While prodding through campus, I saw a friend walking with a young woman I’d never met before, but whose acquaintance I immediately wanted to make. With a “hey, wait up,” I tightened the straps on my backpack and accelerated my pace until I was abreast of the duo.
I introduced myself to the young woman and extended my right hand, thumb up.
The practice of squeezing another’s hand as a sign of agreement or respect is really quite singular. It was probably originally intended as a defensive maneuver, but today is a common ritual exchanged between friend and foe alike.
Our hands made contact. We clasped. And just like that the squeeze was over.
“You have very soft hands,” she said as we returned our respective appendages to their comfort zones.
“Thank you,” I replied for lack of a better retort and to cover for a quick rush of adrenaline.
What did she mean by “soft hands?” Was she making reference to my obvious skill at ball sports, most of which require dexterous fingers, an eponymous attribute of “soft hands?” Did she mean that my hands lacked strength and intend her comments as not-so-subtle hint to encourage amity with the weight room? Was she implying that I moisturized frequently, a euphemism for another behavior entirely? Was she forcing me to come to grips (note the pun?) with my soft hands?
While my mind was gyrating, my mouth remained mute, leaving an awkward void in our dialog.
“Is that a good thing?” I asked, filling the silence. I wanted her to say “no” and give me a pumice stone to use on my palms or some acid for the skin around my nails. I wanted a rebuke for failing to maintain manly calluses or a lecture on the value of manual labor. At least then I would have a benchmark for improvement and a way of escape.
Instead she answered with a “sure,” followed by a shrug and a giggle that left me feeling lonelier than a broke supermodel after a failed facelift.
I was dejected, but quickly drew the conclusion that I would have to stop using soap, find a splintery wooden board to rub against or, maybe, just accept my soft hands.