It was late in life that I came to realize that the bizarre and unprovoked aggression I was occasionally encountering was actually a very specific and deliberate attempt to best me at a contest in which I didn't know I was participating. From time to time, while shaking hands with someone I'd just been introduced to, a sudden, excruciating pain would shoot through my knuckles—a quick stab, like a jolt of electricity, as I felt four of my fingers being crushed together into the space of just one. My new acquaintance, while behaving as if nothing was happening, was squeezing my hand with all his might.
The first time it happened, I figured the man just didn't know his own strength. The second and third times, I began to suspect there was something more going on. By the fourth time, I was convinced. These idiots were deliberately trying to inflict pain.
. . . Why?
In polling friends and acquaintances, I've learned that the macho squeeze is an actual technique intended to establish dominance, which is apparently very important to men with small penises. I've been unable, however, to hunt down the source of this childish "gotcha" move. Who is touting the purported value of these irritating, meaningless assaults? I can only imagine that these poorly endowed men have all enrolled in the same sort of seminar or read the same self-help book—something along the lines of "How to Preemtively Dominate Strangers for No Reason." I imagine the lesson on greetings said something like, "Want to show how powerful you are? Crush the hell out of the guy's bones while shaking hands and smiling in his face. That way, he'll know that you're superior. Superior men harm each other. Do it before he does and you're the most superior."
Never having been educated on the merits of such Neanderthal posturing, my shocked reactions to having my knuckles violently compacted have been somewhat more . . . impromptu . . . like, "Ouch, you're hurting me!" or "Hey! Stop that! What the hell's the matter with you?" And my attackers have appeared to be confused by those responses. I believe they expected me to join them in their little handshaking contest, masking my pain to prove my manliness. The joke was on them. Like most real men, I feel no need to prove my manliness. My only interest was in offering a genial, traditional, gentlemanly greeting as a social nicety.
This truly weird ritual seems to me akin to yelling "HELLO!" much, much louder than the person you're greeting—so loudly that it hurts his ears and overshadows his normal "hello." And yes, one can win that competition, if that's the big payoff. But if grown men need these silly contests to feel manly, then . . . you know, I don't even think I need to finish that sentence.
There are only a few defenses against these barbarian, bone-crushing babies. One is to see them coming. It's not hard to identify the type of meathead who'd want to best you at one-sided hand wrestling. He's almost always going to be white, over 60, and a member of some sort of lodge. If he's wearing an Elk's pin, golf attire, or fishing hat, fold your arms and keep them there. Or, if you fail to pre-identify old Cal, there's an actual technique you can learn to prevent the pain. It involves extending the index finger along his shriveled old wrist. There are countless videos that teach not only the finger technique, but also ways to escape from or even harm the gripper. (Honestly, I had no idea how widely acknowledged this issue was.) Or you could sue. Yes. There have been lawsuits over injuries caused by the highly impressive proof of manliness that is harming someone while greeting them.
But I think, if it ever happens to me again, I'm just going to knee the guy in his little groin and call it a day.