How to Become President: Chapter 9

February 1, 2010


ACCORDING to an old legend, our forefathers first started shaking hands so that the politicians could have only one hand free to pick the voters’ pockets.

That’s silly, if I do say it myself. Smart politicians don’t pick pockets. They take ’em as they come.


On an average campaign tour a candidate shakes hands 400 times a day, thereby expending enough muscular contraction to milk all the cows in Van Buren County. But this would be just as silly as shaking hands. Why should a candidate milk cows when he can appoint his own Secretary of the Treasury?

Charles Evans Hughes set a record of 3,800 handshakes in one day.

That was in 1916 and he hasn’t dared try to shave himself yet. That pumping up and down gets anyone. Even at this early stage, with my own campaign hardly weaned, I can’t pluck my eyebrows and keep my hat on.

Handshakers fall in groups. But not soon enough.

The Kunck Cracker wants to make sure you’re really flesh and blood. He seems surprised when he finds a few bones mixed up in your hand. But he takes care of that. When he gets through, you’re just plain flesh and blood from the elbow down.

The Spoiled Eel is five fingers of jelly stuffed into slightly damp sausage casings. Nothing to be done about this one until they find a way of mailing handshakes with 3-thumb stamps.

The Body Builder. You expect him to strike a stance and throw you over his shoulder. Instead of “Pleased to meet you,” he should open with “Alley-oop!” His speech is a vertical pumping motion, to which you can say subtly, “Prime me, brother,” but it will do you no good.

The Osteopath. His fat hand slithers around yours and manipulates it until you think he was sent by Grauman to get a wax impression. Makes us lady candidates wonder if we shouldn’t have worn a heavier slip.

The Card. This one doubles the second finger of his hand back into his palm, and when you jump he cackles, “Ha, ha. Lost it (A) switchin’, (B) in a dial phone, or (C) reaching for the wrong stack of chips.”

The Personality Boy. Fixes you with a glad glare, and repeats his name so distinctly you think he’s going to spell it. He does. Instead of the more common vibratory motion of the hand, he uses three tugs.

The Grabber. Would be a jitterbug if he could hold still long enough. Seizes both your hands, and whirls you around in a rotarian motion. Very dangerous. Venus de Milo once attended a service-club convention and that’s what wore her off at the elbows.

The Sticker. Usually just finished peeling an orange and has no use for handkerchiefs. Or, more likely, no handkerchief. To break it up, hold both hands and his head under warm water until the bubbles stop coming up.

After you’ve been campaigning for a while, you get so you can shake hands automatically, thus surprisingly a lot of people who were just going to ask you for a match.

Sometimes it’s embarrassing when you do it without thinking.

The other day I was motoring on Sunset Boulevard and a man stuck out his hand, so I took it.

“Fare, lady,” he said.

“You’re no foul ball yourself, big boy,” I said.

“Give me a token,” he said.

“Right here in daylight? With everybody looking?” I said.

He turned out to be a very nice bus conductor. And when I’m President I will make him Superintendent of General Delivery. He’s too big a boy to be playing post office for nothing. And maybe he can stop the practice of selling the worn-out post office pens to hotel writing-rooms.

So now you know, and I will therefore close with a nugget of practical advice: After shaking hands with a Wet, dry your fingers. After a Fascist, count them.


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One comment

  1. Hi folks. I’m working on a book about comedy shows from old time radio and happened upon your Burns and Allen site. Lots of good background info there, but I was even more impressed with all the great photos. Could use some of those if I ever get the book finished. Do you have one source for photos, or do you collect them wherever?

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