Friday, March 4, 2011

The Handshake

For those ethnically-challenged readers of mine (white suburbanites), you'll agree that we regularly feel out of place when dealing with people from 'downtown'.  [Fuck you, Annie, I'm from a suburb.]  For the rest of you, picture that alienated white town just down the road from Detroit.  They are two worlds apart.  They never give those white kids handshake lessons, and it continues to make my life awkward.

Let us look at an example.  One time, I ran into my Nicaraguan friend at CVS.  I don't use names, so let's just call him 'Mexican'.  (That's how I was raised, after all.)  Here's (sorta) how the incident went:

            “Hey, Mexican!”
            “Rob, what are you doing on this side of town?”  Valid question.  I lived pretty close to downtown L.A..  Mexican had the pleasure of living pretty close to the beach.  “You’d have to pass 5 CVS's to get here.”
            “Oh, I’m heading over to my best friend's [she'll remain nameless] to get some sun.  Thought I’d pick up some snacks.”
            “Cool.  I’m heading over there later.  I’ll see you there!”  Then Mexican stuck out his hand in the standard ‘let’s shake hands’ gesture.  It looked harmless enough.  The only problem: hand shakes were for meeting someone.  This one was for departing.  It’s gonna be one of those handshakes.  What ethnicity was Mexican, again?  Well, he's not from any 'hood, so this could be harmless.  Just go for it.
            I stuck out my hand.  Hands slapped together, it started as expected.  Quickly, Mexican started slipping just his fingers back, while maintaining firm contact.  I knew this one.  Slide back a little, rotate upward slightly, close fingers into a strong C-shape.  Our interlocked fingers locked and pulled back tightly.  Over?  Nope.  Christ, what is this, Cat's Cradle?  Mexican pulled me in for the shoulder bump.  Time had already become painfully slow for me.  Should I throw my other hand around his back for a pat, or is this just a bump?  With my hand awkwardly outstretched in his peripheral blindspot, I could quickly make either move.  It was just a bump.  Whew.  It’s over.  I dropped my hand down to his side.
            Then, I saw it.  Mexican had his hand outstretched in front of him in a firm, sideways fist.  I missed the pound.  We both realized I missed the pound.  Quickly, I pulled out a fist and lightly tapped it a split second before he pulled back.  Why am I such a loser?
            Simultaneously, we said, “Later,” and walked off our separate ways.
            ‘Why do I have to see him later?  Why isn’t there an instruction manual for things like this?’ I thought.  ‘I’m so awkward.’
            “You’re so awkward!”  Oh yeah, Annie was there, and she had just witnessed the whole thing.  “Get in the car.”

Wishes this was the only time this had ever happened to me (and that Annie wasn't there),

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