Maybe Clark Kent misses them, but I don’t: phone booths. They were a bane in my left-handed life, one of those countless petty irritations left-handed people encounter in a right-handed world. Lots of little things still exist telling me I am left-handed, but only phone booths went out of their way to try and kill me.
Face a phone booth. The receiver is on your left. If you are right handed, you pick up the receiver with your left hand. You won’t be using your left hand for anything else so you might as well find something useful for it to do; holding the receiver is good use. Then with your right hand—the one for which the entire world is designed—you drop coins in the slot, punch numbers on the touch tone pad, complete your call, replace the receiver and put your otherwise useless left hand in your pocket, walking away with a spring in your step, a song in your heart, and a prayer of thanks on your lips that God has not made you like the others, that 10 percent of the population who are left-handed.
But being left-handed in a phone booth hardly ever turns out well.
The left hand picks up the receiver. After that, nothing else works. The right hand becomes something alien and no longer under your complete control. A left-handed person needs the left hand for the coins and the touch pad—that’s how “left-handed” works—but the left hand is holding the receiver.
So, you think, simply shift the receiver to the right hand. But remember, the cord is also on the left and now your right hand is stretching the receiver’s cord across your neck. If you drop a coin and instinctively bend down to retrieve it, you will hang yourself on the cord and there won’t be any right-handed design engineers to care.
So to avoid asphyxiation by phone cord, with the right hand still hanging uselessly at your side, tuck the receiver between left shoulder and ear. While maintaining this awkward pose, use the left hand to put coins in the slot and dial. You must do this without allowing your left arm to tangle itself in the cord while reaching over or under the cord. Otherwise, one slip, and the receiver will dislodge from between shoulder and ear, snap back violently on the cord, and fly up, coiling itself around your neck, smashing into your head, and rendering you unconscious, whereupon you will drop insensibly and hang yourself on the cord.
You are thinking: he’s over-playing this. By response, four words: No, I am not. The only thing I know of in life designed specifically for the left hand is the flush handle on a toilet. I never had a left-handed school desk. I was always counted off for neatness in penmanship because my left hand would drag through the wet ink. Ball point pens are no better. With the right hand, one pulls the pen, gliding effortlessly over the surface of the paper. Using the left hand, it is push, push, punch-a-hole-in-the-paper, push.
I don’t believe design engineers actively design things to kill left-handed people. They just don’t think of left-handed people at all, which works out about the same.
This explains why left-handed people live shorter lives. In any population study weighted for handedness and longevity, the proportion of left-handed people to right-handed people declines from 10 percent among young adults to 1 percent among those in their eighties. By the time that young adult group reaches fifty-years-old, the left-handed portion drops to 5 percent. I’m living on borrowed time.
A possible explanation for early left-handed deaths says that left-handed people experience more accidents than right-handed people. It’s easy to figure out why. Every power tool on the market is built right-handed. That makes for a world of left-handed danger. I carry a six-stitch scar acquired teaching tool safety to my son. Enough accidents eventually will add up to a shortened life.
There are counter-studies with results showing no lifespan disparity between righties and lefties. These, I suspect, were conducted by right-handed researchers.
Even the compliments to left-handedness tend to be, sure, left-handed ones. Lefties seem to excel at “divergent thinking,” embracing a creative, all-voices-heard approach to decision-making. Right-handed people lean to “congruent thinking,” following a particular set of logical steps to arrive at one solution. This is, of course, a roundabout way of saying that left-handers just aren’t logical. Blame for the administration’s Health Care web site, I predict, will fall on left-handed people, like the president.
I thought to seek some biblical affirmation of left-handedness, but even the Bible ignores us. There are only two clear biblical references to left-handed people: Each of them in the Book of Judges, each of them in a military context, and both of them from the tribe of Benjamin. All I got from that was idle curiosity about whether Benjamite handedness could be blamed on nature or nurture. (Some ambidextrous warriors show up in 1 Chronicles but who cares about them?) No, I finally had to settle on a secular right-handed writer with two left-handed daughters. By way of reassurance he tells us, “Plenty of people who are left-handed have led rich full lives.”
I would be happier if he had emphasized “long full lives.” But being left-handed, I’ve learned to settle for what I can get.
Russell E. Saltzman is dean of the Great Plains Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church, assistant pastor of St. Matthew’s Church in Riverside, Missouri, and an online homilist for the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary. His book Speaking of the Dead is nearing completion. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here.