Monday, July 27, 2009

Weather Warning!

(This is for my sister Patti, she asked for it. Really!)
If you go outside in the morning and see this in the sky, go back to bed. It’s not going to be a good day.

I got this weather warning from my uncles and I thought I should pass it on.

There are scientific studies demonstrating that some gestures are so powerful they trigger a hormonal response. The smile is an almost universal gesture known to bring calm to even the most volatile situations. Then there are gestures like the one pictured above that seem to do the exact opposite. The first time I used this potent gesture was when I was 8 years old, and I haven’t used it since. I remember the incident as if it happened yesterday. I was playing ball in the driveway one evening with my friend from down the block, Ricky Sabatini.* Then from out of nowhere Ricky’s brother Tony appeared and snatched the ball out of the air. His sudden appearance sent a numbing chill down my spine that momentarily froze me stiff in my tracks. More than just swift, the most frightening thing about his appearance was its almost primitive nature. The guy was hairy, from head to toe. At age 12 and a half he already had more chest hairs than all the fathers on the block put together. He was a veritable walking rug, or in other words very masculine, and definitely not the kind of rug you would want to rub the wrong way.

He looked Ricky squarely in the eye and told him it was time to go home and take a bath.
Without thinking I queried the man beneath the mane saying, “A bath?” The born alpha male, took it as a direct challenge and said to me matter of factly, “Yeah, a bath. Whaddayou do, stand there and let the wind blow the dirt off you?” Macho nacho, that just made my blood boil! Moving out of Tony’s earshot, the next thing I did was take little Ricky who was two years my junior under my arm and illustrate the finer points of flipping the bird. The gesture being entirely new to the lad took considerable time and effort to explain. Lesson over, we both turned in unison to face Ricky’s beast of a brother and boldly saluted him with one finger as the words, “you big fat hairy ape,” burst out of my mouth.

Tony’s jaw dropped to his chest and his eyes almost popped out of his head. It was like a frame right out of Johnny Hart’s B.C. comic strip. He appeared to be in total shock and it was totally sweet satisfaction for me. Just as a smile of complete content began to spread across my face, Tony looked at me again. Wagging his finger he cried, “Ooh! I’m gonna tell your mother on you.” I was never more afraid in my life. Turning to a quivering pat of jello, I looked over at my young protégé and said, “you better go home and take a bath” and then I took off like a bat out of hell with the words “ooh! I’m gonna tell your mother” playing over and over in my mind. Lucky for me I don’t think she ever found out.

The renowned linguist, Edward T. Hall once noted that 60% of all human communication is nonverbal. Ever since I’ve been living in Japan, I’ve brought that figure to heights the learned Dr. Hall couldn’t even begin to imagine. About 90% of my communication with people in this country is all nonverbal. I use gestures in place of words all the time, making every human interaction I have a totally kinetic experience. The problem is that gestures aren’t universal and there is no telling how many people I’ve unwittingly offended so far.

When I was in college I took a comparative religions class taught by a former Buddhist monk from Japan. During his lecture on the first day of class the professor’s eyeglasses gradually began to slide off his nose. Suddenly he peered into the crowd of students who filled the lecture hall, extended the middle finger of his right hand and proceeded to slowly push his glasses back up on his nose before making some dramatic point in the lecture which he punctuated with a smile. The class just stared in disbelief and being not too sure of what was going on exactly (with all the mixed nonverbal messages and all) just smiled back. Then it happened again, the glasses slipping down and the professor stopping to once again extend his middle finger and slowly push them back up his nose. Looking somewhat bewildered, the kid next to me whispered out of the side of his mouth, “Did he just do what I think he did?” All I could say was, “I don’t know.” Like everyone else I was in a state of mild shock. After giving us the finger at least three or four more times we began to notice other odd little movements and gestures. Pointing to his nose whenever he referred to himself, crossing his arms in the shape of a huge X whenever a student gave the wrong answer to one of his many questions, or forming a big O with his arms when they got it right. After a while, the shock wore off and we finally we got it. He wasn’t offensive he was simply foreign.

When the clouds lift everything becomes clear.

*Not his real name.


  1. I am concerened about the nature of this photo-so if you can write about odd cloud formations what are your fears in writing about the jungle crows?

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment.
    (an'cay alktay foay rowscay ownay. heytay areay
    ightray sideoutay!!!!)