Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

The handshake


Speaking of personal journals that are better destroyed than secreted away, I remember writing an entry in my senior year of high school that still bothers me. It described an encounter I had at the local mall with some kid from school I didn’t know too well. I was with my girlfriend (yes! I finally had one!), milling around the record store, when this cat rolls in with a buddy. He looks like Arlo Guthrie, with a big floppy leather hat and massive bell bottoms and he smells like patchouli oil and pot. Not really my kind of guy, but like most of the hippies of the time he was harmless enough, I guess. “Cooooool, man! All riiiiiight!” That type.

So he strolls over to me and my girlfriend and sticks his hand out for me to shake. But see, at the time I was on this kick that stuff like handshakes was completely phony (I’d probably read Catcher in the Rye recently …), so I’d made a vow that I wasn’t going to shake hands with people. I was going to be a totally honest guy making his way in the world, so when someone wanted to shake hands I’d say, “I don’t shake hands, man. It doesn’t mean anything.”

He’s standing there with his hand out, and I say, “I don’t shake hands, man. It doesn’t mean anything.”

He’s stunned. He says, “What, you mean you won’t shake my hand?”

“Right. It’s kind of a phony thing when you think about it.”

“I can’t believe you won’t shake my hand, man!”

“It’s just that –”

“You gotta be kiddin’ me. You won’t shake my goddamn hand!”

My girlfriend moves away from us, toward the Carole King bin. I’m standing there trying to defuse this thing before it gets really weird. Suddenly the dude goes, “I thought you were cool, but hey — let me tell you — you’re not. You’re an asshole, Brennan.”

Only when he walks away fuming do I realize that the hand he’d presented — how did I not see it and understand what he’d think if I didn’t accept? — was missing the index finger and part of the next one too. He must have thought I wouldn’t shake his hand because I was grossed out.

This was a Seinfeld episode, long before Seinfeld.

“No!” I wanted to say. “No, it’s wasn’t that! It wasn’t that at all!”

Too late. He was gone.

I wrote the whole scene down in my journal, but in retrospect I wish I hadn’t. Maybe I’d have forgotten it somewhere along the way — after it had been supplanted by worse things I was destined to do.

Consequently, his opinion of me lingers to this day. I hope I’ve been able to live it down, but I will say this: I’ll shake anybody’s hand who’s phony enough to think it means something.

Lesson learned.

13 comments on “The handshake

  1. John W. Howell
    August 29, 2016

    Amazing take after all these years. I think he probably doesn’t event remember you given all the drugs etc.

  2. Author Rebecca Heishman
    August 29, 2016

    I’m phony enough to believe that a handshake still means something. I’m a 66-year-old Indiana farm girl. For the men in the rural community in which I was raised, a firm handshake was the symbol of honesty, decency, and respect. Where I’m from, business deals were completed without the necessity of a lawyer. Your word and a handshake were powerful assurances that everything was on the up-and-up. These simple gestures have been lost to time. And so have many of the personal values that went with them. What you did to your hippie friend was harsh, arrogant, and unnecessary. I would have done what your girlfriend did, but I would have kept going and I would have left you standing in the mall.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 29, 2016

      Sounds like I haven’t made it clear enough that my tongue is planted deep in my cheek in this post. The point of it is that I was a really stupid teenager. And the punch line is just that — a shot at a few laughs.

  3. pinklightsabre
    August 30, 2016

    That is hysterical. I like how you repeated the line about not shaking hands, that’s good. Hardee-har-har, you cad. Very funny.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 30, 2016

      Nothing like a good chuckle at some poor chump’s expense. (Meaning my younger self!)

  4. kingmidget
    August 30, 2016

    Far more important is the question of why this post didn’t show up in my WP reader?!?!!

  5. 1WriteWay
    September 6, 2016

    Oh, I can commiserate … I’ve done too much (especially as a teen and young adult) that I wish I could forget. The irony (if it is that): to remember fun times, I have to write them done. To remember bad times, ah, those are etched on my brain.

    And it always amazes me how lightly a person will read a post but how strongly they will respond to it … and, by consequence, misunderstand. Sigh.

    • Kevin Brennan
      September 6, 2016

      Good point about how people read lightly and respond with guns ablazin’. That’s why I try to take a breath or two before commenting …

      • 1WriteWay
        September 6, 2016

        Wise man. Me, I spend too much time reading, editing and deleting my own comments 😉

  6. gingermikeblog
    October 2, 2016

    Thats funny.really Cool post! 🙂

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This entry was posted on August 29, 2016 by in Et alia and tagged , .
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