That I might touch that cheek…

I’ll admit to being a child of my era –okay, an elder of the era- but I have to confess to a grudging appendage –a questionable attachment to something I was taught in high school. Well maybe it was only hinted at, but certainly no less sticky for the methodology. No less disappointing to an adolescent hungry for acceptance. In fact, it makes me wonder how some of us survived our youth.

And what was the terrible insight that so impressed me in my youthful innocence? So shocking that my memory has played it over and over again like an ear-worm? It was the surreptitious intelligence about the other side… a kind of whispered Malleus Maleficarum. Things even my mother didn’t seem to know –or at least was unwilling to divulge to an outré like her male child. Important information: secret handshake stuff. Things like women being consummate networkers –members of a clandestine female guild with a complicated, yet untraceable matrix of vast global reach. Words were unnecessary for them –just a certain look sufficed, a partially closed eyelid, a smile that really wasn’t meant, and yet conveyed reams of data were it ever to be trusted to hardcopy. It’s why we males, weighed down by guilt and testosterone as we were, didn’t stand a chance. I mean it sounded reasonable when I was sixteen, and I never doubted it as the prevailing wisdom until I came across an article in the BBC News a while back. It’s comforting to know that some people at least dare to question societal mores –even ones that seem so self-evident:

The article reports on a study by Professor Joyce Benenson from Emmanuel College and Harvard University and published in Current Biology in which ‘The team looked at recordings of tennis, table tennis, badminton and boxing involving men and women from 44 countries.’ And in these, ‘Researchers examined the aftermath of same-sex sporting events and found that men spent longer talking, touching or embracing their opponents than women. These efforts to patch things up ensure the males can then co-operate more successfully in the future.’ This, even though ‘In society generally, data indicates that physical contact between women is equal to or more frequent than it is among males. But across the four sports observed, men spent significantly more time touching than females, in what the authors term “post-conflict affiliation”.’

Whoa! I went to the original study to check, and as they put it in their summary, their ‘[…] results indicate that unrelated human males are more predisposed than females to invest in a behavior, post-conflict affiliation, that is expected to facilitate future intragroup cooperation.’ I mean how could I have missed that all these hugless years?

But I wondered if I was the only one who hadn’t heard about this, or whether it was just an age-thing and for some reason, I didn’t have the new app on my phone. It was certainly so life-changing, and so potentially ethos-altering, I felt I had to clarify and even validate the findings and, if necessary, embark upon a retirement dedicated first to a critical analysis and then, maybe, to proselytism.

And where better to start, than with a friend? I decided to ask Brien if he knew about it. Then, because he wouldn’t –he only read the TV- I’d tell him what I’d learned even though he was dead set against any form of evangelism and had been known to play recordings of large-dog barks when he heard unsolicited footsteps on his porch. Fortunately for me, he is usually on his porch whenever I visit, so I never get the barks. Still, he guards the veranda like a fort, and even though he usually pretends to be watching Sheda, his favourite tree, his eye-corners are ever vigilant. There is no moss on Brien.

But he wasn’t on his porch, and as I navigated the difficult parts of his sidewalk on my way to the steps, I heard the barking start. He’d chosen the Yorkie version –the dog-lite, back-off-eh signal he used for children selling cookies or the sponsor-me-to-camp kind of missions- but it was still annoying. The big-dog-growls only started when my feet hit the porch. I’ve never figured out how he does it; there is a rumour in the JW community that he has CCTV, but I suspect he just watches through the curtains.

Well, at least this time, because the door opened even before I reached it and an angry-looking face glowered at me from the shadows. “You said you weren’t coming till this afternoon,” it said petulantly.

“Brien, it’s one o’clock…” I countered irritably, glancing at my watch to be sure. I don’t like it when I’m challenged about things like that.

“Well, I’ve always thought that ‘afternoon’ starts at three. Stuff before that is ‘middle of the day’…” He paused for a moment, thinking of a coup de grace for me. “Or, even clearer: ‘around noon’!”

“Think of the words, Brien,” I growled. “after and then noon! What could be clearer?”

He folded his arms across his chest defiantly. “Explain how three isn’t after noon then, eh?”

I couldn’t believe we were arguing about this. “Since when have you been such a semantic stickler, Brien?”

“What?” he shouted theatrically and threw his arms above his head as if I had insulted him onstage. More probably, he hadn’t understood the words, though.

I felt sorry immediately -he’s actually a very good friend- but I couldn’t very well back down from the implied threat of a yelled ‘what’. “You’re being so…” I had to search for something that would register my indignation, but not inflame things further. “…So concrete!” A perfect amelioratory word, I thought, unduly proud of my clarity in the heat of battle.

His eyes hardened and his face scrunched at the idea. “Who had to resort to a rather weak etymological explanation for ‘afternoon’, eh?”

Rather than out-harden him, my eyes actually enlarged. ‘Etymological’? I suddenly realized I had gravely misjudged his vocabulary. Gravely misjudged Brien, for that matter. I do that sometimes… I started to shrug as a sort of testosterone apology but realized that it, too, might be inadequate. “Okay, then you were being more… asphalty.” I have no idea where that came from, but it just sort of slipped out.

His eyes softened, and the folds over his forehead flattened like venetian blinds. In fact, he couldn’t help chuckling as he reached out and touched me gently on my arm. Then, suddenly realizing what he’d just done, looked at his hand and then squeezed my arm as he withdrew it.

Me? I pretend-punched his chest -just a tap, really… I mean you have to do something, don’t you?

“A two-guy apology, eh?” And he smiled warmly. “Let’s go sit on the porch and have a beer,” he said, draping his arm over my shoulder and leading me outside. “So,” he continued when we were comfortably settled, and staring at Sheda, “What was that new study that you couldn’t believe…?”



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