Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
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.