A Very Peculiar Greeting

In the Time of COVID. Day 44

May 1, 2020

A Very Peculiar Greeting

Recently we’ve lost the ease of polite greeting. There is so much that goes into a good hello. Face muscles slightly turn a cheek into a dimple and one side of the mouth turns upward in a polite smile. Eyes contract slightly with a twinkle of recognition. We stand upward and lean toward the other person and extend our hand with friendly intent.

Now, our masks shroud those muscles, and caution causes us to step back, making the 6 foot distance obvious. Latex gloves preclude a good hand shake. This breaks the tradition of greeting and we haven’t found a replacement for what humans have been doing since the dawn of time.

Men in this country don’t get too touchy-feely in the best of circumstances save a punch in the arm or a chest bump now and then. Now, it’s just awkward , maybe bump elbows but it’s like ‘oh ya, that’s what we do now, huh huh huh”

I have a friend from the Lebanon. In the before time, it was a big hug and a kiss on both cheeks every time. That took me some getting used to. I lived in Mexico for a time and believe me, the abrazo, the big sustained bear hug is as common as breathing among men. But now the physical distancing is more awkward than the hugs were to me at first.

In my twenties I traveled a lot in remote Mexico and on Saturday nights, in the town squares back then, the single girls walked, with arms around each other, clockwise around the square. The unattached boys held hands as they walked counter-clockwise, checking out the girls. All of this under the watchful eyes of parents, and grandparents who sat on the park benches. This was a tradition hundreds of years old at least. Now, boys holding hands was another thing that took me some getting used to but it was just a cultural difference. Of course now, LGBTQ realities and outness have caused us all to re-examine our conditioned reactions. Times change.

But, I want to tell you about a very peculiar greeting that occurred by happenstance. The year was 1999. The place was the Philippines. Our daughter Christy was in the Peace Corps for a couple of years and we flew with our son Myles, into Manila to spend 6 weeks seeing what was what. The four of us did a bunch of traveling around to some southern islands and stayed around metro Manila for a week or so but then we flew north. The Batanes Islands are the furthest northern island group in the Philippine archipelago. That’s were Christy’s Peace Corps project was located. First stop was overnight in Tuguegarao, in north eastern Luzon Island.

I’ve got to tell you by Philippine standards I am a BIG guy, both by height and weight. I was like King Kong to them or something. Well, anyway we were transported by Tuk-Tuk to a hotel not far from the airport. When I say airport, don’t get you hopes up. It was a roof and some partitions and a ticket kiosk. Next day was a flight to Basco Batanes. We bought tickets and had a good wait. I mean a good wait.

They didn’t figure they had enough passengers to fly up north the next day so they said maybe tomorrow. Folks, out there in the real world, that’s common. Maybe tomorrow, there’s a lot of that.

So we said, “What if we pay more for petrol? How much more do you need?” See, the shake down is just as common as “maybe tomorrow”. They settled on a price, not so much as we couldn’t swing it. Well, they decided to have a little fun with me.

On the loading floor there was one of those freight scales with a big old Big Ben face. They put me on that scale and that arm starts to swinging and those guys go to acting like they never seen anything that huge and heavy before. We all had a big laugh.

That airplane was maybe a 12 passenger a best. It had duel engines under the wings, and storage at the tail that was netted into the cabin. Those guys rolled out a big old fuel tank on four wheels and they started fueling the plane. I have never seen anything like what they did that day. One guy climbed up on the wing and got the plane to rocking so the fuel went into both wings. Then he took out a chamois skin and placed it in a funnel. The guys down below handed up buckets of fuel that got poured into the funnel. That went on for 45 minutes.

There was a big discussion about weight placement and they put me in the front seat right behind the co-pilot. The flight deck was just a slightly raised platform. We were all in this together. Well, up we went and it seemed like 15 minutes we made a coiled climb too altitude and the plane banked to the north west and off we were across the Babuyan Channel over an endless dotting of volcanic islands.

We were having a great time looking out the windows in that remote area when suddenly the copilot grabbed my big toe. He had reached around his bucket seat grabbing for a map packet and got my toe instead. I don’t know who was more startled , him or me, but we had a big laugh about it, everyone on the plane got to giggling.

When were landing at the Batanes airport the plane dipped low over the ocean and nosed up on the landing strip which was uphill on the side of Mt. Iraya, a volcano. We are always relieved when we land safely.

We rented rooms at Mama Nina’s Guest House in Basco and a few evenings later, we were sitting on our veranda looking out toward the town square. Along came the co-pilot with another flier. Well, he recognized me and we said hello. He leaned into his buddy and told him about the toe incident. I lifted my foot and the buddy came over and shook my toe. Big laughs again. The Filipinos are happy people.

Weeks later we were down in Loag catching a connecting flight to Manila. That plane was maybe a 40 seater, like a DC 3. The windows were all scratched and foggy and the seats had seen better days. The barf bags said “U-Land Flight Services” I thought “ Oh hell no, you guys land, I’m along for the ride.” I still have that barf bag in a drawer.

Up we went and we were flying along and suddenly over the intercom came “Will Mr. Cooper please come forward to the flight deck?” That got me all right, but, up I went. I opened the door and there in the pilot seat was my friend the toe shaker. He’s gets to laughing and telling his co-pilot about meeting me and so, in polite greeting I lifted my foot and the co-pilot shook my toe. Now, isn’t that a very peculiar greeting?

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