Thumbing a Ride Through March

by Calendar Hacksaw

My neighbor Andrei is a carpenter by trade, and has probably cut and nailed more boards in a single week than I could in a lifetime. He's in his mid-30s now, married to the lovely Nicoleta, and they are expecting their first child this month. An immigrant, Andrei earned his "stripes" by serving three years behind barbed wire after a foiled attempt to escape his homeland back when the Communists were holding court. As neighbors go, Andrei and Nicoleta are fine ones, and I plan on keeping them for awhile. Especially Nicoleta.

One day in January, Andrei was busy on the job when his right hand lost track of what his left hand was doing--or vice versa--and faster than a minister can leave town he drove a worm-drive saw clean through his thumb. Well, not "clean," actually; the truth be known, he ripped that sucker clear to threads and then some. By the time he was done, only the sausage factories were bidding.

Alone at the time, he drove himself to the emergency room, trailing 50% of his blood behind his F-250 in the process. A team of doctors engaged in nine hours of micro-surgery, but in the end the best they could do was construct a "nub" where the mighty thumb had once resided.

If you're like ol' Calendar, you probably don't view the loss of a thumb or finger to qualify as a "life-shaping" event. Of course, if you're like me, you probably still have all 10 digits (21, counting toes). But believe me, this is a big deal for Andrei, forcing some changes in his life that he wasn't prepared for just now. Just for starters, the baby's due any day, and he's not supposed to return to work for at least six months.

Losing thumbs and fingers is pretty common in certain industries and cultures. Some Japanese like to sever a finger or two just to protest government policies. The oil fields, fishing trawlers and horse ranches have also claimed their share. Why, I recently read an article about a Texas border town where the locals can easily spot an outsider just by counting his digits. And then they kill him.

Ol' Betty pointed out to me that her cousin is missing both thumbs; a fact I had apparently overlooked during our three-decade relationship. And when I observed that a mutual friend had seemingly done quite well without his thumb, Betty expressed surprise as well, having never noticed it before. So it would seem that being one or two appendages short of a full pair of gloves doesn't rank too high on the "Hacksaw Scale of Noticeable Deficiencies," landing somewhere between "male pattern baldness" and the scar left by a .38 caliber entrance wound. In fact, I should think it would come with a certain amount of "bragging rights."

Of course, losing a thumb means Andrei will have to make some adjustments. For starters, hitchhiking through England would be out of the question. But one must look on the bright side. My old friend Casey down in Tucson Town recalls a conversation he had with his father-in-law after the old man had a race car liberate his right index finger.

"Good thing it was your right hand," Casey observed.

"Why do you say that, you idiot?" the old man retorted.

"Because if it had been your left hand, you would have had to learn a new way of chording your guitar, which would have been pretty difficult with only three fingers."

"Hmm, I hadn't thought about that," said the old man, thinking about that.

Then there's my old friend Grubb up north of here (see "The Sticky Hickey," September, 1997), who recalled an instance at the junior high school when 13-year old Jordy fired up a rickety old table saw while the teacher was momentarily teaching, and promptly whacked off an index finger. Jordy recovered to become a fine high school basketball player, though he had to do his "high-fives" in two installments. And on those rare occasions of victory, when the other members of the squad held up their index fingers and shouted, "We're Number One!," Jordy was reduced to holding up the next best digit he had to work with, much to the chagrin of his parents and the cheers of the crowd.

From a few hours up the Valley from here, ol' Mike checks in to remind me of a tale I heard long ago. I'll let him tell you himself:

"In the mid-60s, hops were a major crop in the Sacramento region. One hop farmer and inventor had designed a specialized machine for harvesting hops. The machine looked like one of those kinetic sculptures--whirling arms, spinning baskets and a Rube Goldberg conveyor system. There was much publicity about this new machine and the press turned out in force to see the first actual harvesting. With cameras rolling, the farmer started up the machine and it promptly lopped off his head."

Andrei is still a young man with a full life ahead. He might take comfort in the early reports that a team of surgeons at the University of Louisville successfully transplanted an entire hand to benefit a fellow who let go of an M-80 a tad too late. Would it be worth it to transplant a thumb or finger? That question is best left to potential recipients. But speaking for Betty and me, don't be surprised if we just don't notice the change, before or after.

Calendar Hacksaw's e-mail addresses are <> and <> and he'd love to hear from you if you're happy with the new "661" area code. He chose it because Walker Basin is "No. 1" and that's what "661" translates to on your telephone keypad.

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