The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image

The Left Thumb

Opposable thumbs are a differentiating factor for our glorious race. If you have opposable thumbs and approximately two legs, congratulate yourself for being a human. Bonobos and crickets, for instance, are not so lucky. Neither are ferns or gut bacteria.

It always puzzled me why the opposition of thumbs was such a big deal. I could prepare my morning cereals without a thumb all together. Showering is also possible with a very limited number of fingers, and none of them is required to be opposable. When typing, the thumb could have a lot more optimal angle if it was not opposable. So I envisioned a genetically engineered future human with a non-opposable thumb who would be as happy (and licentious) as a bonobo. A recent ski accident proved to me that opposable thumbs are indeed of practical use.

I successfully disabled my left thumb the following way. Having no knowledge of skiing, I ventured to a piste in Andorra that was marked ‘suitable for beginners’. Somehow skis had been attached to my feet and ski poles to my hands. These latter devices had a loop to go over my wrist, so I would not lose them while tumbling down the mountain.

All was fine in the beginning, but after advancing about a meter and a half, the first fall occurred. This was followed by countless others: the piste was about five kilometres of frozen hell. I was soon able to categorize falls depending on their severity and other characteristics. One type was particularly painful: it always happened when I crossed an icy patch trying to turn right, while my left hand did random things with the ski pole. This lead me to falling over the pole, and, my wrist having a limited range of turning due to the loop across it, at some point during the fall my entire weight was placed on my left thumb in an unholy angle. It was painful first, an it turned into an excruciating suffering in the repeated falls of the same type. I drove back to Barcelona with an immobile and spatially expanded left thumb.

The cursed body extremity would not heal. It remained painful the following day, and the day after, and so on ad aeternum. This gave me a splendid opportunity to discover in which life situations I relied on my left thumb and its ability to oppose.

Dancing, for instance, creates a surprising amount of demand for both the left thumb and its opposition. I had a most disagreeable five minutes dancing a salsa song with a complete beginner girl, who squeezed my hands with all her might. While it is not politically correct to say this, I must add that her proportions were on the large side, which aided her a lot to squeeze hard. Other than this, I would get away without using my left thumb in the style I normally dance salsa, except when I am forced to follow Cuban style. The basic step in Cuban salsa places the opposed left thumb in the girls palm and most of the lead comes from there. An evening of rueda nearly made me ease myself in my sexy salsa pants.

The next sting of pain came in a seemingly innocent situation. The commuter train that takes me to and from work has a button on each door, placing the responsibility of operation on the passengers. This would be fine if the button was sensitive, but it is not. It has the sensitivity of a tennis ball and one has to press real hard to be allowed on board. Furthermore, the surface area provides room only for a single finger. Enter the thumb an its opposable awesomeness. Being right-handed, I did not notice the problem initially. Then one day I had a book with me to read on the train, and the left thumb tried to achieve the magical effect of opening the door. I wept for the duration of the journey.

My conjecture of not needing thumbs for showering was correct. Undressing, however, is a different story, and most people prefer to perform this ritual before showering — myself included. I live in the freezing cold Barcelona, which means many layers of clothes to remove. The garments sealing the upper body from the hazards of the environment pose no problem. Long johns and the hot whitey tighties are, on the other hand, the raison d’ĂȘtre of opposable thumbs: they are impossible to remove without using the thumbs in their opposed magnificence. Pain and anguish are my companion for every shower I take.

With no sign of healing, I surmise I will have to live my remaining time on this planet in unspeakable suffering. I wish I was a bonobo and had not a single worry in life other than engaging in an endless series of spontaneous copulation.