I remember when I was a kid, if I dropped a piece of candy or something equally delectable on the ground, I picked it up, brushed it off and ate it, thoroughly enjoying its delectible-icity. It didn't matter if it landed in a parade of marching fire ants or on a pile of used kitty-litter; it was brushed off and briskly devoured. No harm, as far as I can tell. I have defective eyesight, but I prefer to think it was given me thus by Jesus.
But I am not writing today to talk about germs, tainted candy or the Messiah.
I am writing to talk about the lost art of the handshake. I was taught as a youngster (when I was not busy picking up, brushing off and devouring filthy Jolly Ranchers) that the handshake was the proper manner with which to greet others and not to "shake like a girl", as my dad would mutter when the handshake was not firm, deliberate or of enough duration. I was taught to clasp the other man's hand confidently, with the web between my thumb and forefinger notched into that of the shakee. A couple of subtle up-and-downs were plenty, the release quickly executed and the greeting was complete.
Artist's rendering of a firm, well-executed Perfect Handshake.
I came to realize, as my handshake made its way into adulthood, that there were many ways to shake another person's hands, most of which were not nearly as firm, confident and effective as the one I had in my holster. The first time a guy pulled the power-move of grabbing me by the fingers instead of locking the thumb-web, I was caught off guard and may have yipped when he applied the painful pressure to my vulnerable knuckles. He shook without comment, as if this is the way it was meant to be done. I eventually recovered, but I couldn't hold a pencil for two weeks and eventually learned to write equally well with me left hand, a talent which has served me well.
Another handshake which flummoxed me was the delicate, fingers-only handshake preferred by fancy women and dandies. Instead of locking the thumb-webs, as is necessary in the Perfect Handshake, or even grabbing the fingers of the shakee in a crushing vice-grip, the Delicate Finger Shake is initialized by each party daintily grasping the fingers of the other for an often-dramatic and tender greeting between two persons of equally delicate disposition. I have been bushwhacked by this maneuver in the past and never quite felt fulfilled upon completion. I liken the Delicate Finger Shake to a liqueur cordial - nothing really to it.
An artist's rendering of the foppish Delicate Finger Shake
A variation of the Delicate Finger Shake is the Limp Fish. I do not even write "Shake" after "Limp Fish" because by all accounts, this should not be counted as a genuine handshake of any sort. This is no more than a ruse by those who refuse or are unable to execute even the DFS. I have been ambushed by these posers before as well and have never been impressed with them as human beings or executors of proper greetings etiquette. Nefarious at best, I always keep my hands near my wallet after meeting these spineless ne'er-do-wells.
There are other offshoots of the handshake-as-greeting. Somewhere along the line, back in the 40's or 50's, hip jazz musicians took to "slipping some skin", which was a smooth sliding of horizontal palms, which eventually mutated into the slapping of palms, or "giving five". There were "high-fives", or the slapping of palms overhead and convoluted, synchronized, choreographed rigmarole that has insinuated itself into baseball dugouts. The culmination of all this nonsense is the "fist-bump", which is awkward at best, though not as awkward as a poorly-executed high-five, which can leave participants feeling embarrassed, uncoordinated and invariably, white. The fist bump, which is the soft nudging of two fists, has come from society's fear of the Dreaded Germ. What better way to avoid germ-spreading than clenching our vulnerable germic palms into fists and barely touching the outer part of the hand, which will likely not come into contact with our food, drink or good sense? When offered a proffered fist as a greeting, I will often grab it like an outstretched hand and shake it. This usually throws the fister for a loop and they often wander away, staring at their hand, having not uttered a single word. Which is what I prefer.
So, when I say, "don't be a puss" when it comes to the handshake, I mean forget about germs - 96% of the time you will be juuuuust fine. And if you are one of the unlucky 4%, just know that you will be missed. By someone. Not me - I will consider it a justifiable thinning of the herd. By "don't be a puss", I also mean, "don't shake like a girl". Meet thumbwebs, shake firm and be done with it. And teach your children, for Chrissakes. They'll thank you for it in the end.