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Jim Walker: To bro or not to bro, that is the question

Don't Take Me Seriously

Posted: October 14, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: October 14, 2011 1:55 a.m.

I run with a younger crowd these days. And by younger, I mean guys in their late 30s and 40s.

Of course, they would probably have it otherwise, but economics has forced us all to be pals, and so I’m treated like one of the gang — albeit one they fear will fall and break a hip.

Anyway, all this closeness and brotherly love creates some awkward moments of generational idiosyncrasies, and the most awkward of all is when it’s time for a goodbye “handshake.”

Now, the “hello” handshake is nearly as bad, but the “goodbye” handshake often has the added emotional spin of a good time had together, combined with partial inebriation.

Consequently, we are all feelin’ the love and forgetful of ourselves. And for these reasons, we often find ourselves on handshake-approach before a clear plan of action is in place.

Like a slow-motion nightmare, I see the younger fellow lean forward and swing his hand out wider than the standard business handshake requires, with the thumb up and palm ready to bear-grip.

And my soggy brain screams, “Oh God, here comes the bro-shake!”

You’d think the easiest course of action would be to just go ahead and bro him. I mean, I’ve done it once or twice before without injuring anyone. And this is not an elaborate, soul-brother handshake, complete with knuckle-bumps and finger-swipes and dance moves.

(I attempted one of those once, which required years of physical and emotional therapy to overcome — not to mention my photo appearing high up on any Web search for “the opposite of soul.”)

No, the handshake of choice among my “young” friends these days is just the basic bro: Grab thumbs firmly, pull in, bump chests and give the briefest of hugs with the free arm — and then break quickly free and say something like, “Hey, how ’bout those Dodgers.”

Easy, right?

Well, that's if you practice all the time and it becomes a natural motion, and if your mind can go through with it without stage fright.

And, herein, lies my problem. I don’t practice the bro, and it isn’t a natural move for me. And beyond that, as the handshake-approach begins and the red bro-warning light begins to blink in the corner of my eye, I suddenly feel like Walter Brennan gimping up to milk a gorilla.

All natural coordination leaves my body and my mind decides the best play is to go for a combination business/bro handshake. Unfortunately, there is no such thing.  It can’t be done.

The result is everything from catching each other by the little fingers to missing each other’s hands completely to stumbling forward and bumping faces.

And this is the fastest way to get uninvited to the next party.

What’s worse is that, even if I recover during the eternity of the approach, should course correction be implemented in time, the horrified look in my eyes warns my shake-partner that he’s dealing with a couple decades of “out of touch,” and that there’s black ice ahead on the road.

In that eternity, I see his eyes widen in frightened recognition, and I am acutely aware that coordination-paralysis is seizing his body at the same time — because he’s now afraid his exuberance will damage me.

Now, because the business handshake is the one that I do practice quite a bit, my autopilot can often take over when my mind leaves the room.

And because my younger friend has also practiced this business shake, he can usually recover in time, as well.

It’s kind of like me being a pitcher and throwing a knuckler that floats around erratically but ends up going right down the pipe. My shake partner, the batter, has a good enough eye to hold back his swing until the last moment, then put some good wood on it.

But even as we connect with the boring business shake, now cold and limp from lack of purpose, I can see the disappointment settle into my friend’s eyes — the sad recognition that some people are just not cool.

And, some people are me.

Next week: How long should your lips stay on Aunt Edna’s when she greets you at Thanksgiving?

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