What’s in A Wave

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(HOST) It’s often said that practice makes perfect and, recently, commentator Ken Sheldon decided to take that advice…with somewhat dubious results.

(SHELDON) I’ve come to the disturbing conclusion that I don’t know how to wave. The other day, on the dirt road near home, I passed a young guy in a truck. He gave me the “farmer’s wave” – one hand barely lifted off the steering wheel, then flopped back down nonchalantly.

This is the way men driving trucks wave. I think the state requires you to learn the farmer’s wave before you can get agricultural plates for your truck. It’s a wave that says, “We understand each other. We are the type of men who change our own oil, cut our own wood and do all those other things that men do.”

I practiced the wave after my neighbor had passed, trying not to lift my hand too jerkily, letting it drift back to the wheel with the calm assurance of a hand that is as comfortable with a hammer or saw as it is with a steering wheel.

Of course, the farmer’s wave is barely acceptable if you are not driving a truck, and no good at all if you’re on foot, unless you really are a farmer. That’s when I realized, I don’t know how to wave. I have been known, for example – and I admit this with some trepidation – to use the “half-butterfly” wave: fingers together, jutting forward and fluttering up and down rapidly. As I drove, I watched myself do this in the rear-view mirror and decided that it is definitely not a wave for a grown man, except, perhaps, when he is waving to an infant. If my farmer friend ever saw me doing the half-butterfly, he’d probably demote me to receiving the “farmer’s nod”, a slight bob of the head that says, “I see you,” and nothing more.

So how does a grown man wave? I tried holding my hand up, palm out and then cocking it to one side the way I’ve seen some men do. But that’s not waving, that’s signing off. Maybe pilots wave that way, or baseball players, but it’s not for me. I tried a traditional wave, hand elevated, fingers spread and wagging back and forth as if I were washing windows. That looked better, but left me wondering how wide an angle one should cover for a proper, everyday wave – a great, wide, overhead swing of the arm, the “Here I am, home from the war!” wave, or a tremulous vibration covering only a few millimeters, the “Hi, you probably don’t remember who I am” wave.

As I practiced, I noticed that some waves have a slight rotation at the wrist, in addition to the back and forth motion. I tried accenting the rotation, but that made me look as if I should have a straw hat in that hand and a cane in the other.

I came to a stop light and a car pulled up next to me. The driver, a young woman, glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, and I realized she had been following me for awhile, probably wondering what the heck I was up to. I tried to salvage my self-esteem by pretending to rub a spot off of my rear-view mirror, using what I hoped was a wave-like motion.

I’m Ken Sheldon from Hancock, New Hampshire.

Ken Sheldon is an author, singer and songwriter.

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