The Left Stuff

By John Powers

Call them southpaws, call them doomed - better yet, call them directionally challenged…

-Dedicated to Rich P. -Pan

We are sinister and gauche. The Japanese once shunned us. The Good Books - the Bible, the Torah, the Koran - lump the worthless and undesirable on the left side. We are the children of the devil: Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, Julius Ceaser, Marilin Monroe, Norman Schwarzkopf, Billy the Kid, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, Jack the Ripper and me. Sinistrals, all - simply because we're lefties.

An estimated one in ten humans use the left hand. But that ratio is even lower if you count those who've been changed over to righties. "Changed over" is a euphemism, of course, for humiliated and mocked. "More than once I have beaten," Ben Franklin, the old southpaw, confessed, "for being awkward and wanting a graceful manner."

In the old days, parents and teachers tied our left hand behind us. Today, right-handers are content to turn our lives into inside-out obstacle courses, timed by clocks that run from left to right. We arise and struggle into clothing that buttons and zips the wrong way. We risk scalding ourselves by using shower handles that turn clockwise. We live in a world where almost anything - can openers, frying pans, refrigerators - is made for dextrals.

Those on God's left hand don't get a hearing on Judgement Day, according to Matthew, Chapter 25: "Then shame, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."

Witches, having made a pact with the devil, were thought to be sinistrals. We lefties will never get to sit at the right hand of the Father. We'd bump elbows with him.

You think Charlie Chaplin WANTED to be a cinematic clown? He was a promising violinist, but no one would let him join an orchestra because he would have whacked his neighbor in the chin.

Being a lefty is actually an advantage in tennis - lefties mess up righties to a fare-thee-well - and baseball (unless you want to play second, third or short, where a right-hander can make a one-motion throw to first base). It's a shorter run for a left-handed batter from home plate to first base, and lefty pitchers, facing first, have an easier time holding runners from stealing second. The Hall of Fame is a sanctum of sinistral batters - Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, with Reggie Jackson and Wade Boggs sure to follow.

A couple of scientists from the West Coast wrote a letter last year to the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, claiming that righties live nine years longer than lefties. Lots of their colleagues believe they're wrong, but I think those Loft Coasters are on to something.

Driving a stick shift anywhere in the world, with a few exceptions, is, for a sinistral, tantamount to being on death row. Every potentially lethal household tool, from oyster knives to power drills, is made for righties. If lefties do go six feet under nine years early, it's because we whittle ourselves down with chain saws.

Languages are no more forgiving. In Anglo-Saxon, LYFT meant weak and useless. In French, left is GAUCHE, meaning ugly, uncouth, bashful. In German, it's LINK - clumsy, awkward. In Spanish, IZQUIERDO means not only left, but crooked. The verb form means to lose your good sense or judgement. If you operate NALYEVO, on the left, in Moscow, you're a black marketeer. In Rome, the ZONA SINISTRATA is a disaster area.

In America, if you have two left feet, they give you a left-handed compliment if you do anything right. If you get left out entirely, to what do you appeal? The Bill of Rights? That's why, in 1975, some sinistrals from Topeka Kan., founded Left-Handers International. This organization sponsors International Lefthanders Day (August 13) and puts out a catalogue offering 130 properly oriented products, from scissors to corkscrews. The group also fights for the rights (or lefts) of the directionally challenged.

We need people like that who tell our side of the story. After all, sinistral factoids abound. If you peer up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, you'll see God touching Adam's left hand. He put the heart on the left side of the body. The Hebrews and Arabs write right to left. The Boy Scouts - those trustworthy, loyal, brave, clean and reverent types - shake with their left hands. And then, of course, there's Paris, where everyone worth knowing lives on the Left Bank.

We sinistrals need to challenge some basic human assumptions. Why should the left hand have to know what the right is doing? Why should we have to raise our right hand to take an oath? Why do we have to know right from wrong? If we lived south of the equator, where things go OUR way, maybe things would be different.

But there is at least one small town in our country where we can feel at home: Left Hand, W. Va. There's lots of elbow room in Left Hand, I'm told, and they can use new arrivals. The population is only about 600. They say the economy has eliminated some former Left Handers, but we know better. It's those right-handed electric knives.