A secret handshake is a series of hand gestures that indicate loyalty to a club, clique, or subculture. The purpose of the secret handshake is to identify exclusive group members, and consequently to prevent inclusion of outsiders. Also, the element of secrecy provides the necessity of loyalty to the exclusive group. To reveal a secret handshake would be taboo and would cause the offending individual to be thought of as a traitor.
March 5, 2009
I’ve always felt uncomfortable when I’m out in the world on school or work days; the streets and shops are a little quieter, the crowds sparser, and my sense of time is discombobulated. Even in graduate school, when I would have a whole day without classes and so would take care of groceries or other errands in the late morning, I half expected a truancy officer to come up to me and demand to know what I was doing out and about.
There are advantages, of course, to being out and about in the late morning, especially where errands are concerned. The greatest advantage, when it comes to groceries, is the samples. My usual grocery shopping routine calls for me to be at the store late on Thursday evening, after the kids are in bed. My wife is in charge of making the menu and shopping list–she’s a design engineer, after all, so she has a very efficient approach to the planning phase–and I take care of the implementation. Since she has the grocery list so well-organized, I can usually be done in less than 30 minutes; and since there are no samples out at night, there’s no point in lingering.
During the day, though, there are plenty of enticements. In the produce aisle, wedges of melon and dishes of guacamole (with chips); in the snack aisle, bowls of chips and crackers; and in the cheese aisle, the best place of all, little cubes of red Leicester, parmeggiano, and sometimes even a jar of a tapanade spread with tasty Melba toasts. The signs say you should help yourself to just one sample, but I get a delicious thrill out of making an extra turn around the store to take an extra elicit bit of cheese or melon.
Of course, I still try to avoid eye contact with the staff when I snatch an extra piece, even though I’m sure they have better things to do than to count the number of samples each person has taken. And added to the fear of my imaginary truancy officer, this can make grocery shopping a bit more stressful than it should be. It’s good that my shopping list is so organized.
It would be useful if, upon receiving your severance package, you were also taught a secret handshake. This handshake would have to change monthly to keep the freshly employed from taking advantage of the benefits that accrue from unemployment, and it would have to be sufficiently complicated to prevent casual observers from discovering it. But it would have advantages, not only against the imaginary truancy officer and grocery store employees (who likely have clear memories of some of the most recent versions of the sign), but with our fellow unemployed citizens. It would let us communicate more clearly than the raised eyebrows and quick nod, the courageous smile and thumbs-up that we have in our vocabulary now. It would be a way for us, all 8.1% of us, to say, “We’re in this together, through no fault of our own, and that counts for something.”
Solidarity is, of course, out of fashion, especially in the white collar world. And red Leicester, though mild and firm, is a poor substitute.