26. Left Handed and Proud

by H. W. Moss

Between ten and 13 percent of the population is left-handed, depending on which statistician you accept. I always thought it was 20 percent. Whatever it is, I’m one of them. However, a frightening statistical anomaly has been discovered which states: Lefties don’t live as long as righties. Those who play with numbers put the difference at nine years.

There are many theories as to why this is, but few refute or challenge the idea. Well, they should.

After all, many people question why a left handed person is. Left handed, that is. Some say it has to do with early or late-term birth. Chimpanzees are the source of this theory which claims chimp “babies were more likely to favor their left hands due to hormonal fluctuations, birth trauma and other developmental instability associated with first and later pregnancies.”

I don’t believe the short life span theory or the pre-natal selection of left over right theory. I do believe it is a right hander’s world and that could be dangerous, especially if you are a left handed jet fighter pilot stationed on an aircraft carrier and tend to veer the wrong way in a reactionary situation.

It has to do with childhood, not genetics, and is as simple as which eye is dominant. We are not typically aware of our dominant eye. Of course, that suggests that right eyeness exists. And, it would follow, right eyeness should exist with the exact same proportion in the population as left handedness does. I don’t believe anyone has made such a study, but I would like to see it done.

Hand preference is known as “paw preference” in mice.

Enzymes are the building blocks of life on our planet. Proteins are comprised of enzymes. Enzymes have been found in meteorites. The extra-terrestrial enzymes are “left handed” compared to the same enzyme on our planet which is “right handed.” They are the same, but different. Louis Pasteur first noticed this in tartar crystals found in wine barrels. When he produced the same crystals in the lab he got both left handed and right handed, unlike what he found in the barrels which were all right handed. He called them this because they looked the same but were as different as a human’s hands.

Once you realize you are left handed, you generally try to buck it. After all, you are young, have developed little individuality and generally try to do things the way your peers do, such as follow a trend. Alternatively, you embrace the sinistral because you are young and have developed a mighty ego which insists on doing things its way, even if no one else holds a fork or writes with their left hand.

However, we are all under the influence of our time and place. For example, when I was in elementary school no other kid could show me how to hold a baseball bat left handed. So I learned to swing a bat right handed. I still throw with my left hand, kick left footed, but ride a skateboard right footed. Again, because no one showed me what the other way was. By the way, left footedness among skateboarders is known as “a goofy foot.”

I cannot use a left handed scissors. I learned in kindergarten how to cut paper with one of those dull-edged round-ended things they issue people living in an asylum. I learned how to make a regular old right handed scissors work in my left hand. It’s a pinching technique. Years later, a thoughtful girlfriend gave me a left handed scissors. It never leaves its leather sheath.

On the other hand (ha, ha) I am a cook. I worked my way through school flipping burgers and never once, not in all those years of bouncing around from one restaurant to another, to my girlfriends’ kitchen stoves nor at home did it ever occur to me I was in need of a left handed spatula. Years later, another girlfriend bought me just such a device and I have become a convert. In fact, I am a proselyte on this subject: If you are left handed and you cook, you MUST try a left handed spatula. It works!

Lefties are called “sinistral” which means left handed, but it comes from the same Latin root as “sinister” which actually means “on the left side, unlucky, inauspicious” and the archaic meaning of which is unfavorable or unlucky. Which leads to the logical question with respect to the Italian proverb, “Unlucky at cards, lucky at love,” is that just the reverse for lefties?

There are many left handed terms in our language. I read the “Left Handed Dictionary” when I was a teenager. It has definitions in it for things like “fraction of a second”: That instant of time between the changing of the light to green and the honking of the horn by the car behind you.

And then there is the phrase “paying someone a left-handed compliment” which means to insult that person.

Lefties have four or five distinct but unorthodox pen holding grips. There’s the knuckle ride, the thumb ride, the two-finger over-ride, the curved wrist clutch and then there’s mine, a mirror image of a righty holding a pen. That’s because, despite being sinistral, I was lucky.

Penmanship is execrable in most lefties. I was lucky because in second grade the teacher stood over me and actually figured out how a lefty would make circles with those graphite pencils. Trouble was, the side of my palm was messy from gliding over the graphite as it was penciled into the paper in the wrong direction. Righties and lefties move from left to right when they compose in English. But right handed people move away from the ink whereas left handed people move right into what they have just written. There is no help for it short of learning how to hover when you scribble. Or type. That’s clean.

Among famous lefties, they say Jack the Ripper was left handed. Since they never caught him, this fact must be based on forensic analysis of the victim’s wounds. Just how advanced was the forensics which determined this in 1888?

There are a number of things that are really meant for righties and do not work well for left handed people. For example, most push brooms, squeegees and paint roller handles all have right turning threads. Lefties naturally unscrew these while using them and the handle literally comes off in your hands. Or else it loosens to the point where it is not functioning properly. Formal dinners, like Thanksgiving or Christmas and some restaurants, set out table place settings with their best flatware. One among these is the silver butter knife. A butter knife in this type of setting is not straight. It is short and has a jiggy in it, a bend that puts the blade ahead of the right hander’s hand. Not so for lefties. A leftie using such elegant dinnerware invariably crams a knuckle into the butter.

Left handedness does have a peculiar handicap all its own. Paul Nathan is a magician and left handed.

“I learned how to deal cards left handed,” he explained. “A left-handed card mechanic or card sharp learning from a book or from someone else who is right handed has to reverse the instructions. This is something that is nothing but dexterity and you have to learn everything upside down and backwards.”

Jimmie Hendrix and Paul McCartney are both left handed guitar players.

I mentioned to someone who is left handed that it is considered “abnormal.” She replied, “Good. I don’t like being normal.” I had to agree with her. I prefer the difference. That’s why they call us Southpaw.

Any list of famous left-handers should include:

Bill Clinton
George Bush
Ronald Regan
Lenny Bruce
Whoppie Goldberg
Robert Redford
Charlie Chaplin
Albert Einstein
Judy Garland
Goldie Hawn
Prince Charles
Robert DeNiro
Benjamin Franklin
Marilyn Monroe
Richard Pryor
Bruce Willis
Queen Victoria
Oprah Winfrey
David Letterman
Alan Greenspan

Obviously, we are in good company.