Friday, July 29, 2005

the gentle art of handshaking

last night i went to a dinner party. i arrived with two bottles of wine as a hostess gift, but they were really as much for me as for her. i’d never met the other guests before, and i figured either i’d like them, in which case the wine would create a merry atmosphere, or i wouldn’t, in which case the wine would console me until i made my excuses and departed.

it was okay. i liked them fine.

as the hostess made the introductions, we all shook hands. and i realized again what a powerful first impression a handshake makes. i found myself judging these people based on their handshakes. and i know i always do.

how hard is it to get a handshake right? i ask you. yet so many people have bad ones.

there’s the “handing you a dead fish” handshake.

there’s the “I’m just going to c-clamp your fingers” handshake.

there’s the “i read a book that said a man should have a firm handshake so i’m going to squeeze your fingers until your rings bend” handshake.

here are some handshake tips:

stand up, unless you are a female over the age of 60. for anyone else to remain seated during a handshake (whether as means of introduction, greeting, or goodbye) smacks of unconcern.

the palms of the two people shaking should touch. they do not need to writhe together in a manual lambada. but they should press against each other. the fingers also lie parallel. no curling of fingers, grasping with fingers, or squeezing of fingers is necessary.

if you have sweaty palms, wipe your hand discreetly on your pant leg first. if you have sticky hands, say, “my hands are sticky, so please forgive me if I don’t shake yours.” and then go wash them. if you shake my hand and there’s a tackiness on your skin, i shall wonder what was on your hands and it will repulse me. this will make me associate you, forever, with unpleasant things.

there are probably other pointers to handshaking. but i was thinking about it as i met 6 people last night. by their handshakes i knew who i wanted to sit with at dinner, and who would be interesting to talk to. i was right.

although perhaps it’s like kissing and there are several schools of thought. i’m sure there’s someone somewhere in this crazy old world actually enjoys what i consider to be bad kissing. someone may be hoping to encounter the tiny pointed tongue that a recent date darted around in my mouth for the 15 seconds it took me to extricate myself from his (unexpected) ardor. i’d had no intention of letting him kiss me, but my attention went momentarily elsewhere and he sneaked on in.

i knew when i met him that i didn't want to kiss him. i knew he'd be a bad kisser. why? because when we’d met, he’d handed me a dead fish.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


when you open the door, the bright day pushes past you, cajoled by a surprising wind. acknowledging your appearance on the porch, the wheat field bows repeatedly, like a chorus line at curtain call, or reception of japanese diplomats. but it's neither of those things. it's a wheat field on a windy day.

you are standing outside your house in kansas, a dishtowel in hand, looking down your driveway at the country lane that leads from town. you are waiting for the mailman. he might bring something, something that might interest you for half an hour. a letter from a far-off friend. the electric bill. or an entry to a contest which might involve some minutes of occupation, peeling gold seals from one card to reapply to another, pulling apart perforations and scratching off markers to reveal secret numbers beneath. a bulk-mailed invitation to subscribe to a magazine, "songwriter", or "tennis today". you have never written a song or stepped onto a tennis court. perhaps you should. Perhaps you would, if the mailman would come, if he would bring you an invitation from the world, a ticket out of stillness, of loneliness, out of here, where a golden field of wheat gives terse approval, nodding as you step back inside and close the door.

it's been days since the cat's come around. this is not the first time. he's stalking mice in the fields, or down at the neighbor's farm, yowling at a barncat in heat. he'll show up again. probably. he'll show up, scraped and cut from brawling, hungry and ungrateful. he has his own agenda. it's a business relationship; that's all.

is it time for the book of the month? is it a day to drive to town, to wheel the squeaking cart through the over-airconditioned supermarket aisles? is it time to buy more stamps at the postoffice? to visit the library where you will surf the internet looking at the airfare on flights you dream of taking?

at your house in the wheatfield, there is noone home, not even you. and yet you stand there just inside the door, devoid of cat and company, waiting for a golden ticket out.

maybe today?

and then you blink and rediscover the table of friends before you.

"let's split the tiramisu" says the girl next to you. "it's really good here. i've had it before."

a discussion of dessert occurs, hinting at guilt and laciviousness that no one will indulge. a cart appears, laden with pastry and gustatory treasures, each an invitation to delight. strawberry shortcake languishing in whipped creme so decadent you can imagine it spread on marilyn monroe's decolletege. chocolate gateaux, intricate layers spread with rasberry. mocha mousse. tiramisu, lady fingers giving the thumbs-up at its periphery. wistful compromises are struck amongst the girls, who waver between what they want and what they ought to do.

"i will have one of each," you tell the waiter, to the suprise and amusement of your friends. the thinnest girl laughs, somewhat uncomfortably.

"i will have one of each, and apple pie a la mode, and pecan pie, and a scoop of every ice cream flavor that you have, two scoops, in fact. and lots of spoons, enough for all my friends, and if they care to join us, the people at the next table, because they look nice."

the waiter pauses, determines that you are serious. he nods (a hint of a bow?) and disappears into the kitchen.

your best friend, across from you, says, "what's the deal?"

you smile. "it looks good," you say. "don't worry- I'm paying." (you mentally calculate the money in your debit card account. yes, it should be fine.)

later, a table of happy spoons cut through indulgances ordinarily forbidden, and somewhere in kansas, a mailman with his hand in a cavernous mailbox feels a cat brush against his leg.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

the big box of crayons

when i was little, my favorite aunt had a special box of crayons she kept for me and my sister. when we went to her house, she would go into the attic (a place of great mystery, because the stairs to it were in the back of a clothes closet that i remember being behind the television set--though surely that can't be right). she'd come down the attic steps and emerge through the clothes with the box, a flat box like the box "candyland" came in. the box smelled of sanctity-- dust and wax. the sacred smell of crayons. (remember that?) when she opened the box, the colors were laid out like silverware on a banquet table. it created quite an appetite to draw. the box held 100 crayons, each one resonating a pure note of color.

in kindergarten we had a box of 5 colors. i rememeber because i was the only kid who brought mine home, the last day of school, without a single crayon broken. to me a broken crayon was tragedy, like baby birds fallen from a nest. no prayer or effort could bring them back. (my first taste of disappointment, i imagine.)

our aunt's legion of crayons offered infinite possibility: draw within the lines, or rebelliously outside them. scribble, scrawl, deface, create. what paper or surface could fail to be beautiful with such a spectrum afforded to it? there i learned the metals: not only gold and silver (how pedestrian they seemed!), but copper but bronze, pewter. perhaps this isn't a real memory, but i can see a platinum crayon. can that have happened? platinum? crayola, stand aside. in the crayon parade, you must bow to this box from my aunt's attic.

it broke my heart when i learned she let cousins share this treasure when they visited. oh, fickle aunt. after learning that, when the box was opened i'd jealously inventory the colors- see which shades had been lost or broken by the yahoos from the other side of the family. but in truth they did pretty well. i think like my sister and i, they were awed by the colors.

the norm, of course, was the crayola 64 set. it was pretty good. no complaints, under usual circumstances. i remember clearly the difference between yellow-orange and orange-yellow, like two brothers similar looking and yet distinct.

"get to the point, cupcake!" i hear an impatient reader sigh.

yes, friend, i shall. i wonder what crayon you would be. your impatience speaks of red, brick red,i think. and assessing that has brought me to my point.

meeting people is like coloring. they provide the shape. we try to match our understanding with what we know of them. we color sponge bob yellow because we know he is yellow; marge simpson's hair is blue because we know it is blue. our acquaintances we adorn with the 5-color kindergarten box. the 64 box we keep for our closest friends. in between, the 12, the 24, stages of intimacy that offer more dimensions to knowing people.

but sometimes i wonder about the colors we do not see. a co-worker lies about something to make me look bad. who would have guessed she carried that shade in her? a neighbor glows unexpectedly with an exotic hue i never guessed. people i meet in life or cyberspace show up sometimes like a technicolor movie seen on a black and white tv. i want the hundred crayons back, for some of them. i want to know the possibilities, the range, the nuance of refraction. i want to hold out the box and match the colors to the person's soul, discovering in each aspect a richness that defies the mundane, the 64-ishness of the daily world.

in heaven there are colors we can only imagine. i see them sometimes, flashes of the divine, in people i know or want to know. and it's like my aunt presenting the unopened box of colors. i want to inhale, to grab a stick and find the picture that i know is there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

how to build a barricade

first, take all the chairs in your office and place them in the main corridor where the elevators open. for stability reasons, if time permits, it's best to remove the wheels from the bottom. ergonomically correct chairs may have removable neck rests or back supports which should be also removed and woven into the mix.

the object of the chairs is to create a small puzzle which upper management may feel is solvable. that is before they get to the great wall of cubicles which will form your second level of fortification. cubicles are heavy and when pushed together, it may take the entire team of upper management and middle management yes-men to move them. with planning, you can devise a cubicle layout that will create a structural gridlock.

meanwhile, it is to be assumed that you and the few coworkers you don't despise are celebrating your stolen moments of liberty over microwavable toaster strudel in the employee kitchen. perhaps someone was visionary enough to bring starbucks or d/d coffee to work. otherwise, the last libation you will enjoy is folgers made in the decades old mr coffee with permanent coffee stains etched into the glass. add enough hazelnut powdered coffee mate and it's almost drinkable. turn on the radio attached to the clock in the corner whose red numbers have woefully scolded you to get back to your desk so many times. listen to the static-filled tunes on whatever station might come in. await breaking news about the swat team landing on the roof. you may have to turn up the radio to hear it over the helicopters and the moans of the other co-workers tied with scotch tape in the supply closet. those large post-its make great blindfolds when placed over eyes.

or, you could call in sick. or, you could find another job, start a new life, move to another city, create a new identity. though it's true that, should you build the barricade, most of these things will be settled for you.

you can use the wheels from the chairs, those spherical wheels, to lob at the swat team when they kick through the window. it won't hold them back, but it might provoke them to shoot.

you'll never take me alive, copper.


it didn't work in les miz, either.

Monday, July 18, 2005

postcard of venice

last night, coming home from john-o's barbeque, i found a postcard. it was lying on the sidewalk in front of his apartment building. it was just getting dark but i saw it on the sidewalk, so i picked it up. a postcard of venice, one of those long postcards with a wide angle view. this was looking over the venetian lagoon, black gondolas gloomy in the foreground and in the background, the purple sky swathing itself around the white dome of a church. it was folded, as though it had been mailed in an envelope. or maybe not mailed at all. there was no stamp. the crease of the card was frayed. someone had unfolded it many times.

in the square set aside for the address was written only "to my love" it a wide clear handwriting. the person had used a nice pen, a fountain pen, not a cheap pic. (i noticed this because i only ever write with cheap bics, and this ink looked nothing like that.)

my sister taught me ages ago that you should always look down. she finds money that way. more often (and more money)than you'd think possible. walking to school as kids, we'd find other kids homework dropped along the way. later, as adults, sometimes she'd pull from her purse a letter or a document that she'd found blowing down the street or stuck to the side of a trashcan. once she showed me a letter she'd found that was hysterically funny, a break-up letter written by a woman detailing all the reasons she was dumping her boyfriend, reasons that made it perfectly clear he wouldn't care at all. (he hadn't called in two weeks. he'd neglected her birthday. he'd dropped her off first after the dinner party, taking her friend sue home second even though she lived further away.)

this postcard was sort of the opposite of that. this postcard breathed such romance that i could practically smell the heavy scent of venice. i think it was written by a guy to a woman, but it might easily have been a woman to a man. or hell, two gay people. i don't know about the trivialities of gender.

there was so much love resonating off this postcard love that my eyes filled with tears upon reading it. i don't know how to explain. i was perfectly fine, talking on my cell to my roommate about where i'd left the keys for her because she'd locked herself out again. i saw the postcard, folded, and bent down to pick it up. i didn't read it until i'd hung up from her and dropped my cell into my bag. reading it, i was so moved that the whole world looked different. and exactly then the streetlights came on which i took as a sign of something. i don't know what.

i can't quote it here because i put it back on the sidewalk. i wanted to take it because it was so beautiful but it was heartbreaking (for me, missing t.) and reading a stranger's words to his (her?) beloved seemed somehow wrong, like looking over someone's shoulder as they punch in their pin at the atm.

it was all the stuff you'd expect: longing, praise of the beloved's soul and beauty and beautiful soul, a description of a walk crossing bridges and through piazzas and a search, in the heart, to connect to the missed dear one.

why was it on the sidewalk? did the recipientlose it? or leave it behind like we do so many things we love?

perhaps it had never been sent, only carried by the writer who hoped to someday meet the lover of his dreams. then dropped when the burden of carry that hope became too heavy.

i keft it there, in case the person who dropped it came back to find it. i thought i'd memorized it, but what i remembered got messed up in my own thoughts. he spoke of finding a pidgeon feather as soft as her hair. or something like that. it sounded better in the card.

i came home pensive, was cranky to my roommate who had left the keys (the spare keys)in the lock for anyone to steal. i went in my room to ponder life and love. eventually fell asleep in my clothes and woke up wondering why i still had my sandals on.

i want to go to venice. at sunset. i want to write with ink so rich and dark that i can fall into the crevices of words. i want to live in that postcard world of sunsets and feathers drifting over st marks while the gondaliers sing, where someone i love speaks to me in soft tones that opens doors without needing a key.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

why i am home on saturday night

holly, my best friend, was going to have a party. all week it's been "remember that saturday night is my party, you're coming, right?" i bought an extra cute dress because this guy she works with was invited. (steamy, he is. so hot he's steamy.) my cousin invited me to the beachhouse. my brother-in-law offered me $200 to babysit the brats so he could take my sister somewhere for the weekend. "can't!" I said to those offers. hols is having a party and i promised i'd come."

this afternoon, holly calls me and rasps through the phone, "i'm too fucking hung over to clean my house."


i offer to help her. no, she can't be bothered. the cat litter is overflowing, she says. i'll lose all respect for her, she says. she's going to spend the day lying in bed and would i please get the word out that the party is a no go?

so i make some calls. then i take a bath. i lie in the tub and shave my legs while the water grows cold. (too bad, steamy. i'd have been all sleek had you seen me in that cute dress.) i get out of the bath and, wrapped in a towel, try to take a nap on my back patio. yeah so the wife-beater wearing neighbor keeps peeking out his window. i guess that huge peach colored towel i took from my parents house is a turn-on. it came almost to my knees, you know? but must be thrilling to look at if you're 60.

anyway i lay there on the porch -which isn't sunny, by the way, even when the sun is shining-and i thought about better jobs and that steamy guy and what i would have done with the $200 babysitting money. then suddenly it was 8 o'clock and i didn't have any plans. hols has her phone turned off and nobody else is answering. maybe this is a good way to spend a saturday night, it's cheap and i won't be hung over tomorrow.

then again, i could start dialling again.


(sorry hols for telling the world about your cat litter but to be honest juniper kitty deserves a clean box and you really ought to not drink so much unless you're drinking with me, beeyatch.)

Friday, July 15, 2005

goin' postal

lord, but i hate my job. it's not that i hate the work, per se, but the environment. how is it that no one has to knock at a cubicle? i'm in there, doing my thing. it's my space. there should be a door. or failing that, some sort of line across which people will not go without my say so.

oh to have a door.

but cupcake, you will be thinking. why do you not simply quit?

now there's an interesting story, and one i dare not tell.

okay, that's a lie. i haven't quit because i need the money. every day i half-heartedly look on careerbuilder and cl and monster. but i end up drifting into blogworld and blocking out the mindnumbing boredom by reading about social lives beyond my own and then someone comes bounding into my cubicle so i have to click on a spreadsheet and act like i am doing work. as soon as I get out of there every night, i race down to the local, order a cosmo and wait for my posse to join me. they hate their jobs too.

can i blame bush for this?

one of my friends quoted drew carey as saying something like, "so you hate your job? there's a support group for that. it's called everybody and we meet at the bar." true. so true.

something's gotta give. on the way home i stop at blockbuster and rent movies like office space and nine to five where the oppressed workers have the last laugh. next: a christmas carol, part 2-- in which bob cratchett beats scrooge senseless with tiny tim's crutch.

is there a checklist for warning signs that you're about to go postal?