Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Happened to the High Five?

Do you remember the high five? That most jubilant of traditions whereby a human, celebrating some sort of success, would take their open hand and slap it against the open hand of another human, creating a sound and also a collision of fulfillment and rapture.

Perhaps you don’t, because in recent memory the high five has been replaced by the touching of closed fists known as the fist bump, or soul dap, or pound, or a half dozen other aliases.

That itself makes me frustrated with the gesture. What is your problem fist bump? Why must you have all of these aliases? Be yourself. You don’t see the high five masquerading around town as the “raised finger star formation” or the “open palmed slap” or the “elevated pancake joint hand gesture.”

No, it is the high five, it has always been the high five, and it will always be the high five. It knows who it is, and that is comforting to me.

Whereas this fist bump creature has probably always been around, it is relatively new in the mass consumption realm. If I had to place blame, I would trace it back to the first time fear of mass pandemics hit the U.S.

I don’t remember if it was Bird Flu or Badger Pneumonia that set off the hand washing craze (which, is just about the saddest thing in the world that hand washing would hit an all time low to return as a “craze”) a couple of years ago, but when that happened people became absolutely mad about germs.

Individuals would wear one glove on the train to hold the rail; they wouldn’t shake hands with business partners, and would Purel their hands if they accidentally touched anything. Hey, I was one of them. I don’t like being sick either!

But it was around that time that I noticed a wealth of fist bumps going around. Guys fist bumping guys, girls fist bumping guys, and children fist bumping dogs. It was spiraling out of control. The reason it bothered me so much is because I derived no satisfaction from it.

A high five is only as good as the force put into it. A weak high five can feel more like a futuristic hand scan than a celebratory act. And I know you can go too far and end up with a hand that feels like it was slapped with a broken piece of Chinese Bamboo. But generally it’s a gratifying experience. I can give a robust high five to guys and girls alike.

Not so much with a fist bump. Giving a forcible fist bump is a great way to end up with a set of broken knuckles. Now I don’t mind hitting fists at a moderate strength ration with one of my male friends, but I can’t go punching the fists of women. I mean I think its best to avoid any type of woman punching, even if it is consensual. That’s just good life advice.

But still on its best day, a zesty fist bump is only as good as say… lukewarm creamed corn.

You want to believe it did the trick, but really deep down, you know it just didn’t.

If this fist bump were so key to our society we should be teaching it to children. But we don’t teach it to them do we? No of course not, because tiny children don’t really know how to make fists.

There is a reason that the only thing adults know what to say to children under 5 is

“Hey give me a high five.”

It’s never:

“Hello toddler, might we engage in a soul dap?”

I like the high five because the instructions are in the title.

Your hand goes high and you hold up five. Oh Ok, I get it. Done, no problem.

That’s probably also why I like “All You Can Eat” Buffets, “Diving Boards” and “Row Boats.” For all of those things, the instruction is right in the title. How can you go wrong?

Fist bump is pretty clear, but soul dap? I don’t even know where my soul is, and I’m not even sure how to dap. It sounds like tap, but maybe, a secretive tap? And give me a pound could really seriously confuse some British folks. I’m trying to increase international cooperation here, not obfuscate it!

But I think the real attraction of the fist bump is that it allows one to “play it cool” as it were. There is a fair amount of commitment on one’s part when you throw your naked paw into the air anticipating reciprocity.

There is always the chance that nobody will touch palms with you and just leave you out to dry. Like being the only one in a bathing suit at a pool party, or walking across a bar to talk to a girl who doesn’t speak English.

I’m not speaking from experience on either of those, I just, well, OK let’s move on.

But like I said there is an element of risk to initiating a high five. You could just end up leaving your bare palm in the air like you’re trying to ask an uninterested Miss Flanagan for the bathroom pass.

Sometimes we fist bump at work. It’s very appropriate because closing a “How To Ticket” doesn’t really elicit high five type of joy within me. A subtle fist bump works for me there.

But in the moments that matter, if I birdie a hole in golf (which I don’t) or I guess the answer correctly (which I never do) I want to feel the excitement resonate in my palm.

Otherwise I will spend the rest of my life equating “How To Tickets” with things that actually are awesome.

Like diving boards.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

New York to Boston

My sister moved up to Boston recently. It’s the first time since I was in college that we have lived in different states. And while it’s sad that she moved, it doesn’t really worry me because our schedules are so busy that we will probably get to see each other only marginally less than when she did live in New York.

Boston is only 3.5 to 8 hours away (depending on traffic) and inexpensive busses make the trip pretty simple and efficient. And in recent years the amount of bus companies competing for poor yuppies’ dollars has made it even better.

It’s a big improvement from the old days when the only option was the “Chinatown Bus.” This was quite literally a bus that left from the Chinatown in one city, and went to the Chinatown in another city. (Or in the case of D.C., the China… Block)

It often left from the dodgiest part of town, with no real indicator of where the actual stop is except a very long line of Asians with way too much luggage standing on a random street corner. It was a bit like a cattle call, if all the cattle were Asian.

These new busses like Bolt and MegaBus leave from Midtown. But even though these new busses and new companies leave from the better part of town, it still doesn’t make the trip ideal exactly.

First and foremost getting on the bus is insanity. Since the Port Authority Bus station is already jam packed with all the crappy busses going to god knows where, the only place available for the cool new bus services, are main streets in Midtown.

So this past Friday I ran out of my office at a (my boss said it was ok, seriously) and got in a glob of lines to get on a bus that I hoped was going to Boston.

There are no signs for what city, or what time on the street. There is just a sign that says, “The Bus stops here” and 240 people asking each other

Are you going to Boston? Which Bus is going to Boston?

And then there are the people who work for the bus company who must get really tired of answering the same 1 question. So they try to get people going to 3 different cities to stand in a normal type of line.

I got in the line for the to Boston. And then Bus guy number 1 said everybody from half the line go stand 100 yards further back. Then Bus guy number 2 told me to go stand in that other half line, so I moved back. But then guy number 1 was like, why are all these people coming here, so then he made everybody go back and stand in the first line.

Are you confused yet? You should be. The only thing you need to understand is that the order shuffled a little bit, and I actually ended up standing in front of somebody I had been behind.

Now normally I am a decentish person. I tend to give my seat up on the subway for pregos and old folk, and I hold the door open for others and all that other crap.

And in any other circumstance I probably would have said to the guy, “oh I’m sorry you were ahead of me, go ahead” but this is different. Getting on these busses is only slightly more organized that trying to catch dollar bills dropped from a blimp.

I heard rumor about there being a second bus coming in to take everybody but I really didn’t think that was a solid bet. So I trusted my gut to be a jerk and just stood my place. The line was getting exponentially longer.

As it turned out I got the last seat on that first bus. There ended up being one empty seat because a woman had to get off because her friend whom she was traveling with hadn’t arrived yet.

And she kept yelling, “Wait my friend is a block away, he is almost here, can you just hold on?!”

Can you imagine somebody trying to hold up a plane? Or a train? Because those people can’t see or talk to the pilot or conductor, but something about the bus makes people feel like they have more influence. Like they should be able to control what bus they get on, and what time it leaves, or doesn’t.

So she got off the bus. I think. I don’t really know. I was too busy trying to figure out a comfortable sitting position that did not require me putting my knee in my own eye socket.

But we eventually left. Hooray right?

Not so much.

It is still a bus. And busses haven’t been fun for me since we traveled around Italy on one my senior year of high school. Completely stupid with excitement to see an actual Bell Tower in person, I thought it a brilliant idea to shout out every time I saw one; not realizing every frigging town in Italy has a bell tower. So while a Bell Tower might seem like a novelty to me, to Italians they were like… Burger Kings.

So imagine riding down the highway with somebody who screamed out BURGER KING every time he saw one, and you get an idea what it was like to drive around Italy with me.

What can I say? I’m an excitable kid.

Then there was that point in the trip when the bus driver pulled over on the side of the highway and everyone simultaneously thought and said the same thing.

Oh shit.

Turns out our bus driver just had to tinkle. And as he walked to the back of the bus he kept saying “Sorry, sorry, when nature calls…”

Well after he answered the call, the bus went back into gear and we were off to arrive at Boston in a little over 5 hours.

Not awful, but there are a lot of things that could have made it better.

Like some Bell Towers.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cooling Down to Heat It Up

Fall has descended upon my fine city. And that means the rapid approachment (don’t question my grammar) of the Holidays and much chillier temperatures. This is my favorite time of year in Manhattan. I have a buddy who just moved to New York who told me that he keeps hearing 2 things from people who lived here for a while.

The first is that the next 2 months in Manhattan are magical. I have to agree.

And the second thing he keeps hearing is that once colder weather comes, single people start hunkering down into winter relationships the same way bears look for caves.

I have to say, I’ve seen this happen as well. Though I’m still not quite sure how it happens because we males are pretty much clueless when it comes to anything except fantasy football.

But it is much easier to fall (pun intended) into a relationship at this point in the year then say, oh… the summer.

During the summer there is a lot of interaction with considerably less clothes. Like at the beach.

It is there that us men make our most courageous attempts to talk to members of the fairer sex. The beach is a funny place to hit on people, because you are essentially wearing what you want those people to see you in if you are successful wooing them.

When you are in a bathing suit you really can’t hide anything. There can be no cognitive dissonance on the girl’s part of; “Maybe he looks good under that shirt?”

There is no shirt. There is only you my friend. And you look infinitely more awkward talking to a girl in your underwear than you do in clothes.

Does any man anywhere know how to talk to women? I certainly don’t, that is why for the larger part of my life I either acted like an idiot in front of females (not a good tactic) or just looked on longingly from across the room (also not a good tactic).

But as I get older, watching guys talk to girls is perhaps the most painful/entertaining thing in the world. We really have no idea what we’re doing out there. It’s a battlefield and we are over matched. It is like Saving Private Ryan with perfume and Cosmos.

Last summer at the beach I watched a guy run into a girl he knew and say;

Oh how come you didn’t tell me you were coming out here this weekend?

Well Topless Guy, I believe it probably had something to do with the fact that she did not want you to know that she was going to be there.

And here’s another knowledge fiesta for your synapses. If you are standing there in your bare chested glory, and the hot girl in the bathing suit who did not tell you she was coming out to the beach is sitting in a beach chair and does not stand up to put her arms around you, thereby forcing you to bend down awkwardly to give her a kiss on the cheek to greet her… you don’t have a chance.

Men don’t really have strategies for talking to women. We might say we do, we might think we do, but we really don’t. In kindergarten you would hit a girl you like and then run away from her as fast as you can. High School brought the slander and slouch, when you would make fun of the girl you like and then eliminate all manner of posture and turn away to appear like you didn’t care about the girl’s opinion.

College brought the drink and shoot. With the addition of alcohol the strategy was basically just consume until you have become brave enough to accost any and all women within spitting distance.

And that’s about all we got.

I have a good female friend who was recently on the receiving end of a brilliant strategy. A gentleman who had been sitting next to her handed her his iPhone and said:

Do you want to play this game?

So he tried sharing his toys, that IS nice, but ya know… you are an adult. Try using something other than video games as your opening statement.

Now I am no Don Juan, heck I’m not even like… a Bob Juan, but I gotta believe I would never use video games as part of my dating repertoire.
And let me be clear, up until recently I was very uncomfortable around women. In fact the first time I tried to ask someone out I was in my sophomore year of college. I found myself sitting in front of a Phoenix Suns dancer in my public speaking class. I had high blood pressure for the duration of the semester as I tried to come up with conversation topics so I could turn around and engage her with something slightly more interesting than my impression of Donkey from Shrek.

We eventually went on a date. And now we’ve been married for 6 years.

No just kidding, after that date I never her saw her again. I am apparently very good on dates.

I recently heard a story about a girl who was dancing at a bar and making out with a guy she had just met. They seemed to be getting along very well. She was really digging him until he dropped this little nugget on her;

You’re cute, but you’re a little chubby. You should try eating more salads.


Never mind the fact that this poor girl wasn’t even chubby to being with. At what point does telling a woman she’s chubby seem like a good idea? The only living creatures I have ever told were fat are dogs.

Like my friend Sophie's dogs:

THEY could use a salad.

But even if you women decide to date us men (and really I’m still trying to figure out a value add we have for you aside from bug killing, which as you know, I really don’t do) we don’t even know how to talk about you.

Recently I have heard more guys refer to their “Lady Friend.”

This gives me the willies. I don’t like the sound of it. It sounds like you have some kind of woman of the night who comes to your chambers with wine in a calfskin thermos.

Yes Lady Friend, please avail yourself of some of my fine champagne and drape yourself upon my velvet chaise to the sounds of my harpsichord.

This is why I pretty much no longer talk to women. I communicate exclusively through acts of chivalry, small gifts, and wiggling my ears.

And that is tough to do with a winter hat on. But if you do see it, trust me, it’s magical.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I Quit, You Win

I am, what some cultures refer to as, a “quitter.”

That is not to say that I quit everything I do, but I am pretty easily swayed to. I’m not real big on “overcoming adversity” or “trying really hard.” I’m more of a take it as it comes kind of guy. And if that thing is too difficult... meh. I'll just try something else.

Like tonight. I’m pretty much out food in my apartment except for some frozen chickens and vegetables. So instead of making something elaborate like pasta, or doing something difficult like defrosting chicken, I just went downstairs to the bodega in my building and bought milk and Cinnamon Toast Crunch to eat for dinner.

This give-up-type attitude is not something new. This has pretty much always been my modus operandi. In pretty much every grade I was always a straight B student. You need somebody to get an 82 on your test? I’m your man.

There is probably no greater example of my commitment to mediocrity than when I worked as a furniture deliveryman at the Oak and Brass House.

I was 17 at the time, and my job was basically to assist my boss in delivering enormous pieces of wooden furniture that needed to be assembled on site.

I was good enough at the job, I mean as good as you can be at carrying heavy things upstairs. But where I didn’t excel was the “how are we going to do this” part of the job.

Often we would be moving a dining room table, a bed, or some other massive object and arrive at a challenging point of entry. Perhaps we would have to move around a tight corner, down a narrow staircase, or over a ridiculous couch. And the conversation would always go the same way.

Boss: Hey Rich do you think we will be able to fit this?
Rich: No.
Boss: What if we angle it?
Rich: I don’t think so.
Boss: Do you want to try?
Rich: Not really.

But because this was his business and not my own, we would always try to make it work. And you know what? It fit.

Every. Single. Time.

So you can imagine my attitude when it comes to things like marathons. I have a friend who ran a marathon a couple of years ago and afterwards he said to me:

Rich, you have to run a marathon.

No actually. I really don’t.

There are many, many, MANY things I would rather do than run a marathon.Things that I hate with a fiery passion that burns like a cosmic ulcer in the soul of my soul.

So when my friend Sophie told me she would be running the New York City Marathon this weekend, you can imagine my excitement at being a part of one of New York City’s finest events, without actually having to participate.

What could be better than cheering on your friend while she runs around the 5 boroughs of New York... on purpose!

I was pretty pumped; this gave me a really good reason to watch a classic New York tradition. I was also really attached to it because I had a horse in this race. Not that my friend Sophie is a horse. In fact, she is quite the opposite of a horse. And its not so much a race as it is a massive army trotting into war, like the Crusades.

So basically it's like your friend is in the crusades. So I was very excited. Seeing as Sophie was participating in one of our civilization’s most incredible feats of health and fitness, I made sure to counter balance that by setting up shop at a pub along the route and drinking beers from 9 am until I saw her.

Now people had told me that the race was emotional.

Yea right, emotional. It’s people running. I see people running every day. I have literally seen a person running in every place I have ever been.

Except maybe church. People don’t run in church. But I did see an altar boy show up late once, so no, my original statement stands.

But running is just really fast walking. If I need to be somewhere fast, I don't run. I take the train, or a cab... or I just don't go.

So people running? 26.2 miles? I mean does anything sound more boring to watch in your life? Maybe if there was a stampede involved, and the people running had to run to avoid being impaled by a rhinoceros or a stegosaurus, yea, now that sounds like damn good entertainment. But just running?

Well, after only 20 minutes of race watching I already felt the rush. This was exciting.

We were set up along 1st avenue, which starts mile 16. We were inside the bar drinking and eating and we would pop out when a crowd came by. The first people we saw come by were the wheelchair racers. They were incredible. The feat of strength it took for them to complete the marathon was amazing in and of itself.

But I across the way from us there were roughly 25 Spaniards set up with banners, and pom poms and a huuuuge Spanish flag.

So when we saw a wheelchair racer with the Spanish flag roll by I knew it would be an awesome reaction. I didn’t expect to feel emotional. But I did. And watching the racer pump his fist as he passed the crowd, well, it kind of choked me up.

And after a half dozen more experiences like that throughout the day, I realized, I was involved in this race. And we hadn’t even seen Sophie go by yet.

 You hear it in anecdote, you see the stories in the news, but for so many people this isn’t a race, it’s a battle. A personal triumph. A vindication for a past loss. A tribute to close friend who passed away. The looks on the faces of the people who run past tell the entire story. There is nothing I can write that could possibly elucidate the significance of this race for the people in it.

They wear their names on their shirts so you can call them out and cheer them on. You scream out their country, or shirt color, or once, “HEY GUY IN A CHICKEN COSTUME!”

It’s exciting, it’s enthralling, and it’s impressive.

So by the time Sophie ran by, deep into the 16th mile of the race we were elated and super excited to see her, and vice versa. Heck, she even leaped into a beautiful jump of smiling joy when she saw us.

And while I have extremely impressive friends who do incredibly impressive things, I had never been more proud of my friend in my life. Here she was, after 2 hours of running, looking amazing, looking like she had hardly just begun.

She finished the race at a personal best that blew away her last time and we were all so excited for her.

And while it was extremely cool just to know somebody who ran the whole marathon, it is even cooler knowing that somebody did something so incredibly physically difficult and mentally challenging... and didn’t quit.

You rock Sophie.