Monday, March 12, 2012

The Sigh

I looked at a lot of photos of Tony Soprano and I didn't find any that showed him exposing the palms of his hands.

You wonder sometimes how a thing gets passed down from your ancestors. Not just your way of dealing with things (do you yell and battle and challenge? Or do you get depressed and bury your head in the sand?) but the gestures you have to express yourself (do you flip the double bird and bare your teeth when agitated. Or do you go into a room and quietly close the door? Click.) Say your ancestors crossed the plains in covered wagons not knowing exactly where they were headed, say the guy driving had a way of squinting one eye while he looked ahead, worrying that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Flash forward 200 years later to you, that guy’s grandson. You are with your fiancĂ© and she is going on and on about something you don’t agree with. As she talks you start to tune out and stare at her mouth moving. You wonder if you might be making a bad decision here and as you watch that mouth moving, your eye starts to squint just like your great grandpa (X1000) in the covered wagon.
Certain gestures come from even further back. When Harry gets excited for example, when I say: Har, tomorrow we’re going to Six Flags… and you can bring a friend… and go on all 17 roller-coasters… and eat sugar and fried food, he starts to shake his hands at the wrist, first slowly, then faster, then faster, until it propels him to walk round and round in a circle. NnnnnGAAAA. ….Monkeys do this.
Cavemen, probably, did it. And now, here, this 10-year-old person is doing it.
I didn’t teach him that.
My grandfather was Italian. Most Italians have held on to every gesture known to mankind, but usually they get a heavy rotation of just one or two in their repertoire. There are many different shrugs, for example, each with a variety of meanings, but the main one is the head-tilt with the shoulders drawn up to the ears, palms to the sky. Italian babies do this as soon as they have control of their limbs. My grandfather’s thing was his sigh. It could mean “I’m exhausted” or it could mean, “You disgust me so much that I can’t talk about it” but the sound was the same. It was the sound a bus makes when it pulls into the station and the air pressure is released, just before the driver opens the door. It is not a sound you make for yourself, it is one for an audience. And it is usually followed by a long, slow shake of the head.
When I see someone do this, some random person in the grocery store or at the Y, I think: my people.

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