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Nathan Hansen's column: Do not hug

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine described me, more or less out of the blue, as huggable.

The term took me by surprise."Huggable" not the first adjective I'd use to describe myself. Or the third. Or, like, the 257th. I'd put it somewhere behind "chatty" but still several places ahead of "fully bearded."

Huggable might be one of the three least-likely descriptions anyone has ever applied to me.

One of the other unlikely descriptors came during a family trip years ago to the Dominican Republic. There was a basketball hoop in the parking lot of the place we were staying. I don't know how tall it was, but I know it wasn't regulation height, because I could dunk. That's something that, despite being roughly six and a half feet tall, I couldn't do then and still can't do today on a 10-foot rim.

Apparently, when it comes to leaping I'm less kangaroo, more koala. Although, now that I think about it, Koalas are pretty darned huggable.

But that's not really the point here. The opint is, we were playing basketball. I was dunking. Passing. And every time I did something a casual observer might generously describe as "generally competent," a couple of locals who had were watching would excitedly shout, "Showime!" It was the first and, I'm willing to bet, the last time my skills on the basketball court have been charitably compared to the Magic Johnson-era Los Angeles Lakers.

The other of my three unlikely descriptions happened when I spent my junior year of high school in Sweden. I was waiting for a train at the time, wearing my red-and-white Stillwater High School letter jacket, with its thick leather sleeves.

At least, I think they were leather. The tag on that particular jacket identified its makeup as 5 percent "unknown," a fact I always found just a bit disconcerting.

But back to Sweden. I was on the train platform when a stranger approached me and, with no real preamble, pointed at me and said, "Mike Tyson!" As he said it, he held his arms out from his sides like you might do if you had a heavily muscled upper body.

It was a surprising comparison for a few reasons. First, I have never bitten off part of anyone's ear. Second, I got my face tattoo removed almost immediately after I got it. And third, neither I nor any of the other men in my immediate family has ever been described as having a heavily-muscled upper body. Or a lightly muscled upper body. Or, really, as having biceps that resembled anything burlier than pipe cleaners.

Also, Mike Tyson? Really not huggable.

Which, of course, brings us full circle.

I don't consider myself huggable. I'm a fair amount taller than most people, which tends to make the act of hugging somewhat awkward. Body parts never seem to match up quite right.

Maybe for that reason and maybe because I'm just antisocial by nature I've never felt a particular need to hug people.

I saw a story once about Mensa, the high-IQ society. Apparently, when Mensa members gather they can choose to wear either a green circle or a red square pinned to their shirt. The circle indicates they are comfortable being hugged as a greeting. The square means keep your distance.

I mention this in part because it's a chance to mention myself in close proximity to Mensa, but also to point out that if the organization ever made the mistake of inviting me to one of its events I would pin about four red squares to various parts of my body.

Unless I know you pretty well, it's unlikely I'm going to want to hug you. Maybe a firm handshake would be in order. More likely, though, I'd be happiest with a polite wave. From a respectful distance.

But then, what do I really know about my own huggability? I can't hug myself. For all I know it's a utterly pleasant experience.

Now that I think about it, maybe I'm selling myself short in other areas, too. Who knows where I'd be now if I'd gotten into basketball instead of cross country skiing in high school.

And I totally could have beaten Buster Douglas.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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