Sometimes it's the first sign of affection shared by preschoolers.
Sometimes it's the hors d'oeuvre to a romantic meal.
Sometimes it's the dessert at the end of a loved-filled feast.
Sometimes it's the warm embrace that begins a platonic conversation.
Sometimes it's a long and meaningful moment shared after years apart.
Sometimes it's a man-crush acknowledgement between two guys.
Sometimes it's the only way two feuding friends can resolve the dispute.
Sometimes it's how the winning candidate celebrates with a supporter (see Jolly, David).
Sometimes it's the tearful exclamation point at the end of a relationship.
Sometimes it's the best way to say goodbye when words evaporate and the heart grows weak.
It's the hug.
And despite all the varied things it represents, the hug remains one of the most underappreciated forms of human expression in our society. We even mock it.
Does somebody need a hug today?
I don't mock it. I hug a lot. Maybe more than my friends prefer, but it's as much a part of my makeup as attending Catholic grade school, growing up in Tallahassee and making a living as a writer.
In Tampa, a city steeped in Latin and Caribbean cultural flavors, the kiss is a common form of greeting between men and women. It's initiated with a handshake, followed by a polite peck on the cheek — casual, innocent, respectful — but significant. It's an earned acknowledgement, typically shared only with those with whom you have broken bread or those you have toasted with a drink.
But amid the dignified confines of downtown meetings and business gatherings in Tampa, the hug occurs less frequently than the kiss. I can't quite explain it, but the hug seems to skirt the lines of good taste more. It stands as a no-no in most workplace situations and perhaps should be stored away if you're greeting a friend who is with the boss.
It can, however, be executed with a measure of decorum if you're in the right environment. Simply lean in and lightly touch shoulders. Or try the side hug. People will signal if they want a bigger hug. And sometimes they do.
Hugs among men appear to be a growing trend, one I appreciate and share with guys I really respect. It's initiated with a strong handshake — maybe what we called a "soul handshake" back in the '70s — and then you lean in, make a fist with your other hand and give the person a love tap in the back.
You accentuate this manly hug with an emphatic statement like "What up, my brother?"
Right now, one of my guy friends may be saying, "Hey, Hoop, you never hugged me." And he may be right. It's far from an exact science, but I know the bond builds with the sharing of food, beer and lies about girls you used to date. Shared experiences, such as judging a barbecue contest together, are a factor, and road trips definitely seal the deal.
Ultimately, the hug expresses a gratitude that stretches beyond convention. It's a thank-you for the person who lent you counsel in the past, an appreciation for the friend who seeks your advice today, and an acknowledgement that you know he or she will help you in the future.
Maybe somebody does need a hug today. Give one.
That's all I'm saying.