What’s In A Hug
Written early May 2020.
I’m trying to remember the last time I hugged anyone.
Was it at the open house I catered in Gowanus first week of March? Nah. We were already giving elbow bumps by then. Some guy shook my hand without thinking, and I raced to the bathroom to wash my hands. Granted, that wasn’t about Corona. The guy had some seriously clammy hands. Yo, Clammy hand people, what’s that about? That’s even worse than the dead fish handshake.
Ronny was the first of my pals to start wearing a mask. He was wearing one with his chef uniform mid-March. We all thought it was funny.
“I’m not fooling around with this crap,” was his answer to our giggles. Ronny is a humble guy, but truth be told, he is smarter than most people.
Was my last hug on February 15th, the day after Valentine’s Day, when I hugged my girlfriend Lyla goodbye at the airport? She was staying in Florida. I was going back to NYC for work, a lot of work. I’m a wedding caterer. My busy spring wedding season was about to start. We planned to meet back in to the city on March 18th . My work canceled. All of it. Lyla stayed in Florida. I stayed to clean up the mess of canceled and postponed events. Then Florida decided it didn’t’ want any of those nasty New Yorkers and their cooties. Where I to go to Florida, I’d have to quarantine for two weeks. Exactly what you want to do after losing three months of work, plunk down a huge wad of cash to quarantine in a hotel.
I still cook, but only for free. I keep some of it for myself, give most of it away. Feels good to give edible pleasure to folks who need it. These days, feeling good is a valuable commodity. On rainy days and the days I’m not cooking, I stay in my apartment. My pal Laura sent me her 45-minute workout. She does it with 5-pound weights. I don’t have any 5-pound weights, so I do the work out with two cans of white kidney beans. It’s not bad. Gripping the cans gives you an extra work out on the wrists and forearms. I’ll probably look like Popeye when this is all over.
I’m not talented when it comes to technology. I need a 13-year-old in my life. My goddaughter had the nerve to grow up and move to Los Angeles. I have no teenagers to keep me up to date. I may have to hire one.
I’ve managed to figure out FaceTime, but only for one person at a time. I still have to learn how to do FaceTime for a group. My buddy CC has the group-FaceTime thing mastered. She’s hosted a few FaceTime happy hours for our work posse: herself, Gee, Shari and me. We are co-workers who’ve surpassed work to become family. It’s fun sharing a cocktail and a love with these babes, but I gotta ask, does anyone ever look good on FaceTime?
A theater asked me to take part in a project they are doing. It’s a video collage of testimonials from people they’ve worked with. It’s not like anyone is going to the theater right now. You have to get creative. I taped myself on my phone giving them a testimonial then emailed it with an apology.
“Sorry I’m not looking my best. I think I have what I’ve been calling The Corona Look (can’t get hair done, wearing masks too often to bother with lipstick, trouble sleeping, home too much, need more sunshine).”
Lee, the artistic director, emailed me back: “You look beautiful.” Artistic directors would make very good politicians.
When did I start looking so old? I’m pretty sure I didn’t look old yesterday.
It reminded me of an ex-girlfriend I had who could drink all night without seeming the least bit drunk. Then she’d have one more sip and be all of a sudden, wasted out of her gourd. No warning at all.
I stay healthy, dress like a 16-year-old boy, smile a lot. Most folks think I’m a decade younger than I am. I have a lot of energy but used to have a lot more. So yeah, I’m middle-aged. I had just managed to skip looking like it. Maybe Corona was my one sip too many.
So when was my last hug? I know it was after I said goodbye to Lyla. I looked through my calendar to check off all definite hugging dates. Tilly’s birthday dinner in February, check. Hair cut with Lorraine, check. What? You don’t hug your hairdresser? Maybe you’re not getting a good enough haircut. Laura’s birthday dinner in early March. …
Yeah. I think Laura was my last hug. At the social get-togethers after that night, we were elbow bumping. Investigation complete. Early March, Laura’s birthday was my last hug. Luckily Laura gives real hugs. Not those polite little let’s-get-this-over-with kinda hugs. She gives real hugs, the kind that make you close your eyes for a second. I love those kind of hugs. How was I to know that it would have to hold me for so long?
Most people in my life have someone to hug. Shari has her terrier, Archie. Lordy, she loves that dog. On a normal day Archie gets tons of affection, but these days Shari showers him with cuddles. Archie doesn’t know what the hell Corona is, but he’s a very happy boy.
I thought about writing a screenplay in which humans would find out that dogs are actually more intelligent than we are and that dogs planned this whole pandemic thing so that their owners would have to stay home with them and give them 25 walks a day. But, if dogs really were that intelligent, they wouldn’t need us, would they? Hell, they’d probably be walking us.
Tilly has her cats to hug, especially the super-friendly one named Bashful. That name is pure sarcasm. Bashful likes to wait for Tilly to sit on the couch and then sits on her head. Tilly always has a little bit of Bashful in her hair. CC has her boyfriend and his two kids. Judging from the photos they take, they’re one big group hug, even when they’re all wearing bandanna masks. Ronnie has his wife. Like a lot of New Yorkers, they moved into their summer home. They might be driving each other mad by now, who knows, but they get all the hugging they want.
The only two people in my inner orbit who don’t get to hug anyone of any species are me and Lyla.
The last thing she said to me at the airport was, “Now you’ll get some alone time to write. Enjoy yourself, Honey.” Is that irony? Pretty sure that’s irony. We will have to figure out a way to do some FaceTime hugging.
Eight weeks. It’s been Eight weeks since I hugged anyone. With no hugs on the horizon.
Some sunny days, I walk along the East River all the way from the East Village to South Street Seaport and back. It’s my favorite walk. I used to love the way the breeze and sun felt on my face, but now with my mask and sunglasses, I concentrate on how nice it feels in my hair. It’s a bit of a juggle doing the walks. First they told us to stay 6 feet away from anyone else. That’s not always possible, but mostly possible. But, I just read that you must try to not be in the air stream of a jogger. If they cough and have Corona, the particles get into the airstream, and if you are behind them, you walk right into it.
I went for a walk the other day, and two extra-sweaty joggers, clearly oblivious to the pandemic, with no masks on, nearly knocked me over as they ran past. I wanted to kick them but was too busy stepping out of their jetstream.
CC and I met up on the walk back uptown from South Seaport. CC walks back from Brooklyn when she spends the night at her boyfriend’s place. That is a long ass walk, but anything to NOT go on the subway these days. That’s like a big can of Corona. CC and I walked up to 19th Street, then air hugged and air bumped our goodbyes with our special Corona cheer, which consists of us both barking like chihuahuas.
It was 6:30 when we parted company and I turned back toward the East Village. I wanted to pick up some groceries and get home by 7, for my nightly pleasure: hooting and banging pots out of my open window. Every night at 7, for a few minutes, New York City claps for our essential workers. Well, it started as clapping, now its pot banging, drum beating, horn blowing and I’m pretty sure I heard maracas.
The line at the grocery store was long, so I missed my deadline. I was carrying my groceries, cutting east through the Village, when I heard the cheering start. I wouldn’t make it home in time. Oh well.
As I walked, I started to cheer. I pushed the grocery bag handles up to my elbows and started clapping. A woman stood out on her fire-escape clapping and cheering. She looked down at me and smiled. Several people were on several roofs cheering and banging pans. There were cheers and horns and claps and hoots all around me. As the fading sun started to paint the sky gray, I felt like I’d walked into a giant “thank you” orchestra.
“Thank you!” I yelled.
“Thank you!” I yelled louder.
I wondered, Can anyone tell it’s me yelling from under my mask? I don’t know. But it felt good. Really good. Kinda, sorta, not exactly, like a hug.