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Opposing Thumbs


J.D. Pendry


Most of us make and break New Year’s resolutions, which involve weight loss.  During my gym rat days, it was difficult to get use of a piece of equipment during the first two weeks of the year.  Occupying most of it, especially the ab machines, treadmills and bicycles, were large people clad in brilliantly colored spandex with matching terry cloth sweatbands around their wrists and forehead.  They’d wear dangling earrings, full make up and the new walkman (I imagine it’d be an Ipod now) they received for Christmas.  They’d also be fully perfumed.  If you want to smell something worse than sweaty gym clothes, take a whiff of brilliantly colored spandex (yards of it covering a large sweaty person) saturated with the latest Christmas scent that comes in at two bucks a gallon – particularly if you’re breathing hard from a tough set of bench presses.  Two weeks was about the full run for most weight-loss resolutions.  After that, equipment availability and the air in the gym improved.


This year, I’m taking a different approach to my resolutions.  Only I will know how faithful to them I remain.  Some of you might know too, if you watch closely.


My first resolution for the New Year is devotion to God and family and unequivocal support for my country and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen serving on my behalf around the world.


My second resolution is to have a grander vision for life and myself.  Using the few God-given talents I have, I will reach higher, expect more, attain more and give much of it away.


My third resolution is comprised of several, but are really the same at the core: less cable news, less talk radio, more good music, more writing, more inspirational reading, more fun and a positive focus on what pleases me rather than on what displeases me.


My next resolutions require discussion.


Perplexity prompts this one.  As miniscule as it is, I receive each month a military retirement payment.  I also receive a little bit of money as a federal civil servant.  That makes me a federally funded entity.  As such, is it OK for me to attend church or acknowledge a religious affiliation?  I will not ask the ACLU for legal guidance.  My fourth resolution is to practice freedom of religious choice and freedom of expression no matter where I happen to be sitting and to ignore, not debate those who try to suppress my freedoms.


My fifth New Year’s resolution is to approach sharp kitchen tools with caution.  Explanation that wanders into other topics follows:  Being helpful (women call this being in the way); I thought I’d assemble the food processor for my sweetheart while she was in the kitchen slaving over holiday fare.  Reaching for a blade, I managed to cut off a piece of my thumb.  Not a little cut mind you, but the surgical removal of a piece of thumb meat, which was not my first choice of New Year’s weight reduction plans.  I’m safe with a chain saw, but this unscheduled surgical procedure further convinces me that women should stay in the kitchen and men (especially me) should stay out of it.  Just for effect, I bled across the counter top, all of the assorted food processor parts, some waiting to be chopped food, much of the kitchen floor and all over the sink.  More than an hour later, the emergency room crew finally stopped the bleeding.  I’ve learned that, “How’d you manage that?” is the most popular question of the ER staff when a bleeding, filleted thumb and food processor are mentioned in the same sentence. 


Buttons, zippers, coffee mugs, beer bottles, telephones, remote controls, razors, steering wheels, shoestrings, keyboard space bars and food processors are among things we can’t manage well without thumbs.  Driving left handed down the Interstate, the hand with a useable thumb I pondered this some.  Creationism and intelligent design versus evolution are the theories trying to explain how we came to have thumbs.  One theory insists that humans are intelligently designed or created to be superior to earth’s other critters.  In other words, a super intelligent being engineered us to have opposing thumbs.  The other insists that one morning a few million years ago man awoke and decided if he was to button his shirt, drink beer, drive pick-up trucks and operate the remote control he needed to grow opposing thumbs.  So he did.  Whichever theory works for you, you need to be aware that most of the evolved humans at my workplace claim to have lost finger parts to food processor blades, generally pieces of thumbs.


Does evolution or creationism work best for you?  Creation is at once, but evolution continues.  Doesn’t it?  If it didn’t, then it wouldn’t be evolution.  Would it?  So, if we continue to evolve, why is it we’ve looked the same for all of these years.  Isn’t it logical to think that we’d grow some new and useful body parts?  Maybe a big ol’ thumb for working the remote control or a hooked index finger for pull tabs.  A third arm so we can get all the groceries in one trip during the commercial time-out or smaller ears so that we don’t have to pretend we don’t hear the wife when it’s 3rd and goal.  And, since us men are accused of having one-track minds….


Here’s a thought for you.  If evolution is about the adaptation and survival of the strongest species, why do we get our shorts in a bunch when we hear that there is only one spotted yellow lizard left on the planet?  Doesn’t the theory tell us that’ll happen?  If the lizard was destined to make it, shouldn’t it have had thumbs?  Do you reckon they had little lizard food processors?  It could explain a lot.  I further resolve to avoid discussion of this subject during the New Year.


Finally, I resolve to avoid perilous situations.  Costume malfunctions, boob-boos and Super Bowl halftime come to mind.


Good luck with your resolutions.  Have a safe and prosperous 2005.




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J.D. Pendry is author of The Three Meter Zone, Random House/Ballantine.

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