Runner up in the "Creepiest Illustration Ever" competition.
I have a really good handshake. I know this because a number of people have told me so, usually during or immediately after shaking my hand. A couple of people have even remembered this for an extended period of time and have brought it up weeks or months after our initial handshake. “Seriously, you’ve got a really good handshake.” And I’m proud of that – sure, I’ll struggle to make awkward small talk and forget your name the instant you tell it to me, forcing me to call you ‘man’ or ‘dude’ every time I see you for the rest of the time that I know you, but I can briefly squeeze your hand so well that you’ll remember it forever.
I’m good at handshakes because when I was seven years old my father spent 5 to 10 minutes teaching me how to do it right. My father gave me a lot of advice growing up and like any good son I didn’t pay attention to roughly 60% of it, but the handshake advice stuck because Dad made it clear that making a good first impression with your handshake will make all the difference in your professional life.
Of course, that’s kind of goofy. Well, Mr. Capps, I have my doubts about your qualifications for this position, but I had a visceral response when you touched my hand, so let’s get you a parking space and a W4! But it’s also true – I tend to take people more seriously when they have a good handshake, even if it’s just because I can look at them and know that they got the same object lesson from their Dad too.
Unfortunately, in LA at least, the very institution of handshaking is under attack. Here, being hip and edgy is the most important thing – it’s why everybody drinks kombucha, it’s why nobody shuts the fuck up about their yoga class, and it’s why the solid, simple, traditional handshake is slowly being replaced by a variety of trendy alternatives.
Take the fist bump, for instance. I’ve got no problem with the fist bump in and of itself – it’s like the high five’s laid back, more hygienic cousin. The fist bump is a perfect way for two friends to commemorate life’s little victories, like successfully loading a couch into the back of a pickup truck or taking a tequila shot and not vomiting immediately afterward.
Last week, though, I was introduced to a new project manager at one of my freelance jobs and instead of shaking my hand he just held out his clenched fist. It took me a second to realize that he was inviting me to bump it – just a couple of grown-ass men in a workplace environment meeting for the first time and bumping fists like their team just captured the flag in a pitched game of Halo 2.
Further complicating matters is the fact that I’m terrible at gauging when an ordinary fist bump is going to turn into an exploding fist bump. And that’s bad, because when two people bump fists and only one of them explodes it, the one who didn’t looks like a total nerdlinger – case in point. It’s just a new, totally nonverbal way for me to embarrass myself.
Fist bumps are still vastly preferable to the bro grab, a particularly insidious form of greeting that starts off masquerading as a handshake but then turns into a surprise hug halfway through. If you want to hug me, that’s fine – why the hell can’t you be up front about it, though!? Why do you have to lie to me with that outstretched hand, making me think I’m going to get to show off my superior handshaking skills, only to instead yank my arm toward you and ambush me with a hug that awkwardly squishes our still-connected hands between our bodies?
But whatever. Fist bumps, exploding fist bumps, bro grabs – if those were the only ways people were bastardizing handshakes, I wouldn’t even be writing this update right now. None of that is even halfway as infuriating to me as the Impromptu Secret Handshake.
Like the bro grab, it starts like a normal handshake: The other person extends his* hand, I firmly wrap my hand around it, but then all of a sudden his hand starts doing crazy acrobatics – sliding back out of my grip and interlocking fingers, slapping the back of his hand against mine, snapping…
*Yes, his, because it is only men who’ve pulled this shit on me. So good job women – you’ve got that going for you.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure those intricate, highly practiced maneuvers look really cool when you and the friends you invented them with get together. Here’s the thing, though:
I don’t fucking know what your secret handshake is.
I’ve never shook your hand before. We didn’t discuss this ahead of time. I don’t even know you. Why the hell would you even think I would know all the steps to your own personal handshaking ritual?
So while your hand is going all Cirqe du Soleil, my hand is just hanging there like a cold 20 ounce strip steak. That makes me look like an idiot, and that’s really unfair, because in that situation you are the one who is an idiot. Although to be fair, you’re probably an idiot in most situations, since only an idiot would assume that I would just magically know the handshake you dreamed up with your CrossFit buddies two years ago, god fucking damn it.
A producer I used to work with pulled this shit all the time, and the hardest thing I’ve ever done was smile and not shove him into traffic as, post-shake, he kept clutching my hand so he could slowly walk me through the moves step by step:
“Alright, so then you go out and back, lock the fingers, snap, let go, bump it, grab again, thumb to the left, thumb to the right, and then bring it in! It’s easy!” He grinned as his meaty, clammy hand manhandled mine through every step.
“Oh, yeah! Okay, that makes sense. I’m sure I’ll get it next time.” I smiled through gritted teeth. Thank you so much. I can only imagine how greatly the knowledge of this new handshake will enrich my life. I’m so excited to be able to share this with you.
I take handshaking seriously because you only get one shot at a first impression, and I try pretty hard to put my best foot forward when I meet new people. (All bets are off if I’m drinking.) But now that my long practiced handshake is being replaced by forms of contact that require you to demonstrate coolness, I’m giving more and more people the first impression that I’m clumsy, awkward, and out of touch.
I mean, that’s an accurate impression. I’d just prefer that people have to talk to me for a couple minutes to find that out, y’know?
Truman Capps has yet to find a type of social situation that doesn’t upset him.