawmaker-cum-lobbyist. He made introductions. The man seemed delighted to meet two journalists. He extended his hand. What, really, could I do, but sacrifice public-health principle on the altar of politesse? I took it and shook it.
The lawmaker-cum-lobbyist shot me a look that said: What am I, chopped liver?
Just as long as it can be done from six feet away.