Hug at Your Own Risk

I am all for social distancing, if that’s what it takes to get me a hug from Pat McNally.

Let me explain.

If we socially distance diligently enough, eventually we will not have to focus on social distancing. The whole idea of doing this is that we won’t have to keep doing this.

So social distancing will ultimately get us back to normal, right? Which for me means greeting a friend at the Ipswich Inn and giving them a hug. I realize this isn’t a typical New Englander thing — I’m not originally from around here. In the South, where I was born, it’s very different. If you give a self-conscious nod to a dear friend on the street in Ipswich, Massachusetts, you get maybe, MAYBE, a nod in return. That’s all. If you’re in Deepstep, Georgia, on the other hand, you get a massive bear hug. Coronavirus be damned!

So yeah, since I moved here to Ipswich, I have tried to turn the hugging thing down a notch, just so my friends won’t be quite so creeped out. But after months of social distancing, here’s where I’m at: A hug from anybody besides my wife would be awesome. 

My friend Pat McNally, the legendary selectman (from the days before they became selectpersons), is originally from upstate New York, where hugging is apparently somewhat more acceptable as a standard form of greeting. I surmise this because Pat and I have, I admit, on occasion, hugged. When I meet Pat for breakfast — and he’s always there ahead of me, because he’s an awesome athlete, and he needs nourishment — he gets up and gives me a great big hug. After the hug, I would say, to be honest, the breakfast itself is anticlimactic.

So yeah, in the meantime, we all do the social distancing thing. I get it. Six feet — two yards. (If you’re from Canada, please maintain a distance of 1.8288 meters — and good luck getting back across the border. Or, if you’re a cartographer, 1.136 thousandths of a mile; map not drawn to scale.) But mentally, let’s face it, this six-foot distance is taxing to continually calculate. I’m six feet tall, so I might have a built-in advantage: If you and I are talking, I can imagine lying down, and if there’s enough space for me to stretch out between you and me, then we’re far enough apart to have a conversation safely.

On the road, however, it’s more complicated. Say you’re on a bicycle. You’re exposed. Your exhales are going all over the place. And if someone in a car is passing you, and their window is open, and they happen to be exhaling, you could get splattered with their coronavirus-laden globules, and you’re at risk.

Which I guess is the idea behind the latest thing: the six-foot safety pole.

Yes, I actually saw a bicyclist this week with one of those skinny poles that stick up from the back of the bike and there’s a flag on top so drivers can see you from a distance — except that this guy had it sticking out from his bike sideways, to the left, forcing traffic to give him wide berth.

Which I thought was brilliant, from a safety standpoint — You keep fast-moving vehicles a safe distance from your own slow-moving vehicle. But also, maybe this bicyclist has hit upon something of value for all of us, even when we’re just walking around: a 6-foot safety spear sticking out from a harness. Or from a sort of codpiece. I haven’t worked out the details yet.

Any kind of 6-foot distancing gear is going to keep Pat McNally off of me. So I’m not happy about it from a hugging standpoint. But yes, in terms of not catching COVID-19, it’s good.

Here’s hoping the whole COVID thing ends soon, and we can go back to being uncomfortable about hugging, because we’re New Englanders, and hugging is just icky.


Doug Brendel lives in a 203-year-old house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where visitors have been banned until hugging is allowed. Follow Doug’s antics here at Outsidah.com, or his serious work at NewThing.net.

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