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The plight of the left

Meredith L. Cohen

Twenty-three days remain until my birthday, but unfortunately the date which I anticipate more eagerly is still 132 days away. Aug. 13 is Left-Handers Day, the only 24-hour period each year in which the 10-12 percent of us in the world born left-handed can rise up without shame against the oppressive right-handed global regime. One study suggests that handedness is determined based on a gene-and-environment cocktail. Some researchers postulate that left-handers have a similar-handed relative, even though a specific chromosome has never been identified. Another theory claims that left-handed tendencies form in the womb or even sooner. Brain damage from trauma in the delivery room is a relatively new hypothesis explaining left-handed dominance, although it wouldn’t apply to me. My dad really wanted a son so although I was a source of disappointment from the time of my first breath, my team of psychologists has never conclusively determined that I underwent any sort of trauma at that moment. Nevertheless, I’m not in the clear, as trauma can strike left-handers at any point while journeying from the cradle to the grave. According to statistics, it wouldn’t necessarily be a waste of time for me to start digging my grave now. On average, right-handed people live nine years longer than lefties. In fact, 2,500 left-handed people die each year using products designed for right-handed people.Thankfully power tools and meat-slicers play insignificant roles in my daily routine; otherwise I would be way more likely than 88-90 percent of the population to lose a digit. But lefties are also more prone to breaking bones, having allergies, suffering from depression, schizophrenia, sleeping disorders and developing alcoholism, dyslexia and repetitive strain injury. Basically, my future is bleak. Not so long ago, Catholic nuns in many American elementary schools used rulers to whack the wrists of left-handed students. Politically correct child endangerment laws presumably put an end to that practice, but the big guy upstairs clearly prefers righties, as evidenced in the Bible. Matthew 6:3 says “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth.”Left-handed bias isn’t limited to the church. Frowns will be cast in my direction simply for eating with my left hand if I ever travel to India or Indonesia. I’ll never learn to write Chinese (and not just because I have enough trouble with the English language) – apparently its characters are especially difficult for lefties. At one time, being married to a left-handed woman was grounds for divorce in Japan. Muslim nations forbid the left hand, which is considered dirty, from contacting any body parts above the waist. Eskimos used to think of lefties as sorcerers. Etymologists also harbor left-handed prejudices. The American Heritage Dictionary of the New Millennium defines “left-handed” as “awkward,” “maladroit” and “of doubtful sincerity.” Roget’s New Millennium Thesaurus, First Edition, offers several synonyms for “left-handed,” including “clumsy,” “backhanded,” “careless,” “heavy-handed” and “hypocritical.” The Italian word “sinistra,” which means both “sinister” and “left,” comes from a Latin root which was originally defined as “left” but has morphed into “evil” and “unlucky.”Still, despite the name calling and mutilation risks, life isn’t doom and gloom 24/7 for port-sided people. Economists at the University of Dublin say left-handed men earn four to five percent more per hour than their right-oriented co-workers (unfortunately for women, the opposite is true). Researchers consistently find that lefties fare particularly well in tennis, baseball, swimming and fencing. Neil Armstrong gave southpaws on Earth and beyond a morale boost when he stepped on the moon with his left foot first. Four of the five original designers of the Macintosh computer were left-handed, as are polar bears and Kermit the Frog. Lefties adjust more readily to seeing underwater (hey, it could be useful. Aquaman, anyone?).A myth persists that southpaws are more artistic, and, according to the UK-based Left-Handers Club, generally more intelligent, imaginative, multitalented and better-looking than righties. Research France’s University of Montpellier II released last week showed left-handed people have an advantage during combat, which, of course, lefties everywhere have known since 1976 when Rocky took down Apollo Creed with a surprise left hook in the first round at the Philadelphia Spectrum.In spite of our fighting, creative spirits, moments remain when the left-handed hardships are seemingly never-ending. The minor but irritating obstacles faced daily by lefties include poorly designed scissors, right-handed desks, binders and spiral-bound notebooks, a limited selection of baseball gloves, supermarket and bank pens Krazy-Glued flush right to every surface, corkscrews that turn the wrong way, permanent ink smudges on our hands, computer mice forever affixed keyboard-right, wristwatches with stems on the wrong side and anything with a pre-molded grip. But as lefties have risen up and demanded equal rights (if only Al Sharpton were a southpaw), the market for left-handed products has slowly expanded. For instance, most left-handers probably thought they’d never see the day when they could buy a boomerang which, when thrown with the right hand, will dive directly into the ground. However, redemption is now ours for $27.91 for the Left Hand Boomerang 24-inch Skyrider on anythingleft-handed.co.uk. Rome wasn’t built in a day and there’s no way we’re giving up ours on Aug. 13.Meredith Cohen would love (almost) nothing more for her birthday than to watch a right-handed person attempt to use a can opener designed for lefties. E-mail questions or comments to meredith_cohen@hotmail.com


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