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 Texas : Features : Humor / Column : "Stumbling Forward"
A Touchy Subject
by John Gosselink

Alfred. E. Newmanlink
My aversion to hugging has been well documented, if not somewhat misinterpreted. While it is true that in 1982, I misunderstood Nancy Reaganís public service commercial and spent the entire decade just saying no to hugs, Iím not an anti-hugging zealot. Itís more of an anti-hugging leaning. Though its genesis was an unintentional mishearing, it turned out to be a good philosophy for me.

Did I take it too far? Maybe. Probably getting ďJust say no to hugsĒ tattooed in gothic letters across my shoulders was a mistake. But I was trying to impress the guys in a prison drug gang Ė theyíre not much into hugging either Ė another pursuit that, in retrospect, I somewhat question the judgement in. But that was years ago.

But folks have gotten the impression that Iím some sort of cold, freakish germophobe afraid of human contact. Thatís just not the case. Shoot, if I donít get my daily recommend allowance of half dozen or so hugs from my girls, Iím off a bit. And the wife, Iím hugging her all the time, sometimes for no apparent reason, though it does make her suspicious. Family reunions, Iím all over the obligatory arriving and departing hugs. Not to mention that my favorite character on ďStarsky and HutchĒ was Huggy Bear.

Iím just not a social or recreational hugger. The way I figure it, if folks donít share blood or name, thereís really no reason to be touching each other. So Iím not comfortable with the greeting hug, especially the ďDo you remember me? Itís been a long timeĒ greeting hug.


Iíve been fretting about this lately because Iíve gotten an invitation to my high schoolís 20th reunion. Having never been to a reunion, the wife informs me that they should rename these things hugathons because that pretty much all you do for three days. Then she gets all giggly just imagining how uncomfortable Iím going to be at this thing. Thatís the kind of support I get around here Ė giggling at my serious problems, and eye-rolling, lots of eye-rolling.

The few folks I want to keep in touch with from high school, I do already, and Iím not hugging them presently. So when I get to the reunion, all of these women who either a) I donít remember b) donít remember me c) turned me down when I asked them out d) laughed and pointed when I ask them out, are going to be coming up for hugs. I donít want to hug any of these people.

I just want to blow the thing off, but the wife says I have to go to see how fat and bald everyone has gotten, and how the prom queen and quarterback didnít have the charmed lives everyone figured, who are now divorced, broke and bitter. Why? There are plenty of fat and bald people around here, see them all the time, so why drive into Houston for that? And as far as feeling superior to the yearbook stars, that just seems kind of sad and vindictive. Sure, maybe the prom queen was one of those girls who laughed and pointed at me, but Iím pretty much over it now. Iíve been laughed and pointed at by much more attractive people since.

If I have to go this thing, Iíve got to have a plan. I thought about going with the leprosy ploy Ė ďIíd give you a hug, but the doctors at the island colony said that Iím especially infectious right now and should refrain from human contact. Though, it would be nice to have company on the island, ha-ha,Ē but thatís so old and hackneyed. Iíve probably used it half a dozen times just at potluck dinners alone.

I thought about the direct approach, anyone comes in for a hug, shouting ďDonít touch me or Iíll scream,Ē but Iíd hate to disappoint all those girls who wrote ďstay sweetĒ in my yearbook. Screaming at people is, by definition, not staying sweet.

Then I came up with the ďunrelenting handshake option.Ē Iíd just stand around, happily wearing my ďHello, my name is..Ē nametag with yearbook photo attached to accentuate how much weight Iíve gained and hair Iíve lost, with my arm constantly cocked in hand shaking position. Iíll take the social guessing out of it. There would be no awkward moment for those folks of discretion to decide if hug or handshake is appropriate, no opportunity for unconscionable huggers to come flying in without getting poked in the ribs from my outstretched arm, and a sigh of relief and easy approach for my fellow non-huggers. Iím almost breathless from the perfection of this plan.

If this works the way I think it will, I may get a brace or sling and keep my arm up all the time. As an added bonus, just think how much easier it will be to give directions. ďNorth street? Why itís just (swiveling my hips) over there.Ē Genius, I tell you, pure genius.

Letís see the wife roll her eyes at this idea.
© John Gosselink
"Stumbling Forward"
May 15 , 2005 column
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