Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Handshake-Chest-Bump-Semi- Clinch-Man-Hug

So, interesting day in Gregg's Universe. Work is in a low-activity zone for me, but not for most of my co-workers, so I spent the day mostly waiting for issues to drop into my lap while everyone else ran about in a state of stressed semi-panic. Ahhh, ya' gotta love trying to hit ship dates.

Plus, my family is still out of town at the beach -- they flew halfway across the country to head to Atlantic Beach and wound up spending most of one day trapped in their hotel room while hurricane A-something blew by. They were never in any real danger, and aside from the boredome factor it was something of an adventure for the kids.

Me? I'm on Day 6 of highly-overrated faux-bachelorhood.

Of course, having far fewer responsibilities has its advantages. For example, not having the kids and wife waiting at home afforded me the luxury of managing to finally meet Austin Ray, along with another new Orkut friend, Marie. But more on that later.

First, I wanna talk about man hugs.

Now, I'm a physically and emotionally available guy. I'm not shy about my emotions, not by a long shot. Give me a good, sad movie and I'm weeping like a baby, and I don't particularly care who knows it. When I talk to friends or family on the phone, I hardly ever fail to end the conversation with an "I love you." One of the very few up-sides of losing your father when you're very young is that you know, intimately, that people can die, suddenly and without warning, and all you are ever guaranteed is This One Moment, so don't fuckin' waste it. And I hug my friends and family -- I hug them good and tight whenever I can.

But hugs can be weird things. They've become almost compulsory in certain social situations, and they can represent genuine affection, almost nothing at all (Christmas Parties and the "I LOVE YOU MAN!!!" cliche anyone?), or an odd middle-ground of intimacy that means more than a handshake and yet not quite ... what? I dunno.

And hugs between men can be the weirdest of all. Even the most progressive of us are kinda socially programmed to second guess physical contact with other men. Why is he hugging me? Why do I want to hug him? What will the meaningless people on the other side of the room think? It's ridiculous, but there it is.

Now, the reason this is on my mind is that, after months of not being with friends, with not being with anyone other than family with whom I could share a good solid hug, all of a sudden I got two hugs today. But they were both of what I call the "Handshake-Chest-Bump-Semi-Clinch-Man-Hug" variety. Not that that's bad, mind you -- I'm all for expressing affection so they're certainly not bad, even if they can be a bit clumsy. But they were both unexpected, and they occured under very different circumstances, and with rather different outcomes.

Hug Number 1:

Hug number one happened at lunch. There's this great little cheesesteak chain here in Texas called Texadelphia, and I tend to go to the one near my office about once a week or so. Having done this for the better part of 4 years, I've gotten to know the manager (whose name also happens to be Greg) at the place pretty well -- we always chat when I come in, ask about each other's families, talk shop, and sometimes he hooks me up with extra big sandwiches and queso. But we're not what I'd call Friend friends, you know? We know each other, and we get along, and he seems super cool, but our relationship is strictly defined by the customer/businessman boundaries.

But today, as I was entering the restaurant he just happened to be coming out of the front door. So we kind of collided, stopped short, said some variety of "hey man, what's up?" and shook hands. And then, somehow, we wound up in the sorta half-hug-chest-bump-semi-hug thing. I wasn't really looking for it, and I can't quite figure out if it was intentional or some function of inertia that made it happen, but it wasn't a bad thing, exactly. I mean, he's a cool guy, didn't seemed freaked or weird about it, but it was ... odd. Certainly awkward.

Being the sort of self-analyzing neurotic I am, I of course spent the next hour or so deconstructing the moment: Did he pull me in for a semi-hug? Did we just sort of stumble against each other? Did I subconciously pull him in for a semi-hug out of some sort of submerged emotional neediness? Does he now think I want to fuck him? Did it come off as weird? And so on.

I do this sort of shit a lot. It's really fucking annoying.

Anyway, so that was semi-hug number one. And it was a rather disconcerting affair.

Hug Number 2:

Now, the day continues.

First, backstory: A few days back I received an invitation to attend an Austin Orkut Pint Night, from the very wonderful Austin Ray. Ray is a friend of a friend -- the friend being Karl Elvis, who I've never met but have known for going on 10 years now, via USENET, e-mail, etc. We exchange Christmas cards, bounce shit back and forth in e-mail, and just get along great. Awesome guy, with an awesome wife (Barb, a Goddess amongst Goddesses) both of whom I really need to meet someday.

Now, Karl dragged me into the love/hate morass that is Orkut -- more on that another time. But when we started doing the Orkut thing he e-mail introduced me to Ray, who lives here in Austin and whom Karl was certain I should meet. So anyway, Ray and I exchanged some e-mails, but never really managed to get together. It was always something -- for example, he invited me to a crawfish boil at his place and something or other came up and I couldn't make it, and seeing as we're both family guys with demanding jobs gettin' together time has been difficult to come by anyhow. So, here was another opportunity to meet this cool guy who I was fairly certain, based on his interests and journal, that I would get along with.

Truth be told, cold meetings always freak me out, so I'm sure I was doing the avoidance thing more than a little bit. But as luck would have it, this particular invite came at a time when my family is out of town, I have spare time to spend, and I actually managed to force my inate introversion down enough to drag a few buddies out for a few drinks so I could meet this guy.

Well, in a word it was fantastic. Ray is a nice, nice guy. Marie, who lives not far from me out here in suburbia, was also terrific and cool and funny. We had a blast, and I was sorry to have to go. Having dragged 3 friends along to prop up my courage and resolve (I'm really pathetic, I know) I had locked myself into having to leave when they needed to go, and they needed to go after about an hour or so.

So, I shook hands with Marie -- I've found that a pretty good rule of thumb for married guys is that unless your wife is around you never hug a woman you've just met, no matter how nice and cool she seems: it just tends to send all sorts of mixed messages, intentional or otherwise, that can freak people out. Silly, yeah, but I'm kind of a silly guy. And then Ray and I said goodbye, and well, there it was again.

The Handshake-Chest-Bump-Semi-Clinch-Man-Hug.

Except this one worked. It just sort of happened, and we even joked about it, but there it was. A perfectly acceptable, comfortable, and brief expression of social affection. It was pretty much the polar opposite of Hug #1.

Karl was right: This guy Ray is Aces.

So yeah. In one day I get the semi-hug from a guy I've kinda known in passing for 4 years, and I can't figure out how to define it, and I get another from a guy I've only known in-person for about 2 hours and it's like the high point of my week.

Isn't life a weird fuckin' thing? Wonderful, but weird.

Great night. Great day. Met great folks, and kicked myself in the ass for an hour for not just taking my own damn car downtown so I could hang out longer.

Mood: Pretty darn happy
Now Playing: Oingo Boingo, "Best O' Boingo"