Steven Ivory

* “…And I said, ‘I don’t have one, but from the looks of things here, you sure the hell do!'”  

With that gleeful windup, the portly, graying, blonde 40-something chiropractor raised his hands in front of  his grinning,  round, expectant  face, his palms opened  toward me in the position people assume when they’re being robbed.

Begrudgingly, I sat my Guinness down on the bar  to accommodate the stranger yet again, with both hands, no less.  He hadn’t been sitting there five minutes.  

I’m not a high five man. Actually, I’m not a five person,  period. But I’m especially not a high five guy.

Before you accuse me of taking the  J out of joy, please understand that  I like to have good time.  I love to laugh. I like to  celebrate.  I can be downright silly. And to be sure, I do stuff people don’t care for. For example, when I want to make a point, I  tend to repeat things.  I’m working on that.  

But to have someone  say or do something they declare a big deal and then want to high five is annoyance on another level.  Color me petty.          

I don’t have anything against people who five.  I just don’t  like  being coerced  into doing it. Fivers  raise  their  hands  and then look to you to participate, whether you want to or not. It’s intrusive and  it’s corny, which is a real drag, because there was a time when the five used to be cool.  

Dating back to the ’40s and even earlier,  it was used as a soulful  expression of  camaraderie and affirmation between jazz  musicians, artists, creative types and the just plain ol’ cool.   The gesture  was the language of  Beatniks during the ’50s and a fixture of both  1960s Black Power and  the hip, happenin’ bell-bottom-clad 1970s.  The five was a hallmark of the so-called blaxploitation movies of the era.

Back then, the five  was administered with one hand and LOW, not high, because  the very nature of the action was about cool. Who the hell would give somebody a high five and risk breaking into a sweat or disrupting the well-being of a lavender double-knit shirt?     

It figures then that the high five, which required more energy, would evolve during the playing of sports. Depending on what you read, baseball’s Dusty Baker performed the first high five in the late ’70s with Glenn Burke when both played for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Others claim  Lamont Sleets first high fived while playing college basketball in the ’60s.  

And then  white folks got their hands on the five and turned it into a  hootenanny.  Not all of them;  just  the ones looking for something to deem them “cool.”  For them, the  high five was perfect–it didn’t require rhythm or necessitate   they be able to pull off a leisure suit in lime green in mid July.  To be hip, they only had to  enthusiastically slap palms. These are the people who turned the five into Whoo-Hoo.  

I don’t condemn the high five itself.  I think there should be high fives at sporting events,   birthday parties,  the celebration of a new job  or a new car. Perhaps when a laxative finally kicks in.   

But not after sex,  not during a funeral and not in the middle of divorce court proceedings. I’ve heard of high fives happening in all those places.

Babies who can’t yet talk  can high five.  You see them in their designer strollers at the mall food court,  being  wheedled  by prideful, insistent parents into showing off for a stranger the way Spot is coaxed into extending a paw: “High five the lady, Catlin…C’mon…gonna DO it? Up top, sweetie….”   

There ought to be laws prohibiting  a child being taught to five or high five before they are old enough to decide whether  they actually want to be a person who fives.   Children grow up to  face enough challenges in life without also having to undo a compulsion to give five.

Yet, since the late ’70s up to the present, uncool people of all hues and backgrounds have nearly completely stripped the five of its original social distinction. They high five  for anything, anywhere.  They high five on “Family Feud.”  Some genius recently  launched a  mandate to establish an annual  National High Five Day.  

Occasionally–depending on how many times in a week someone raises their hands to me with that look–I feel like I’m trapped in a remake of either “Night of  the Living Dead” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”  Except in my version of those flicks,  the zombies also High Five. Incessantly. For  any and reason or no reason at all.

And they take over the minds of martini-sipping chiropractors like the one who sat on  the  stool to my left.  I  was  busy contemplating  whether I’d simply endure my man’s penchant for palm slapping or chug my brew and move on, when two women walked into the bar and  sat to the right of the fiver.

Among the three of them,  I counted seven high fives inside of  thirty minutes before I could  no longer bear the sound of slapping skin.  I paid my tab and slunk off, all the way home checking  my rear view mirror for flying saucers and the undead.     

Steven Ivory is a journalist/author who has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years.  Respond to him via [email protected]