October 28, 2008

Evolution’s Mistake

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On the spectrum of human deformities, mine are pretty minor. Besides the numerous mental defects my editor, Peter Finocchiaro ’10, tells me I have on a daily basis, I also am afflicted with a condition that we medical doctors describe as “toe thumbs.”
[img_assist|nid=33013|title=Toe Thumbs!|desc=Rebecca Weiss ’09 compares hands with Sun Eclipse Editor Leigha Kemmett ’10. Note that her thumb is freakishly small in comparison to Leigha’s.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
I didn’t know I had this birth defect until the summer after my freshman year of high school, when I lived in the Spanish city of La Coruña on a program from my school with probably 30 other kids. Though I was two years younger than exactly everyone (I was as precocious as your pick of J.D. Salinger characters), two cabrons in particular took me under their wings and taught me the glories of underage drinking and other foreign country activities. I’d wager pesetas with Trey and Tyler over all kind of trivia — Tom Hanks DID get nominated for an Oscar for Saving Private Ryan, and Peter Gabriel WAS in Genesis — and I’d always have more money at the end of the day than when I started, and Tyler would always respond with some ridiculous non-sequitor insult when I took his money. “Whatever, n00b, you have toe thumbs.”
Toe thumbs?
“Yeah. It’s like God messed up and put your toes on your hands. You’re just lucky they’re opposable.” I looked down at my hands and compared them to Trey’s, and Tyler was right. My thumbs are extra diminutive. The proportion of thumb to finger was way off. Fantastic, now I was going to have to wear gloves year-round.
When I got home I asked my 18-year-old brother, also a medical doctor, why he had normal thumbs and I didn’t. He told me that when he was a freshman at prep school, some kid got his thumb broken in a fight and it never grew again. I don’t remember getting my thumbs crushed in any fights over my burger allowance on Tuesday “hot food day” at the In-n-Out Burger truck (the California version of lunch money). Also, let’s be real. I was probably the thumb-crusher in that scenario anyway.
I definitely didn’t break my thumbs in any tetherball accidents. I was, and am, a tetherball master. If tetherball were an Olympic sport, Michael Phelps and his freakish man-fish body would be eclipsed by me and my freakish neanderthal-girl thumbs.
In my toe thumb rehabilitation, I’ve discovered I can still be a functioning member of society, even given my horrible disfiguration. I can feed and dress myself and I can go to school. Though I don’t do any of those things particularly well, my toe thumbs are not to blame. On the other, non-disfigured hand, I have noticed that there’s one thing I just can’t do anymore. During the consultation with my brother, I thought of that famous joke where the guy asks the doctor, “Can I play the piano anymore,” and the doctor says, “of course you can,” but the guy never could in the first place — oh, that’s rich. So I asked Ben if I could play the piano. “No.” he said. “Of course not. Look at you. It’s a wonder you can hold a fork. Now fetch me my hacky sack and count how many times I can bounce it before it drops.”
I used to be fairly musically gifted. It went along with my other gifts for math, spelling and arrogance. I played the piano and shredded on the clarinet. My teachers told me that if I even pretended I cared, I could have actually been pretty good, but those days I was more interested in marine biology and Littlest Pet Shop. When I finally realized the virtues of musical dexterity, well, apparently my thumbs stopped growing, and quite possibly shrunk instead. But I was determined.
I looked up a music teacher in The Palo Alto Weekly classifieds and bought a ton of songbooks. I showed up at this classical composer’s house and handed him a book that said Cold­play, and his face contorted like way too many of my friends after way too many Key­stones.
But he took the book, sat me down and began to reteach me the basics of reading music and hand placement. “Oh,” he said. “Well, if you can type on a computer with those then I guess you can compensate on the piano somehow.”
After 12 weeks of grueling practice and false hopes — like when I got “thumb enlarging” device advertisements in my inbox — I could successfully plunk out the notes to three lesser enjoyable Coldplay songs and several remedial piano jingles. I’ve still got hope though. You can’t love music as much as I do (I’m sure I love music more than I will love any children I may have in the future) and not be able to play it. I’d rather bruise what’s left of my phalanges.
I just find it ironic that I live in the one town I’ve ever known to have handicapped parking meters and I am not permitted to use them. Seriously, people need to stop discriminating against my people. My “feet for hands and hands for feet” people.