Sunday, August 28, 2005

Robin's Strange Collection

Last night I collected a handshake. I hadn't collected one in a long time and had nearly forgotten all about finding new ones.

Many years ago I heard Orson Welles on some talk show saying that his mother had shaken hands with Lincoln. Of course, she hadn't actually met Lincoln, but in a six-degrees of separation sort of way, she had shaken someone's hand who had shaken someone's hand who had met Lincoln. I was really struck by the idea of touching someone who I could never actually meet, and I've been collecting handshakes ever since.

One of my favorite handshake moments came when I met the then Chancellor of UC Santa Cruz MRC Greenwood. The Chancellor regularly convened quarterly meetings with the media students (those who published the campus newspapers or put together the radio news), and I as their new adviser had asked if I could attend. I explained that I thought I should attend to get a feel for how these meetings were conducted, so when I had a new crop of students I could more adequately advise them how to prepare for them. That's what I said on the outside. On the inside I was thinking, I want to shake this woman's hand.

Greenwood had held an appointment as associate director for science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President of the United States. She had worked with Clinton and Gore, and I wanted their handshakes, but I also wanted all the other hands that came with them: Nelson Mandela, Anwar Sadat, Yitzak Rabin, John F. Kennedy, even Marilyn Monroe!

So I attended the meeting. In my usual awkward fashion, I got right up next to the Chancellor with my hand outstretched. "How nice to meet you. Thank you so much for letting me come." She smiled at me. I imagined she must have been thinking, "Who is this weird unknown campus employee? No wonder the students put out such anarchic crap," but shook my hand vigorously.

Yes. I scored.

Later that day I emailed Chancellor Greenwood. I shared my handshaking exploits and thanked her for who she had given to me. I also wrote that I had just shared with her some of the luminaries of the beat generation and rock royalty and icons of political activism of the 60s: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg (that was a direct shake) Ken Kesey (also direct), Neal Cassady, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Abbie Hoffman (direct) etc. This handshaking was a two-way street! My email must have confirmed her suspicions about my lunacy. She never wrote me back.

Last night at dinner our lovely hosts were telling stories about their days in Santa Fe. V said how she had once worked at a hospital and had attended to Georgia O'Keeffe. My hand shot across the table. I said, "Georgia O'Keeffe! Please let me shake your hand."

A whole new world had just opened up.


  1. Wow! I missed this one about the handshakes first time around. Hadn't started blogging yet. This is wonderful. It does open things up in a splendid way. Thanks so much!

    Will get my email address to you via Bev.

  2. I too missed this earlier. what a wonderful idea--especially as I am a reiki master and so hand energy has a special importance to me. I am chastened for never having thought of this!

    (I also envy your "direct hits".)

  3. Lots of shaking going on. Good memories. :)

  4. How interesting! I have shaken hands with John Kennedy, Al Gore and a few other notables. (plus I'm a 1st degree Reiki - does that count?? LOL)

  5. Wow! Guess I must have missed this post the first time around too! Just thinking of who I might have shaken hands with and can think a few nice ones, but former Prime Minister Mulrooney suddenly came to mind. *shudder*. Need to go wash hands.

  6. and don' forget my direct shake with the Rev. Al Sharpton, honey. Kind of a notorious shake, but there you go. So add the good reverend to your list.....

    I'll bet MRC had some campus secret police checking you out for awhile....or put you on some kind of university watch list.

  7. I like this! I could list many to add for you. The odd: Grover Cleveland, his wife Frances, Chester Arthur, his wife Ellen .. all shook hands with my grandmother (she was a senator's daughter). Now let's see, how about John Hughes .. who was my good friend in high school (though not sure I officially shook his hand .. we did pass some things hand to hand.)

  8. I hate to admit this, but when I was in high school, our band played for a stop on Nixon's train tour. I jumpex up on stage and joined the receiving line, which included Mrs. Nixon, one of their daughters, and ole Tricky Dick himself.
    When I reached him, he said, "Hi, sweety," as we grwsped hands...

  9. Isabelita-- RICHARD NIXON!!! That's wild. It is so creepy that he said, "Hi Sweety." He never looked like the "hi sweety" type, but what do I know? I'm sure you've washed your hands a million times since then, and mostly to get rid of that tricky dickiness. LOL!

  10. The Marilyn thing was more than a handshake. We shook hands that one time in Seattle, didn't we? Ergo, I have a stunning Marilyn story to post on Facebook.

    1. Phil-- I'd love to hear your Marilyn story.