Tag Archives: awkward

Classic Phil

I had a party at my house a few weeks ago, and I’ve always hated the idea of excluding anybody, so I kind of cast a wide net in terms of invites. It was too wide, I know it, I hate having to do stuff like this, but it’s either invite everybody or don’t have a party at all. Because the last thing I want is for someone’s status update or shared photo to ruin it for someone else, that, sorry, I had a party and I didn’t invite you.


And am I really being cool about it? Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever been cool about it at all. I kind of spread the word in advance to the people that I would have invited had I allowed myself a more exclusive get-together, and then like two or three days before, I put out a general announcement to everybody at work, friends on Facebook.

All I’m really doing is reaching for the bottom, right, like who else is not only not going to have any plans on such short notice? I feel like a jerk even laying it out like that, but that’s exactly what it is, all right, people with nothing else to do, just waiting for a last minute sympathy invite.

The party was on a Saturday, I sent out my mass invite on a Thursday. Friday morning this guy Phil at work sends me an email, “Hey Rob, what should I bring?” And what do you mean what should you bring? You ever been to a party before? Just bring some beer, a bottle of wine, I don’t know, a bag of chips. This isn’t high tea here.

But what do I say? “Don’t bring anything.” Because what are you really supposed to say? You tell people not to bring something. You kind of hope that they bring a little extra booze or some snacks. Not Jell-O. OK, that’s just weird. That’s what Phil brought. He brought some weird molded Jell-O thing, like something straight out of a sixties cookbook, a big, green ring with stuff floating around in it.

“Hey man, I made some dessert,” and he was smiling, like I was trying to get a read on him. Was this some sort of a joke, like a gag gift? But I swear, I couldn’t tell, and while a part of me really wanted to laugh and be like, “Ha, that’s hilarious,” I just really wasn’t that convinced that this Jell-O thing wasn’t anything less than a hundred percent sincere.

I was right in the middle of laying out all of the snacks, pouring this giant bag of tortilla chips that I had bought at Costco into a big plastic bowl. I had all of this party stuff spread out around me. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t ready yet, OK, it was because Phil showed up exactly at eight o’clock.

Like was he walking around the block? Just waiting for the clock to strike eight so he could knock on my door? Nobody else was here yet, and I was clearly still setting up, but he has this thing in my face, it wasn’t even wrapped, like I don’t understand how he got it all the way from his place to my place, was he just sitting on the subway with the Jell-O on his lap, breathing on it? It’s too much.

And I get it, OK, like I can be socially awkward sometimes, I have that same tendency to overthink everything. And yeah, when I get invited to a party, I’m totally stressed out about what time I’m supposed to show up, right, but I’m not the guy walking around the block wasting time so I can show up at just the right second, OK, I’m the guy walking around the block waiting for just the right time to make an entrance that looks natural, like I’m not obsessing about how many people have arrived before me, or if I’m too late.

OK, so I understand. But this guy is like me but with absolutely no inhibitions. Just, it’s eight o’clock, ding-dong, here’s your Jell-O. Maybe it was a joke. “Ha, that’s funny,” I did say it, hoping he’d laugh back, because come on dude, I’ve never seen a dessert like that in real life, and maybe it’s really tasty and everything, but nobody’s going to eat that. And tell me you had it wrapped up, please, tell me you ditched the wrapping outside, something, because I can’t get over the exposed jiggly surface, like somebody two seats down from you on the subway sneezes, it just seems like a giant germ magnet.

“What’s so funny?” and what do I say to that? “Nothing,” I said, “Just something I was thinking about from earlier, something funny happened.” And he was like, “What happened?” and I wanted to be like, Phil, come on dude, just help me out a little here, OK, just stop with the follow up questions, just put down the Jell-O man, come on dude, just let me finish setting up here.

“Where do you want me to put this Jell-O?”

“I don’t know man, anywhere’s fine. Just grab yourself a drink, OK, just hang out while I finish getting ready.”

And I’m telling you, that fucking Jell-O was like the hit of the party, I don’t even know where that cake slicer thing came from, because I definitely don’t have a cake slicer, like Phil must have brought it, OK, he must have had that thing in his back pocket. But everybody had like cake slices of Jell-O, I wanted to give out a warning, like, “Jesus, Chris, don’t eat that Jell-O,” and Chris was like, “Why? This Jell-O is awesome. Classic Phil.”

What was I not getting? “You’ve had this before?”

“Yeah man, Phil brings it to all the parties, that’s like his thing.”

And I was just thinking, how come I’ve never been to any parties with Phil before? Like I don’t care, OK, it’s not like I have to be invited to everything, OK, I know that not everybody does the whole blanket invite thing like I do. But not once? How many parties are people having that Phil’s invited to and I’m not? Because I would have noticed that, OK, I’m telling you I would have noticed a green fucking Jell-O ring cake with pieces of canned pineapple floating around in it.

Shake my hand

Handshakes are weird. I can’t wait until society evolves past the need for human beings to extend their right hands in hopes of a mutual embrace, because it’s not working anymore. It should be one of the easiest and most straightforward things that I have to deal with in my daily life. But it’s not. It’s always a new opportunity for confusion, missed social cues, and entire days afterward spent in isolation, fixated on that terrible feeling of an unnecessarily awkward moment.


“Always make sure you give a firm handshake,” I remember by Aunt Mary-Kate instilling this advice upon me from a very young age. “Nobody wants to feel like they’re holding onto a dead fish wrapped in newspaper.” And yeah, that’s some very descriptive imagery, and so it stuck with me, that feeling. Every time I’d shake hands with someone weaker of grip than I, it would be like a trigger, I’d not only feel that fish, but I’d get a fishy smell, I could feel individual scales falling off, somehow getting through the cracks of the newspaper and getting stuck on my clothes, my shirt sleeves, I’d absent-mindedly put my fingers to my lips later in the day and I’d get one of them in my mouth.

Gross. Totally imaginary, but disgusting nonetheless. And let’s be real for a minute, are actual handshakes any less gross? We don’t know what everybody’s doing with their hands. And I don’t want to spell out any more fabricated scenarios, but I’m telling you, I could come up with ten things off the top of my head that would make you physically ill. And number one on that list might very well be hands that have just finished gutting and scaling a fish. Maybe you even washed your hands. But how thoroughly? Did you get that fishy stuff out from underneath your fingernails?

OK, I’m moving on. But a firm handshake, yeah, a lot of the world ascribes to that point of view. Most of the time it’s harmless enough, I’ll go in for a shake, you’ll go in for a shake, the difference in strength will be minimal enough that the resulting clasp is almost equal. But that’s not always the case. Every once in a while I’ll overdo it.

I might see someone coming my way, I’ll automatically assess their potential grip, and I’ll try to match their strength accordingly, all while still making sure that the first word that other person thinks of when they grab my hand is, “Firm.”

Like I said, it gets awkward sometimes. In my overzealousness to prove to the world that I’m the strongest of hand, I’ll be holding that dead fish and I’ll be squeezing it just hard enough that its eyes will be bulging out of the sockets. Believe me, this is about as fun for me as it is painless for you. I make a quick up, down, up, and then release. There’s so much nonverbal communication going on in this action that I’m left stuck in my head for a few minutes. Like, did that person understand why I was shaking so hard? Does this person now realize that a proper handshake is a prerequisite to beginning any sort of face-to-face interaction?

I can only hope so. That’s what I’ve been taught anyway. Maybe they just think I’m a huge macho asshole. But I can’t help it. Even though I really don’t like the handshake, I have to respect its proper form. Firm. Shake. Find the nearest bathroom so I can get that false scent of trout or flounder out of my head.

Then there’s the flip side, when I see somebody coming my way and they might as well be wearing a custom screen-printed t-shirt that says, “Get ready, I’m about to dole out one of the firmest shakes you’ll ever handle.” And so I wind up, I’ve got a bullshit smile on, my elbow is cocked back a full forty-five degrees, and then right as we both go in for the grip, I really jab it in there. I want that flap of skin connecting my thumb and index finger together to make an audible slapping sound, all before coming down on the other person’s hand with a strength that starts in my neck, builds as it picks up steam down my shoulders, my biceps giving everything they’ve got to my forearm, and then, clench, there it is, the handshake to end all handshakes.

And not all of the time, but every once in a while I’ll meet my handshake match, someone who came to win with a five-fingered intensity I often forget others beside myself are capable of possessing. I’ll feel the initial squeeze as an elite shake, and I’ll react accordingly, summoning everything that I’ve got, doing my best to squeeze the life out of my counterpart, all while maintaining the casual smile that says, “Hey! It’s so great to see you!”

It’s on, we’re both in it for something more than just hello at this point. Grip, up, down, up, down, up, down, now it’s getting awkward, and the both of us having made about as much of a show of hand strength as is appropriate in a public setting, we’ll loosen the grip, recoil our hands making sure not to massage the knuckles with the lefty.

Now is the moment when one of us would say, “Wow, that’s some handshake you’ve got there.” But I’m not going to say it, so if anybody’s going to do it, it’s going to be the other party, to which I’ll smile and say, “Thanks.”

It’s such a dick move, I know it, making such a competition out of what should be nothing more than a pleased-to-meet-you. But it’s how we do it. We shake hands. The ones who are really good at it, it’s like we’ve constantly got something to prove, everybody we meet is a potential hand rival.

I can’t take it any more. I’m thinking about wearing a cast just so I can excuse myself from these silly formalities. And why can’t we switch to high-fives? Everybody loves high-fives. If you do it just right, anyone within earshot will benefit from the sound of two people really saying hi. And it’s more than just hi. A high-five is “What’s up?” it’s, “All right!” it’s, “Yes!”

Let’s do away with the handshake and replace it with the high-five. Fist bumps are cool too, but every time I try to go for one, it’s either only in my head, or only in the other person’s head. And so it turns into one fist that’s kind of awkwardly cradled by the would-be handshake of another person.

You know what? Just wave. I’ll wave back. It’ll be cool. Let’s save our hands for something else.