Return to index...
THE PALM PILOT
Buenos Aires, Argentina
I met recently with some Mexican workers who raised their fists to me in greeting. One sign of getting older and a bit out of the cultural loop is confusion with how to react. Do you shake the fist? Hit the fist? Tap the top or bottom of the fist? What do you do? In New Jersey a week before it was a slap of the hands, then a hook with the fingers. I laugh, put my own fist out in a way that indicates my ignorance, and my amigo laughs and shows me: in Los Angeles you touch ends of fists.
On a job site the following week, another Hispanic extended his hand, but in such an angle downward that I knew there was more involved than the traditional handshake. Again laughter, and he showed me: in San Francisco you shake hands, clasp thumbs, then do the fist touch.
OK, I'm catching on. With age I'm losing - literally - my grasp with the younger, hipper generation. This was underscored in LA on my way back to my hotel when, stopped at a traffic light, my car literally shook from the blaring base emanating from the stereo in the car idling next to mine. With the defiance of the aging, I lowered my window, cast the severest gaze I could muster at a car full of young black men, and jacked up my Jim Croce... But I'm proud to say that I have not always been so hopelessly out of touch, and can actually claim that I introduced the "High Five" into Argentina.
A history of the "High Five" was recently published in the Boston Globe. The article stated, "In 1995, New York's Village Voice newspaper painstakingly traced the origin of the High Five. According to Village Voice writer Gersh Kuntzman, the gesture originated as the Low Five, a chest-level hand clasp popular among athletes in the early 70's. The late Dodgers ballplayer Glenn Burke always insisted he originated the High Five in 1977, running toward teammate Dusty Baker after Baker hit his 30th home run of the season, making the Dodgers at that date the only team in history to have four hitters with 30 homers. But the gesture only became popular in 1979 when University of Louisville basketball player Darryl Cleveland gave the High Five to teammates Derrick Smith and Wiley Brown, both former friends from Georgia. Louisville won the NCAA title that season and TV exposure of the team and the High Five made the gesture nationally popular."
On a day off in 1994 I, along with an erstwhile American companion, decided to go to the Argentine championship soccer game in Buenos Aires between Boca and arch-rival River Plate. Now, going to a soccer game in South America is like going to war: terribly frightening and occasionally dangerous, but if you're lucky enough to live through it, story fodder for years to come. The fans are manic, delirious, inebriated. They live and die soccer, the crowds pulsating, pushing, pulling their way toward the gates amidst the hot-bodied, sweating beat of salsa music and the wafting aroma of roasted meats and spilt beer.
The game was sold out, tickets unavailable. So my companion and I joined the raucous crowd outside the arena, and listened with them to the game on their transistor radios. We formed a core of new friends, purchasing beer for them at a peso a quart bottle. We formed many new friendships, male bonding fluid working its cross-cultural magic despite all language barriers. As the game progressed inside the stadium we heard the low roar of swelling excitement at every chance, and sudden pandemonium when a goal was scored. The elongated, infamous, "Gooooooooooaaaaaaaaaallllllllll," was screeched from the hand-held radios, but it took a moment to discern which team had scored, which we only learned from our Boca fan-friends reaction. When River Plate scored we heard the low roar and sudden pandemonium inside, and then the bent down, turned away, anguished oaths and groans of our companions. When Boca scored we heard the low roar and sudden pandemonium inside, and then the explosion of jumping, screaming ecstasy around us. "Gooooooooooaaaaaaaaaallllllllll!" And it was at that moment that my companion and I turned to them and raised our hands to High Five - only to see them look up at our hands curiously, and then reach up and try to shake them! It was obvious that they had never performed a High Five, had never seen one, and when we showed them how to do it by slapping our hands together, and then practiced it with them individually, they caught on and began embracing the gringos strange new hand play. By games end our whole group was enthusiastically performing the High Five with, oh, seventy-five percent accuracy.
This week Indiana Jones V came out. Now, I'm not much a fan of any movie with a II, or III, much less a IV or V, ending the title, but it did make me think of one of the great moments in the first Indiana Jones film, when, after fighting off numerous Arabs, Harrison Ford is suddenly confronted by one more, wilding swinging about a huge sword. In the classic scene Ford gets that ohforcrissakes look on his face, pulls out his pistol, and just shoots the Arab.
On yet another job site this week I had also been thinking about my introduction of the High Five into Argentina, and perhaps a bit proudly satisfied with a time when I was more than with-it with my cultural clasps, when I was interrupted and introduced to the roll-tender I was to instruct. When I turned to him he put one foot forward, twirled around, jerked out his left elbow, thrust downward his right arm, hooked his thumbs and made two fists.
Ohforchrissakes, I thought, grabbed his hand and squeezed it hard.