Saturday, 25 June 2011

Put 'Er There by Justin Porter

The handshake is one of man’s oldest rituals. Unclear origins aside, you can see versions of it in nearly every culture.

It is used for everything from agreements to salutations among friends. It is considered extremely rude to refuse to shake hands without some form of excuse, be it an injury, or that hand being excessively dirty. In such cases, there is always an explanation offered should the reason no be obvious, for example, the right arm resting in a sling, or perhaps the hand is smeared with motor oil


“No charge, dog, you know that.”

The baggie rested in the palm of his hand like a golden egg.

“You sure?” He reached out a hand with two 20’s and 10 in it.

“Ma nigga. You know betta than that, AJ.”

“Good lookin’ out.”

“You wanna twist that up here? I got some killer new shit for the xbox, some rip a niggas head off and shit down his neck type shit, nah'meen?” His last word the South Bronx contaction of “Do you know what I mean.”

“Now (italics)you(italics) know betta than (italics)that(italics), killer.”

Deshawn shook his head and smiled.

“Thanks, bro.”

“You always was a paranoid fuckin' honkey. Welcome home, nigga.” Deshawn put out a hand and AJ gently slapped it aside, coming in and grabbing the other man in a tight embrace.


In African-American culture, or its more politically correct, yet subtly racist term, “urban culture,” the hand-shake has many variations. They can become very elaborate, but in most cases, it is a simple clasping of the hands, first with the palms and thumbs doing the gripping and then disengaging just enough to clasp with the fingers only.

Here variations are commonly in completion of the hand-shake, using both party’s fingers to snap, or the “pound” includes a hug.

Differences are often decided by closeness of the parties. It is worth noting that these hand-shakes are usually performed by men only, as the traditional greeting between men and women or women and women is a chaste kiss open one or both cheeks.


“Yo, AJ.” Call coming from across the street. Some nameless unmarked with two men behind the wheel, ever since getting hit in the face with that flourescent bulb, AJ’s eyes haven’t been what they were. He squinted but didn’t see. He kept walking.

Tires screetched as the unmarked flipped a bitch in the middle of uncoming traffic. He kept walking. He still didn’t know who it was. Best reason in the world not to find out. The car pulled alongside.

“Where you coming from, jailbird? Ya bitches house? I can smell that pussy from here.” The voice and accent was half-street, half official. Half-smooth, half bust down your momma’s door authority. It pointed at extreme, none-of-em-good contradictions. AJ looked and pretended to see them for only the first time.

“Why Officer McCarthy, how have you been?”

“Get in the car you fuck.”

“Do you have a warrant?”

“You got dental insurance?

“I’ve paid my debt.”

“The hell you have. Get in the fucking car.”

The door echoed when it slammed.


In certain cases, such as when one party has been eating, a simple touching of fists or possibly for-arms is acceptable. Again, explanation is offered in situations where the reason is not obvious. The refusal of a hand-shake, or “to leave somebody hanging” is considered a sign of great and open disrespect.


“You remember my partner, Officer Ling?”

AJ met familiar impassive asian eyes in the rear-view.

“Of course, officer. How have you been?”

Ling didn’t answer and broke eye-contact.

“I don’t think he likes me, Officer McCarthy. What ever for?”

“Drop the educated speech, convict. Yo’ momma smoked too much rock when you was up inside her for you to sound that smart.”

“I got my degree while I was inside. English lit.”

“Shut the fuck up white-boy. That degree ain’t gonna help you re-attach you balls after I cut ‘em off and stomp on ‘em.”

He closed his mouth.

“You gonna do us a favor, AJ,”

“If I wouldn’t roll over to reduce my sentence before, what makes you think I’m gonna do it now?”

“How’s your brother?”

AJ frowned.

“I haven’t seen him yet.” His brother lived in manhattan. Smart and talented, he’d chosen to make music. Earned himself a scholarship to some university. Made his big brother so proud of him.

“That’s right. You outta touch ain’t ya? Just got out yestaday. What a shame you already in the shit again huh?”


“Your brother’s locked up. Held pending a transfer.”

“What?” AJ mind couldn’t get in clear.

“Looks like he was trying to be like his big tough brother. Get himself some extra pocket cash at that fancy university of his.”

“What did he do?”

“Snatched with a lot of narcotic substances. Judge gonna make an example of him. He’s doing a full whack, federal time. How you like dat shit?”

AJ looked out the window. His heart shook. His brother with the face that was still sweet and those delicate fingers that plucked strings and made beautiful music.


Throughout history, the shaking of the right hand is a gesture of good-faith among men as it shows that the hand is occupied and does not hold a weapon. As a related comment, fencers traditionally shake hands with the left, as the right is often occupied holding the sword at the completion of a bout.


He hardened up.

“So what? He’ll be up for parole in no time.”

McCarthy looked sad with as much sincerity as the cheshire cat.

“Now, AJ, all them books and shit done fucked with your head, boy. You know what I can do with a pen and some paper? Unless I change something, your brother gone get his next degree from the same place you did.”

AJ thought about his brother in the place he’d just seen the last of yesterday.

“AJ, you left some unhappy people in that place didn’t you? Did some shit they never proved. Those is some hard ass niggas you upset. Who’d you shank again?”

“Nobody.” He replied automatically.

“What instrument your brother play?”

“Guitar.” AJ mind raced. There was nothing he could do. There had to be something. There was nothing. There was something.

“He’s gonna have to learn to play convict dick pretty soon.” McCarthy’s ebony skin split and another grin worthy of that wonderland cat. AJ’s world dipped and swayed.

“What do you want?”

“Deshawn’s whole stash. And a body to go with it. Do it right, bring us the shit and leave that no good fuck dead.”

“What do I get?”

“Your brother does state time, here. I tell my people inside to watch out for him. Instead of (italics)watch out for him(italics), ya feel me?”

“How do I know you’ll keep your word?”

“Settle for a handshake?”

“You know were the handshake comes from?”

“What? D-Block? Save the history lesson for later, mothafucka. You got work to put in.”

AJ reached, taking the offered hand. He resisted the urge to use an old trick to break the cop’s thumb, and got out of the car.


Deshawn was high. Full circle high. So high he was back to being low. Which is why AJ had to knock for ten minutes before Deshawn registered the noise, pick up the plate of rice and peas and answer the door.

“AJ? What you smoke that shit already? Its good right?”

“Naw, dog. Got something else to speak with you about.”

“You want some?” Deshawn shook the plate, not noticing when some of it fell onto the floor.

“Maybe some other time, bro.” AJ pushed past him into the apartment.


The quality of the hand-shake is also important. A hand-shake can contain an implied threat in the case of it being too strong, a way of transmitting aggression while appearing socially acceptable. It can also be a sign of insecurity on the part of the person offering the crushing hand-shake. On an opposing point, a limp handshake can be a sign on one man’s disregard of another, or perhaps inherrent weakness.


The whole building heard it.

Several loud, sharp pops. On tv the gun shots sound like gun shots. Not that ridiculous high pitched snap. Cause thats bullshit.

But ears in the neighborhood are tuned, educated. They recognized the sounds.

Somebody on the third floor was getting capped. Was somebody gonna call 5-0?

Are you fucking crazy?

McCarthy and Ling heard them too and smiled to each other with just a hint of worry. They relaxed when AJ came downstairs and threw them the high-sign, waving over to the alley around from the building. The place where people went to throw out their garbage, it was shielded from the sight.

AJ waited in the alley for McCarthy. He saw the tall muscular cop round the corner.

“Where’s Ling?” AJ asked.

“Upstairs in your boy’s apartment. Collecting the evidence.” McCarthy smiled.

“We good?”

“We good, jailbird.”

AJ offered his hand and McCarthy looked at it. Like he was deciding if he was done being a prick for the day. He decided to be generous.

“Ya did good, kiddo.”

Their hands slapped together and the bumped close in a half hug.

AJ locked his arm and had a tight grip when the shotgun barked, the sound coming from Deshawn’s apartment.

McCarthy tried to pull away.

“What the?” He started, unable to pull away from AJ.

AJ squeezed his left hand. The snub .357 went off, burning a hole through the cop’s abdomen.

As McCarthy died, AJ spoke.

“The origin of the handshake is a gesture of good faith. That neither right hand holds a weapon. Luckily I’m a lefty.”

“You fucked. Your ass gone right back inside.” McCarthy choked and wheezed.

AJ nodded.

“There’s more than one way to protect my brother.”

AJ stepped away and headed back to Deshawns to put his prints all over a murder weapon.


All accounts of handshakes treat it as a vital social interaction from which important information is derived. In business especially, there is great inference gleaned from the hand-shake. Some make decisions based solely upon what they learn from a handshake. But whether you learn a lot, a little, or completely ignore its connotations, there is no doubt that the hand-shake is an important, and long-lived social custom. So it would be wise to learn its nuances, if for nothing else than to forwarned against what it says about you to others.