Gurney's Inn
May 16, 2007

Jerry's Ink


I wrote this column a few years ago. I thought about it the other day when I was walking on Madison Avenue and a man came up to me and extended his arms. I thought he was going to hug me so I put my arms out to hug him back.

He jumped back to get away from me and said, "I don't know you. I just wanted to say I like what you wrote about Imus." Then he stared at my outstretched arms, turned on his heels and walked away thinking I was some kind of hugger/pervert.


When did this hugging stuff start, anyway?

I really think the idea of men hugging men when they meet or take leave of each other is ridiculous.

Many men are even (yuck) kissing each other hello and goodbye. You see it in restaurants . . . on street corners. Two big, beefy guys meet. "Bill!" says one. "Joe!" says the other. Then they sort of move their feet in a little dance in order to get into a position where they don't press against each other from the waist down. I call that "The Genital Shuffle." Sometimes one man will sort of make a move to kiss the other on the cheek which sort of anatomically leaves the other forced to kiss the other guy's neck or shoulder. It's a pretty disgusting sight.

In my old neighborhood the only people you could expect to kiss you were the Mafia and all that told you was that if you were the kissee there was a good chance that you might be found with your head resting against your spare tire in the trunk of your 1960 Cadillac Convertible.

My son J.T. brought the whole hugging thing up the other night. "I hate it," he said, "It's so awkward."

This of course makes him a true Della Femina. Physical demonstrations and sensitivity have never been dominant family traits.

"What did you do about hugging when you were a kid?" he asked. I pointed out that when I was a kid we didn't hug. We extended our arms and shook hands, being careful that the other guy didn't have a club or a dagger in the other hand.

I added that advertising guys then perfected the three-hand handshake. This usually came at the end of a transaction where the guy who figured he had gotten the best of the deal decided to shake with his right hand and then warmly put his left hand over the two clasped hands in an intimate and wonderful gesture.

The hugging thing is difficult for me because I find myself keeping my feet back and leaning forward in a most ungainly fashion. When we disengage it's all I can do to keep from stumbling forward and falling down on my fool face.

I have a number of gay male acquaintances and, truth be known, I find it easier to hug them than my heterosexual male friends. I mean, my gay male friends are used to and comfortable hugging men so at least 50 percent of the huggers are comfortable.

The other thing I hate about this male hugging nonsense is the randomness of it all. You never know when you meet someone if they are going to shake your hand or hug you. Some guys are serial huggers. They are going to hug everyone they see friend, enemy, casual acquaintance.

A few months ago I was having lunch with a friend in a restaurant in midtown. I had a mouthful of food when I sensed someone looming over me. I looked up and there was a man I vaguely remembered from my early days in advertising.

Now here was a potentially dangerous situation. I couldn't remember the guy's name. I knew I had to introduce him. I had a mouthful of food. I quickly stood up trying to buy some time to think. I extended my hand for a handshake. I had a fork in my other hand and I watched my napkin slide off my lap to the floor. I made this weird mouth full of food sound like, "ARUGGHELLOO."

The man stepped back and said, "Jerry, I haven't seen you in years. Come here you old son-of-a gun." Then he moved in, gave me a bear hug and attempted to kiss my cheek. I turned my head in a panic and he wound up planting a wet Chardonnay-reeking kiss on my ear. Unfortunately, his hug and my mouthful of food worked like a reverse Heimlich maneuver and it took an incredible amount of fortitude and concentration on my part to keep from throwing up on his shoulder.

While I'm at it I guess I'd better tell you about my problem with double-kiss women.

I was brought up in a time when upon greeting a woman acquaintance one would give her a single innocent peck on the cheek. Those women who were not interested in being kissed would, upon meeting a man, extend their hand and ward him off settling for a soft, limp handshake.

But these days I'm dealing with the new, liberated, European influenced "double kiss "woman.

The other night I was at a party and saw a woman I've known for years. The minute our eyes met she quickly turned her face.

Not having all that much confidence in my relationships with the opposite sex I immediately thought, "She hates me. She's turning away from me." After the longest three seconds of my life it dawned on me that she wanted me to kiss her cheek. I stumbled forward and just barely brushed her cheek. That's when she whip lashed her head and presented me with the other cheek. This threw my timing off and I fell against her and my kiss landed on her ear, hard. I felt her gold earring on my lips going into my mouth. "God," I thought, "if she had turned any faster I might have accidentally swallowed her earring."

The thought of swallowing and possibly choking on an earring at a cocktail party and the four glasses of wine I had consumed made me giggle. "What's so funny?" she said. Before I could answer she snapped her head away from me. I was about to kiss her for the third time when I realized that she had dismissed me and was setting her face for a kiss by another man.

I went for my fifth glass of wine determined that, for the rest of the night, I was not going to kiss another woman nor hug another man.

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