“Sorry, ah…buff.”

I often have conversations with Brent (yes, Brent Limos) during downtime at work. We talk about sports, pop culture, our families, and generally anything but work. It was in the middle of one of these conversations that Brent reminded me of something I had long forgotten, something from my high school days. I could not stop laughing. I know how comedy works. It can often be difficult to understand and appreciate the humor of a situation if you weren’t there. Also, jokes are exponentially less funny the more you have to explain them. As such, this entry is almost totally for my own entertainment.

I was sitting in Brent’s office yesterday when a 1997 graduate walked in. He’s thinking about sending his child to Damien for the next school year. He and I vaguely remembered each other, having attended the school at the same time. The conversation drifted from current issues to a trip down memory lane starting with the Mitsuken breakfast. “And if I had extra money,” he said. “I’d get the garlic chicken.” I could see the memories flood him. Brent then reminded him of something that used to happen with incredible frequency at Damien – the same thing he reminded me of – and for split-second he squinted. Then we could see it in his face. He remembered, too.

Today, the word “thick” is pronounced with a silent “H” to describe a person as muscular. There are other words – swole comes to mind – but generally, t(h)ick is the term of choice. This was not so in the ’90s, however. Buff was the prevalent word used to (kind-of) compliment a friend who had obviously been lifting. If you are too young to believe me, I submit as proof of Buff‘s place of prominence in popular culture the WCW wrestler Buff Bagwell, whose entire gimmick centered on him being…well, buff.

*squeezes* "Sorry, ah...buff."

*squeezes* “Sorry, ah…buff.”

Basically, a muscular guy would be assailed by friends in this way. A guy could be standing at his locker and his friend would descend on him and squeeze his arm. Sorry, ah…buff. A guy could be sitting in a desk doing his work and his friend would slide up behind him, then massage both traps with two hands. Sorry, ah…buff. A guy could be walking back to his table in the cafeteria carrying his teri-combo and a friend would walk right up to him and poke him in the chest. Sorry, ah…buff. To see this in print is not funny at all, but if you were at Damien in the middle-90s, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Incorrect form.

Incorrect form.

Correct form.

Correct form.

The entire thing is equal parts nostalgia and textbook Damien humor. When Brent reminded me of it, it was as if a huge memory block had been removed and all it came rushing back. We laughed about how there seemed to be key underpinnings for each incident: the apology was always uttered in the high pitch and soft volume, and was completely insincere; the guy getting harassed always pulled away violently and always reacted with false humility: “Nah, not even, look at you!”; in the attempt to steer attention away from himself; if you were going for a chest poke, it could never be a single finger, it had to be a full-fingered straight-handed jab to the pec. Why would you apologize for a someone else’s physique? The line sounded like a compliment – it was really something closer to a guilt trip – but why would you make a guy feel bad for working hard? Most of all, this happened all the time. “There was a whole lot of squeezing and a whole lot of apologizing going on,” Brent said. He’s right.

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