Opinion | Biff America: Touching me, touching you
Woody demanded, “Have you touched the guy wearing the bow tie yet?”
“Not yet,” I said. “I’ll touch him soon. He hasn’t finished eating.”
I am not an indiscriminate hugger. In fact, I possess a hat trick aversion of both nature and nurture: I was raised Irish and Catholic, and I’m a germophobe. My mate and I hug all the time, and I have no problem embracing siblings, old friends or the doctor, who put my dislocated shoulder back in the socket. But I believe hugging should be reserved for special occasions; hugging should mean something.
Likewise for handshaking.
God and I only know where my hands have been, and I can assume I’m not alone. That’s why I’m a huge proponent of the fist bump, peace sign, elbow touch, shaka sign or that thing where you place your hand under your chin and wiggle the fingers. Like hugging, I feel shaking hands should be used sparingly so as not to diminish its meaning.
In my teens, 20s and 30s, I considered hugging foreplay.
I was barely 20 when Woodrow (Woody) Devine demanded that I touch perfect strangers, sometimes 20 a night. Woody was the head waiter at the Gatehouse Restaurant.
The Gatehouse was a fairly fancy place where I started off as a dishwasher, then busboy and then graduated to waiter. It was Woody’s job to train me, a process that lasted well over a week. One night, Woody took me aside and said that he was going to share with me his secret of getting good tips. He said that, on every table, I should touch, at least once, the person who I thought would be paying the bill. He told me he only shared this with me because if all the waiters did that, it would dilute the tactile advantage that he and I would have.
To be clear, I did not resist or rebel against Woody’s advice. Back then, I would touch anyone, anywhere, if the price was right.
And I have to say I think it worked. I went on to wait on tables all over the country, and I would follow Woody’s touch technique. To be clear, I wouldn’t fondle, grope or caress the guy or gal who I thought would be picking up the tab. But rather I’d lightly brush their arm as I placed a drink down, or if they said something that I pretended was funny, I might give them a light slap on the shoulder.
It has been a long time since I was touching folks for money. I can’t say I found it loathsome, but I can’t say I miss it either. Until now.
Other than my mate, I don’t think I have touched another human in nearly five months. Usually, such complete lack of physical contact is reserved for prisoners in solitary confinement and dudes who play the accordion.
I’m surprised how much I miss it.
I miss hugging the bride at a socially distant 10-person wedding. A bride who married a guy who is a good man and perfect for her. I miss shaking his hand and saying, “Well done.”
I miss sneaking up behind a friend and giving him a light kidney punch as I walk behind him at a coffee shop to refill my cup.
I miss giving a celebratory hug or pat on the back to guys and gals who were allies in a winning election or political/social cause that we both believed in.
I miss shaking a good man’s hands while I look him in the eye to say that I will, and the town will, miss him because he has to head to a lower elevation for his health.
I miss sitting around Yves and Cary’s gas fire pit, shoulder to shoulder, with a bunch of friends while enjoying the hospitality and good-natured chiding every time I got up to heap more appetizers on my plate or refresh my drink.
This pandemic cannot help but to have rewired the collective psyche. Even for those of us least affected, the lack of tactile contact will leave an impact. I think it would behoove us all to recognize that impact and try to soften our initial inclinations while dealing with one another online or from 8 feet away.
I have every confidence that this thing will be eventually be resolved. Some day in the not-too-distant future, I can only assume I’ll again be avoiding hugs rather than missing them.
That’s when I’ll buy an accordion.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at email@example.com.
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