Thursday, February 19, 2009

Left-handed Commentary...

By Jim Heffernan

I’ve discovered I have something very personal in common with President Barack Obama. We’re both overhanded left-handers. By that I mean not only do we write with our left hands (see him sign the stimulus bill on TV), but we position our pen hand ABOVE the writing.

Got that? Maybe all of you ordinary right-handers have noticed it in some, but not all, left-handed writers. Some left-handers position their wrist and hand below the writing line, like right-handers, which, to me, is cheating.

Once in school – Duluth’s Lincoln Elementary – a high official from the Board of Education came to our classroom, noticed with alarm how I positioned my hand when I wrote, sat right down at my desk with me and tried to get me to change – not change handedness, but to write with my left hand below the writing. It didn’t take. I went right back to my old practice as soon as he went back downtown to do whatever he did when he wasn’t trying to change 8-year-olds’ writing methods.

But back to Obama. There is a problem -- the only one I see in his entire presidency so far (guess who I voted for). He wears his wristwatch on his left – writing – wrist. Check out that TV bill-signing again. There he is, his hand and wrist extended above the bill, with a big wristwatch clunking along behind.

As an older overhanded left-hander, I advise the president to doff the watch on his left wrist and move it to his right wrist, where it won’t get in the way when he’s signing bills. Maybe you’ve noticed that virtually all right-handed people wear wristwatches on their left wrists. Doesn’t it make sense, then, for left-handed people to wear their watches on the right wrist?

It does to me, and I hope the president reads this blog. I’m sure he does.

Obama is too young to have worried about other concerns in being an overhanded left-hander, but I’m not. When I was in school (see above) our desks had inkwell holes, and every so often during Palmer-method penmanship instruction Mr. McKay, the janitor, would show up with a big bottle of ink and fill each little ink well on our desks. Then we would be given pens with pointed tips to dip in the ink and, as best we could, write stuff in artful cursive.

This is not something for an overhanded left-hander to try. With the hand and wrist ABOVE and following the writing, two things happen: The hand gets full of ink, and the writing gets hopelessly smeared. You can tell from the Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson couldn’t have been an overhanded left-hander. If I had written the declaration (I’m not THAT old) we would still be English subjects. Nevertheless, English was my favorite subject in school. Penmanship was not.

The introduction of ballpoint pens (like the Paper Mate Pen, “with the piggyback refill built right in”) in the 1940s saved me, of course, but the early models tended to smear for left-handers anyway.

So here’s the deal: Obama is said to be interested in, and good at, compromise to achieve results satisfactory to most people -- all Republicans being the only exception. In that spirit, I propose that he continue to be an overhanded left-hander but that he switch his watch to his right wrist, which would be a signal to the right that he is willing to compromise on things in general. It would be a subtle message, but it could achieve big results.

As an aside, the late President Gerald Ford was an overhanded left-hander who also wore his wristwatch on his left hand. He was never elected president. (See history: He achieved the presidency by osmosis when Richard Millstone Nixon resigned, then lost an election bid.)

That’s all for today from a right-brained left-winger. Surely you could tell.

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