by Douglas PageŠ
I've been hanging around Hollywood lately. I'm not a wanna-be, I'm a have-to. The woman I live with is one of them. She's
the one that got me into this.
She's the executive director of Something Important at a big-deal movie studio. In the course of her duties and their spinoffs
she gets invited to some of Those Places that most of the rest of us only hear about later: parties, dinners, screenings,
premiers, receptions, locations, rehearsals. Sometimes she invites me along. Sometimes I go.
There is always something going on in Hollywood. It never ends. And everywhere we go there is this weird welcoming rite
among these people: the air-kiss. She does air-kissing all the time. Part of her job is to display pseudo affection.
Air-kissing is the first thing you see at these places. More often than not it's the only thing you see. I'm pretty sure
some of these events have no other purpose. You buy a shirt, show up, air-kiss everyone, then you can leave.
Air-kissing is the mandatory greeting ritual around Hollywood and its extended environment, wherein entertainment people
who scarcely know each another or who experience otherwise mutual contempt execute an embrace without actually achieving contact.
It is a show biz exercise meant to convey the illusion of warmth. It's part of the ceremony of Hollywood, one of the props
they use to maintain a facade of meaning.
One publicist told me, "These are the people who don't return my calls all week, who are now kissing and hugging me. I
kiss and hug back because I want them to know the sincerity of my pretension."
Air-kissing has other practical benefits. You can do it with your mouth full and your eyes open. You can even do it without
making eye contact, thus allowing both participants to see immediately if Oliver Stone is approaching.
I've had time to study the gesture. A proper air-kiss is accomplished by brushing first one of your associate's cheeks,
and then the other. It may be accompanied by the touching of arms with one or both hands -- the hand-hug, or it can be executed
with no-hands whatsoever -- the air-hug.
While it's essentially harmless, air-kissing is, however, inherently discriminatory. It is for Insiders only, a pecking
order initiated by The Important.
Insider women air-kiss Insider men; Insider women air-kiss other Insider women. I'm a little confused on Insider men air-kissing
other Insider men. Someone else should look into this. At first I thought men only air-kissed other men when both were heads
of state, say, or syndicate bosses. But at a dinner the other night attended by many Industry Heavyweights plenty of men were
air-kissing other men -- sometimes on the lips. I've disqualified this variation for purposes of the present discussion.
Spouses, dates du jour and normal people with real jobs in the company of Insiders are not air-kissed. Normal people get
hand shakes, if they get noticed at all. It causes insecurity. It's the same feeling you get when they make you sit backwards
in the limo. Secretly I craved the acceptance an air-kiss would convey; I even practiced in seclusion, with a mirror. This
is the "for better or worse" part.
Then, last weekend I got my chance to participate in public: I got air-kissed. I froze. You think air-guitar is hard, try
air-kissing sometime. Air-guitar you can do alone. We were at a wedding reception/brunch at LA Farm, a trendy trough on the
Westside of Los Angeles. Lots of air-kissing there, of course. Television people. You go to enough of these things, I guess,
and eventually you get mistaken for a Somebody, and, sure enough, I was air-kissed by surprise by a Somebody who didn't know
I was a Nobody.
I wasn't ready. I panicked. I knew the form but not the content of the custom. My fanciful rehearsals had failed to prepare
me. Instruction in critical details was missing. In my confusion I jounced like a pigeon over too many seeds.
Which side do I fake-kiss first? Does the right side always come first, or the left? Does it matter? Is there a hidden
meaning to the side, like the meaning in men's earrings?
What if we don't go for the same side at the same time and, dear God!, touch noses instead of cheeks? Swarms of fears surfaced
What if our wine glasses collide? What if I get too close and get a hush-puppy crumb on her, or snag her hair on my Oakleys?
And what about the sound, the smooching, 'Here, Boy' noise that lips make in the absence of corresponding lips? In air-kissing,
lips, of course, should never encounter other lips - hence the name. Hence the noise.
Is the noise to be stifled? If not, who's to make it? And on which side? What if your mouth is full of foie gras?
Is the smooch-noise to be produced on both sides, by both people? Won't it sound more like we're calling collies than demonstrating
But then, in Hollywood, would it really matter?