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  • Writer's pictureJerry Della Femina


I am the most awkward of men.

I watched “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” on TV the other day and noticed the similarities between two of the monsters and me: I walk as stiffly as Frankenstein and people say I dance like a zombie.

Despite what you believe from reading my rantings, my family and a few of my closest friends will tell you that I’m painfully shy. My attempts at small talk with strangers are a disaster. You can find me in any chic, fabulous and divine cocktail party hiding in one of the four corners of the room.

I like people a lot but, for the most part, my communication skills are limited to writing, and there are some who would even question that.

Over the last 20 or 30 years we have become much more of a touchy-feely society, and what used to be a dignified handshake upon greeting a friend has deteriorated into something that used to pass for sex in Victorian England. All these public displays of affection make me queasy.

When did this hugging stuff start, anyway?

I 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.

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 at 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 whiplashed 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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