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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

A man kissed me recently. It was my first man kiss. I'm trying to sort out my feelings and a public airing seems a good way to begin.

I'd gone to a party. It was a lively party. I was glad to be there, and the host was glad I'd come.

How glad I didn't know until we parted. If this had been a performance review, I evidently exceeded expectations and may have earned a 6 percent raise.

We said goodbye at the front door. I extended my right hand as men are wont to do. We reached toward one another, looked each other in the eye and -- without breaking eye contact -- while my hand was out and my defenses down, the host raised his hands in the air as if he were praising God, grabbed my head, effectively putting me in a double ear lock, and kissed me in the middle of the forehead.

"Thank you for coming," he said. "I appreciate it."

I stood there for a moment. My hand was out and when he moved forward -- similar to a jab step in basketball -- my hand may have inadvertently slipped around his back. I reversed the handshake as if I were pulling up the handbrake on a late-model Japanese car. I might have said the pleasure was mine, but I may not have used the word "pleasure" because I didn't want "man kiss" and "pleasure" to be in the same sentence.

I turned around and walked to my car as if I were a newly minted zombie because I had been tapped by the king of the zombies. I drove home. I arrived but would not be able to recount my route had I been thrown to the ground and threatened by the Kissing Bandit.

My brother and father say goodbye in this fashion. I've thought it quaint and a sign of their affection, but I've also wondered what has gotten into my brother after a pretty solid upbringing.

I may be slightly uptight. I'm not a hater in that way. Kiss whoever you want, but I may turn the other cheek.

I've only recently -- the last 20 years -- grown used to hugging men. Before that, I had kept my handshakes firm and dry. It was important to keep the enemy out front and at arm's length.

What I hadn't realized about the man hug, which is often done quickly and punctuated by a chest bounce, is that for some people, the man hug may be the gateway drug to a more intimate greeting.

Handshake, hug, a kiss on the middle of the forehead and the next thing you know, you go for the lips.

My host's kiss on the middle of my forehead resembled the man hug in that it was a quick in-and-out. No one wanted to camp there. It wasn't an extended-stay hotel; we were renting by the hour.

When he planted that kiss on the middle of my forehead, his lips almost bounced off my cranium. I nearly gave him a coco butt, not because I was mad at him, but because I was surprised.

I was tense. The kiss was crisp and my forehead was drawn like a pirate map nailed to an oak table. North or south, up or down? Who knows.

Ask my brother the next time you see him.