Quarantine Chronicles Day 25: Wave goodbye to the handshake, the latest pandemic victim

Day 25! Welcome to the Silver Anniversary Edition of the Quarantine Chronicles. Today, I’m mourning—or am I celebrating?—let’s just say acknowledging, the death of the handshake.

I never much minded the tradition of shaking hands upon meeting someone, or just seeing someone after a bit of a layoff, or congratulating someone, or expressing my sympathy for someone, or sealing a wager or making some other sort of pact or contract.

I’ve been doing it my whole life, since some adult said, “Shake hands with the man, Timmy,” to maybe a month or so ago when people from the community were still showing up at the Post offices to chat. I’m not positive, but I think the last person I shook hands with was 3rd District Councilwoman Suzie Price, or perhaps it was one of her aides.

And now, the handshake is the latest victim of COVID-19, after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the trustworthy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a Tuesday Wall Street Journal podcast, “When you gradually come back, you don’t jump into it with both feet. You say, what are the things you could still do and still approach normal? One of them is absolute compulsive hand-washing. The other is you don’t ever shake anybody’s hands.”

And not just until “things settle down again,” whatever that means in our foggy future. Fauci means for good. Your hands, those very parts of our body that have allowed us to race miles ahead of any other creature on the planet, are little killing machines. It’s almost as if hands were invented by viruses to transport them from person to person.

“We don’t need to shake hands” insisted Fauci in another interview. “We’ve got to break that custom. Because as a matter of fact, that is really one of the major ways that you can transmit a respiratory illness.”

Fauci hasn’t said as much, but I assume all of us should refrain from touching our face again, as well. Or maybe face-touching will be OK as long as we keep our hands to ourselves.

A few days ago, your Vice President Mike Pence explained that in his line of work, you shake hands, and said that it was not only his intention, but that of President Trump, to continue to shake hands. In Pence’s and the president’s line of work, they also don’t wear face masks, and we urge them both to remain steadfast and brave in their decisions.

In fact, if Trump knew that there have been politicians in the past who have shaken more hands than he has, I bet he’d up his game. Nobody likes to be No. 3, if he’s even that.

The gold standard is former Atlantic City Mayor Joseph Lazarow who served as mayor from 1976 to 1982 and who brought gambling to the seashore town, paving the way for a young Trump to build his Taj Mahal, the so-called “8th Wonder of the World”—and the only one to go bankrupt.

For our purposes today, Lazarow gained fame by making it into the “Guinness Book of World Records” for shaking more than 11,000 hands in a single day, in July 1977, besting President Theodore Roosevelt’s feat of shaking 8,513 hands at a White House reception on New Year’s Day 1907.

So, what do we do with our hands for the rest of history whenever we meet/congratulate someone?

On my last visit to my ophthalmologist, the doc gave me a fist bump, certainly not a recommended post-COVID option, though billions of skin cells preferable to a full-on handshake.

There’s the elbow bump, but that has a bit too much funky chicken in it for my taste.

I’d be open to a nice Asian-style bow, (but only if everyone else is on board; I don’t want to be a trailblazer), or just sort of a bro-style “wassup?” head nod.

Maybe a Hindu Namaste greeting would be a nice, peaceful gesture involving no physical contact but loads of respect.

Make me National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director and I think I’d champion the air-five, which predates the coronavirus era. The air-five is a safe and sanitary non-contact version of the high-five, where the two greeters just sort of swing their arms up and bat at the air at one another. In its early version, it was frequently mistaken as a “missed” high five, but that was never my intention when I did it.

At this early stage of the frowned-upon handshake, I don’t know what the New Handshake will be, but whatever it is, I’ll go along with it and be sure to use it happily when that glorious day comes that we meet again.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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