HANDS ( or my Mutant Thumbs) OFF!


I’ve always wanted nice hands. Long tapered fingers, unblemished skin—for as long as I can remember, I’ve gazed longingly at friends with elegant paws and wondered what it’s like to possess such perfect, pleasing appendages. Wrapped around wineglasses or outstretched to receive a kiss, tapping away at a laptop in a cafe or reaching down to pet a cute dog—beautiful hands are always a treat.

My hands? Effective tools, mostly, and givers of strong massage, but never a treat to behold. Survivors of a thousand hasty, glove-less dishwashings, check. Recipients of paper cuts, cat scratches, and a particularly nasty skin crack that returns each winter with breathtaking pain? Check. Dry skin—my friend Louis calls me “the ashiest white woman he’s ever seen”—that resists even the richest, most expensive moisturizers? Check MATE.

I know what you’re thinking…why don’t you take better care of your hands? You’re a jewelry designer, after all…Bedecked in your favorite rings, showcasing your latest designs, a couple manicures a week and some paraffin would be a game-changer, right?!

WRONG. How I wish it were that simple—but alas, the problem with my hands is not a superficial issue of unguents and care. No, even were I to wear Vaseline and socks 24/7 and handle myself with the grace of a ballet dancer I still would not have nice hands, and this is because of THE THUMB.

All the women in my family have THE THUMB. THE THUMB may go by other names, but it is not sweet as a rose. Lightbulb. Toe-Thumb. E.T. Tennis Racket. Mutant. Whatever you call it, it remains the same—short, stubby, bereft of a proper space between it’s second knuckle and nail, club-like and inelegant in the extreme.

Remember wearing Lee Press-On-Nails as a kid? Me too—especially the centimeter of my thumbnail that stuck out on either side of those narrow beauties. Ever seen a python digesting an antelope? That’s what my thumb looks like in leather gloves—a sodden, tragic lump stuck inside a sinuous tube. Enjoy eating your Ramen with chopsticks? Me too—if only my Thumbelinas could hold them securely. My friend Paul thought I was drunk-texting him because I’d have to re-type a simple message 5 times:

“ugh i meanthosmm!”
“damnoyt THANBYOU”

…until I explained to him that my thumbs type 5 letters at a time, and that I haven’t touched alcohol in years. I’m not drunk texting, I’m THUMBTEXTING, which looks about the same.

You’re probably thinking, “Wow, what horrible bad luck! It’s not life or death, but boy you sure got hit by a (short) bolt of lightning!” Only I didn’t. This was no accident, no twist of fate, no randomly assigned character-building flaw. Nope, my thumb is actually an inherited trait—or, as I like say, Entirely My Mother’s Fault.

From my mother I inherited green eyes, a love of independence, some really fancy tablecloths and micro thumbs.  You know how Natural Selection breeds out maladapted heritable traits over time, leaving organisms with mutations best suited to their survival? Yeah, well Darwin never saw our thumbs. Our mini-digits stubbornly buck millions of years of Evolutionary Theory, refusing to be ignored OR improved.

To add insult to injury (a thumb in yer eye!), mine are the smallest—between my mother, my sister and myself my thumbs truly are the runts of the litter. Then again, at least I get to pluralize that sentence. Sadly, the Matriarch of our Thumb Dynasty has one regular size thumb, and one BabyThumb. Mine might be munchkins, but I do have a matching pair.

My Mother's Thumb(s)

I should mention that that my other career is as a commercial actress—which means I sell things on TV with my voice, face, and hands. Well, scratch that last one. Some casting notices specify “should have nice hands”—at which point I politely decline the call, and occasionally have to text a photo of my thumb to my agent to remind them what we’re dealing with:

My Agent: “of course you should go! I’m sure they’re not that bad!” 

Me: “photo of thumb”

My Agent: “You should not go. They are very bad”

A simple profile shot of my (ever-so-skillfully camouflaged) thumb presenting the product in a wide-to-medium shot? That I can handle— but when the client is hoping to save themselves 10k by not hiring a hand model, Sissy Hankshaw can’t roll up to the casting.

Ok, maybe it doesn’t help that when I am not acting in commercials or designing and making jewelry (have you ever watched a jeweler’s saw sink into your own flesh? bc I have) I’m rescuing cats out of vacant lots in Brooklyn—not exactly a hand-friendly activity. In springtime and summer I’m usually gardening out on my terrace — funny how banged up your hands can get just re-potting a few or 15 rose bushes and wiping away a winter’s worth of citydirt.

Truth is, I’m just a hands-on kind of woman—no pun intended, really. So maybe my mutant thumbs permit me to be as tactile as an octopus, released from the fear of marring a perfect palm. Perhaps knowing I will never be able to model my own jewelry on Instagram allows me to be a little clumsy and careless, with a freedom I would never know if I only had normal thumbs?

Or maybe I am just a colossal klutz who should just get serious and wear protective gloves more often. Maybe I should act like an adult already and book a standing weekly manicure appointment right this very instant. Maybe I’m using my Thumblet as a (very small) crutch, and if I’d just moisturize more and mess about with feral cats, thorned plants and tiny jewelry pliers less beautiful hands would be well within my reach…..

Nah. Not with these paddles in tow. I’d just drop them anyway.

Phoebe Jonas