By Henry Cruz
New Yorkers like me have a complicated relationship with hugs. I first noticed it a few years back after this dude in Times Square holding a FREE HUGS sign gave me an insincere and awkward half-hug. Without missing a beat, Mr. Free Hugs said, “Hey, gimme a dollar.”
Fugget-about-it, I thought in my best Robert De Niro impression. Yup, even our free-hugs are overpriced. I started fist-bumping hello just to fit in with my fellow New Yorkers. The irony is not lost on me that New Yorkers are crowded into one big sloppy hug especially on rush hour on any Subway train. (those butt grabs are totally free.)
One pandemic later, let’s call her Corona. About thirty-three days into our shelter-in-place when we had our biggest peak numbers, I broke the New York City curfew to go hug a Corona Survivor. Corona isolation has been very good for the section of my brain that makes dumb mistakes. I’ve wondered out loud to my cat and dog about the benefits of bat urine. And debated with myself on why Dove soap has no expiration date. (It’s the same reason heaven also doesn’t have an expiration date.) I imagine the huge disappointment on the face of our guy here in the Big Apple — we can call him future President Cuomo. (because if there’s one thing all New Yorkers can agree on it’s that Cuomo dude can walk on water.)
Around 11:30 pm on a Monday night I got the “You Up” text from Patient 007. (We can call him-or-her Patient 007 because any Corona survivor is basically an antibody badass Superhero.)
According to my nieces and nephews any text after 11pm is swimming deep in the “booty call” text territory. I replied “I’m spooning my dog while watching all the scary news reports.”
Patient 007 replied in thirty seconds: “I’m lonely and I need a hug.”
Yep, very deep booty call waters, I thought. If you can survive 20 days on a respirator fighting Coronavirus well, after that…the world is surely yours to claim.
I want to add here that at the time Patient 007 was legally but unhappily married. Up until then I had never met Patient 007 in person. But over the years we have exchanged mutually pleasant messages on various dating apps. Adding into the mix thirty-three days of isolation, I can say with confidence that social-distancing was not front burner on any parts of my brain. I agreed to meet after Patient 007 offered to send an Uber driver to my address to make the 2 mile trip. We hugged, and broke all types of social distancing rules, and talked all night like we had known each other for years (giving our old Tinder chats a hug.) The value price of those Corona hugs? Priceless? — or something else entirely. It depends on who you talk to.
Days later I told my baby sister the story, and she called me a dodo bird. (A very cute but basic prehistoric bird on the Flintstones cartoon.) My cousin in Hawaii was a little more direct when he said, “Well, that was stupid.” And my comedy buddy nailed it when he said, “so, that happened…”
I want to say it was all worth it. Especially if I become Patient 007’s husband number two. It would also be a treat to later wear matching t-shirts that say: WE SURVIVED CORONA, AND HAVE THE BABIES TO PROVE IT.
Henry Cruz is a writer/comedian in New York City. He majored in English at Hunter College and studied film production at the School of Visual Arts. When he’s not making up stories he really likes wearing sneakers.