Sunday, December 5, 2021

Steven Ivory: What Becomes of the Kiss?

Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) & Lou-Ann Poovie
Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) & Lou-Ann Poovie

*While in bed channel-surfing one pandemic evening, I came across an episode of “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” the 1960s comedy TV series starring Jim Nabors, portraying a gangly, annoyingly naïve but lovable country bumpkin serving as a private in the U.S. Marines.

When I tuned in, Gomer was at the end of a first date with the sweet, soft-spoken Lou-Ann Poovie.  I didn’t intend on watching, but my terminal sappiness—and the vision, however vintage, of healthy, hopeful human beings, utterly oblivious to the world health crisis that awaited us in the 21st century—made me stick around.

The couple, standing on the porch of Lou-Ann’s cozy abode, against a soundtrack of incessantly chirping crickets, agreed to see each other again. Only thing left to happen now was that Goodnight Kiss.

As the bashful Gomer struggled to find the gumption, my anticipation had me sitting up in bed. When the young man finally leaned in—well, I can’t speak for Lou-Ann, but I enjoyed myself.

Then I went forlorn. Because that scene, in all its cliched, honeyed innocence, reminded me of one of Covid-19’s most vulnerable casualties: The Kiss.

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Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Fauci and other health care professionals have sagaciously advised us on all things covid. But Fauci ain’t said boo about kissing. In a world where shaking hands can pose a clear and present danger, we know where kissing stands.

As more of the population is vaccinated, social restrictions and attitudes ease.  But will we ever return to a day when, in the name of love and lust, we feel safe swapping saliva?

Not to infer that during the pandemic people aren’t kissing; they are. Spouses, domestic partners, lovers, family, close friends who spend lots of time together—responsibly, among themselves they’ve worked out what is safe.

And, of course, there are the compulsive horn-dogs who’d hook up with strangers while a full invasion from outer space was underway. However, much of the global population is on kissing hiatus.

Our instinctual need for basic contact came as a revelation, didn’t it? Until covid-19 re-classified a hug as potential suicide, we didn’t realize just how routinely physical we are as a society.  I didn’t know I’d miss touching this much, goes the consensus. And the bedrock of that kind of physical connection is the kiss.

Couple kissing with masks on (Getty)
Getty

The kiss is how human emotions, invisible and ethereal, become tangible—felt, tasted, savored. It is, goes the adage, how we communicate when words no longer do the trick. At its most spectacular, that kiss can be a soul searing, head-spinning, deliciously decadent experience.

At its most causally horrifying? Imagine a total lack of carnal knowledge, intuition and rhythm.  Envision mouths gaped wider than the opening of a four-lane tunnel in upstate New York; roaming, probing tongues on unauthorized  dental search missions; lips that don’t know when to part or pout; breath able to singe nose hairs.

No one knows exactly when and where the kiss originated. According to historians, a version of kissing is described in Hindu scriptures almost 4,000 years ago. You gotta wonder just how smitten the first lovers in world history had to be to find slurping, biting, sucking and spiting into each other’s mouths sexy.

As a kid, that’s precisely the disdain I felt for the concept (until one day I didn’t), and in 1969, about the time Gomer and Lou-Ann met, there was a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song on the radio to back me up. The second verse of Dionne Warwick’s, “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” said it all: “What do you get when you kiss a guy/you get enough germs to catch pneumonia/after you do, he’ll never phone you….”

Warwick’s sulk didn’t last the length of the song.  A minute and twenty seconds in, she caved, singing that she’ll never fall in love again—“at least until tomorrow.”

I understand. People get hurt, swear off love. Then they give it another try. In a lifetime, we can fall in love over and again. But I guarantee you, Warwick’s sudden about-face involved some serious sucking of face. Someone with skills can make you fall in love, or have you believe you are. Which is why this superpower must be used only for good and not exploited for cut-rate thrill.

As for the future of lip-locking in our age of the pandemic, consider: the kiss has already endured every nasty, sticky thing humankind has cast upon itself. In the grand scheme of racism, the plague du jour, famine and world wars, a deadly global virus is just one more thing.

You can’t cancel kissing. It’s too juicy a joy to shake. Too wonderfully wicked, and way too much fun.

All this talking about it has me wondering what’s on TV tonight.

Steven Ivory
Steven Ivory

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]

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