July 10, 2007

Like a Polaroid picture

Splash!When I watch basketball and boxing, two particularly sweaty, skin-exposed sports that I have never really participated in, I’ve often thought about how slippery it all must be when fighters rub up against each other or a power-forward presses to the basket amid a bunch of giant players glossy with perspiration. I guess they just get used to it.

It’s something of a tradition for a pipe band ensemble judge to greet the pipe-major of a band when it comes to the starting line: some small-talk, a good luck and, of course, a handshake to start things off.

At least in North America, pipe band competitions can be held on very warm days. Combine summer heat with the pressure of competition and 20 pounds of heavy wool designed for Aberdeenshire dreich, and pipers and drummers tend to get a little sweaty. It often seems to pour out of their hands.

I remember once having to perform with a band at Mosspark Armoury on a 100 degree day. By the end of the first set I was sure that all that was left of me was a pool of goo, something like that great St. Louisan Margaret Hamilton in the “I’m melting! . . . Melting!” scene in The Wizard of Oz.

And so it was at Kincardine. One does not want to deviate from tradition or have bands think that one’s snubbing them, so every pipe-major as usual got a handshake. And, I must say, some of those hands were not a little warm and wet. The actual band contest was in the cool of the shade, so the judges were pretty comfortable and, um, dry.

I’m no germaphobe, but all of those wet-ones handshakes could not have been terribly sanitary. By the Grade 1 event my right hand must have been a virtual Petri dish of piping microbes, with each score sheet passing along millions of wee beasties from the 20-odd slippery-palms.

I mentioned the super-soaker-hands thing to one of the piping judges, who suggested that a jar of that alcohol hand-sanitizer might be a good idea. But what sort of message would that send out?

There’s a lot of talk these days about the handshake custom and how it can spread disease. Donald Trump reportedly avoids it altogether. And who knows what Michael Jackson, with his surgical-mask-wearing and all, does?

Maybe that ensemble judge handshake tradition should be changed. A slight bow? A wink? The snapping of fresh latex gloves? A faddish knocking of fists? A Japanese-esque exchange of business cards? A reciprocal tug of sporran tassels?


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