Friday, November 10, 2006

Bumped Off

Waxing Seinfeldian
So what’s the deal with this fist bump thing, anyway?

Just when I thought I had the “you’re the man” finger-point down, somebody decides to change the rules again? Did somebody send out a memo that I missed? I mean, who decides these things?

Oy…the plight of the tragically unhip. Once again, yours truly has met with yet another humbling affirmation that time is passing him by faster than a cheetah on roller-skates. It happened earlier this week at my place of employment.

I’m not exactly sure whether Paris Hilton designed this office building I work in or it’s regular practice to build them this way, but most of the hallways in the place are pretty darned narrow. We’re talking like, wide enough to fit one and a quarter bubbas standing shoulder-to-shoulder — and no more. In fact, it’s standard practice for one to have to turn ever-so-slightly askew when passing someone else in these claustrophobic corridors to avoid bumping shoulders; and that’s especially necessary when some people decide to take their half down the middle, which happens more often than common courtesy should allow.

Anyway, the other day I was heading back to my cubical when I looked up to see two other guys approaching from the opposite direction. One of them was a man I recognized as a guy I don’t know well but see fairly often in the building. We’ll call him Harry.

This past summer, Harry was briefly a part of my regular workout group on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the fitness center we have here onsite. We’ve had a few friendly conversations since and he now always makes it a point to acknowledge me whenever I see him. Nice guy; around my age, but not anyone you’d mistake for a hipster or pop culture maven on any level. He’s always seemed to me to be a pretty middle-of-the-road, regular Joe.

As we approached each other and our eyes met, we simultaneously extended the universal Southern guy-greet (which thankfully has never gone out of fashion): the quick, upward head-flick/eyebrow-raise, followed by a brief, semi-enthusiastic, “Hey.”

If it had ended there it would have been no problem. However this time my opposite number decided to throw a new wrinkle into the playbook.

Harry was on the outside, furthest to my left of the two men. He was walking alongside another guy I didn’t recognize. Just as the three of us were about to pass each other, I had to turn my shoulders slightly to make room for all of us to squeeze by. As I did, my head turned also — to the right (quite unintentionally) — away from the two men. At the very same moment, Harry reached across his body toward me with the right hand in a closed fist, palm down. As it turned out, his gesture was somewhat exaggerated, given that it required extending his arm in front of the other man as well in order to reach me. Problem was, having looked away I didn’t notice until I was already a half step beyond them, catching his movement out of the corner of my eye.

Then it dawned on me. I thought to myself (in my best internal George Costanza voice) “Oh crap! He was trying to bump me! What a dope! I missed the bump!”

I immediately turned and called out nervously, “Oh…sorry! I didn’t see it until it was too late…my bad…” As my voice trailed off in utter mortification, my fellow man-greeter returned my apology with a nervous smile of his own, as his hand — still in a fist — slowly returned to his right side.


If you’ve ever whiffed on a handshake (i.e.: extended your hand only to have the other person, either accidentally or purposely, not return the favor) then you know how he was feeling right about then.

Nonetheless, I seriously doubt that he could have been a whole lot more embarrassed than I was at that point.

The scene reminded me of the recent Taco Bell commercial in which the girl, flanked by her two nerdy-looking lunchmates, is too out-of-step to participate in an around-the-horn fist bump, in celebration of nerd #1’s creation of his taco superlative, “crunch-oo-eesy.” The difference here, of course, was that at least the chick in the commercial got paid for looking like an idiot.

The sad thing is that this tragedy could have so easily been avoided. If only we didn’t so insist on keeping up with the Coolios. What is it about we men that drives us to keep reinventing the “secret handshake” of our childhood? Why do we insist on continuing to modify such a time-honored institution as the good ol’ standard grip of affirmation?

The Handshake had remained basically unchanged for a hundred years until the 1960s when my wonderful generation conspired to transform this stalwart symbol of trust and friendship into a fashion statement to be morphed and mutated without warning. Its various new incarnations have been a staple of the Hip and Famous for the past 40 years.

Knowing the proper and/or hip handshake–of-the-moment isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for one’s being accepted in modern pop culture, but it certainly does separate the hacks from the made-men — and I purposely emphasize men over women in this particular equation.

Its interesting to notice how little women seem to be affected by the shifting winds of handshake fashion. As in so many other instances, the ladies just seem to remain above it all. They appear to have no need for these elaborate demonstrations of hipness. As always, they seem to exist on a plane of maturity and practicality far beyond the reach of their male counterparts; funny how things work like that.

Boys will be boys, I suppose.

Perhaps if I’d paid better attention, I could list more of the dozens of handshake permutations that have slipped in and out of fashion in my adult lifetime, but seriously, I just can’t keep up.

Just when I thought I possessed the confidence to properly ask my brother to slide Me some skin, we all started high-fivin’ each other silly. Then when I got that timing down, they upped the ante again, and started doin’ all that combo shit.

Gawd knows what the current routine is, but there was one I particularly found amusing, which was actually administered to me — in all seriousness — by a complete stranger I happened to meet several years ago.

He started off with what I like to call the Man-Shake, a.k.a. the Brother, upright cross-palm handshake, and then slid directly into a conventional handshake, which in turn slid into a four-finger fist-clasp, finally culminating in a one-for-one, single, top-to-bottom, hammer fist bump.

Whew! Freakin’ wears me out just to type it…

Needless to say, the only thing that surprised me more than the barrage of MAN-ual dexterity itself, was the fact that I instinctively went with the flow and followed the progression, missing nary a beat.

Hmmm…maybe this white boy has some rhythm after all…

Nah…doubt it.

However since that momentous occasion, I really haven’t followed handshake fashion all that much, and only within the past year or so have really been aware of the fist bump’s ascendance to its position as the high five of the moment.

And now that The Bump is the Greeting O’ the Day, can we finally dispense with the often-awkward “Man Hug?” That one always did sorta creep me out. But on second thought, my ego sure could’a used a hug that day, when Harry met Silly.

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