I have three distinct ways to flip someone off perfected through years of practice that began one afternoon in the summer before I turned 5.
“The Finger” is my most commonly used method. My middle finger extends, my thumb settles atop my index finger while my pinky and ring fingers bend out of the way. The full measure of my intent is conveyed with my mouth, from a smile for a joke to a sneer for disdain.
“The Upswing” is my most nonchalant method and begins with sweeping hand flourish bringing the middle finger upward and barely extended. It is often pared with an eye roll to emphasize I care so little this is all the effort you deserve.
The final method, “The Eagle,” is by far my favorite and takes a bit more dexterity so I prefer to flip it after my fingers have been warmed up and stretched. Here, my middle finger is completely erect while my other fingers are bent at the knuckle and my thumb is extended. This can be achieved in one smooth motion of straightening the middle finger while simultaneously sliding the other to a bent position and can be combined with “The Upswing” flourish as desired.
I call this “The Eagle” because it is not just flipping any ole bird, but a beautiful majestic bird of prey soaring above all others. I remember the first time I saw my dad perform this variation of a familiar gesture and thinking it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I was mesmerized as to how his fingers could move in such a precise and effortless way and I knew I was meant to master this movement.
I also knew getting caught while attempting mastery would result in tears, so my practicing would require stealth and smarts. Yet for some reason, I determined the back seat of the car while my mother was driving with a friend was the perfect time; this was neither stealthy nor smart…but it was fun.
As I recall, my mother was driving to a High School reunion of some kind and had brought one of her old classmates along who was studying to be a nun. I remember her being a nun but it could just be that her disapproving look was the same as I would get from the nuns of my future.
I remember the song “American Pie” playing on the radio which had not been released yet so this memory in total bull. I guess over the years I wanted a song that I used to sing at the top of my lungs on various pieces of fraternity furniture to be connected to epic childhood bird flipping. There probably was some song on the radio but I cannot confirm this fact.
The back seat of our car seemed like a giant avocado tufted couch where I could freely play and slide from one side to the other. There were no pesky seatbelts to hold me back at the time. All this space and freedom inspired me to practice the awesome hand gesture I was determined to learn.
At first, my pre-school fingers did not have the muscle control to bend as required so I was forced to use my other hand to place them properly. I opened my hand then bent each finger to where I wanted. I made a fist and extended each finger to the proper placement. I would grimace as my muscles were stretched in unfamiliar ways but knew this pain would be worth it. Eventually, I was able to move my chubby kid fingers without any assistance.
I slid along the backseat, practicing my finger movements and was so overwhelmed with a sense of pride and accomplishment, it seemed a live demonstration was necessary. I moved as close to the window as I could, raised my hand and demonstrated my newly acquired stills to the passing cars while trying to prevent those in the front seat from noticing.
As I flipped off each car, the adults in the other car would laugh and giggle and I am sure express gratitude that I was not their daughter. Each burst of laughter just made me more embolden and brash and I no longer cared who noticed; I was having fun and in a bird-flipping trance. My happy place was interrupted by a horrified shout, “What the hell are you doing?” I don’t recall what kid profanity I said in my head, but it was akin to “Oh crap, I am so busted.”
The nun friend gave me her best disappointment look that I am sure she would use often in the future to scold students and annoy parents. My mother was mortified. Strangers were laughing, her friend was judging and I was now able to flip the bird with skill she only wish she had.
What happened next, I do not recall. I am sure there were the usual empty threats of cars being pulled over or toys being withheld and I am sure nothing really came of it. I didn’t care, I had achieved my goal and now I had a new skill that I would secretly employ during childhood and proudly share as an adult.
On this day, I learned many lessons. Significant life lessons. Not only did I learn a key communication tool, I also learned the importance of goal setting, the value of practice and the sense of accomplishment when achieving one’s goal. I suppose I also inadvertently learned that a nun’s stare could not actually kill you and that would also come in handy later in life. All this learning from perfecting just a simple, useful hand gesture.