Americans are profoundly aware of this thing known as “personal space.” It is a 1.5-foot radius that surrounds us at all times (excepting during subway rides and parades) and must be kept as barren of human presence as a demilitarized zone between two warring countries. In a show of goodwill, we will sometimes reach across this void for a handshake; in extreme situations we may dive in for an embrace.
But sometimes our protective zone disappears. For reasons to be explored, people feel they can, uninvited, invade our sovereign territory without so much as a by-your-leave. It’s as if some part of you was no more your own than the lamppost at the corner. Here are three such anatomical sections:
1 – A pregnant midsection. This is not something I have personally experienced, but I’ve heard enough about it from MFs. When one’s abdomen reaches the limit of the personal zone, people have reduced compunction about putting their hands on it to feel for movement inside. “That’s my stomach!” protested one MF indignantly. “Since when do you just put your hand on someone’s stomach?” I nodded sympathetically while eying her protruding belly. It doesn’t look much like a stomach, and truth be told, I’m as curious as anyone else. I haven’t felt a baby kick since Good4 was nascent, and I was only four back then.
2 – Corkscrew curls. This is my own personal cross to bear. I may be absorbed in a book or a spreadsheet or just sitting in class when I feel a slight tug at my scalp. Then another. Finally, it isn’t so slight anymore; the explorer has given a lock of hair a solid tug just to see what happens. In the general world, such an assay is followed by “How do you get it to do that?” as if screwy hair is something I consciously create every morning with a magic potion. In college, a world unto itself, the inhabitants have something different on their minds. After the tug they usually muse aloud, “I wonder what the Hooke’s law spring constant is.”
3 – Forearms. While the midsectional pat may be performed predominantly by women, the forearm punch is a male intrusion. It is a way of saying “I know you well enough to invade your space and impose minor damage without incurring retaliation!” Or, in more masculine terms, “We good buds!” Possibly it also means “I want to be your good bud!” because I’ve been on the receiving end from several guys, and if we were good buds they’d know better than to touch me. So it’s either that, or they mistake me for one of the guys. Ouch.
Am I missing anything? I know chazal say that one’s face is public property, but they didn’t mean that it was open to physical advances. Rather, they meant you should keep it looking pretty – preferably smiley – much the way you mow your lawn and whitewash your fence. Which people are supposed to stay off of.