Happy as a Thumbsucker

10 11 2007

You don’t forget her: a woman 20 or so who rides the Red Line train in the morning on the sleepy side of rush hour. When regulars see her looking for a seat they hope she’ll sit near them. She finds a spot and sets herself up for eight prime stops of thumbsucking.  It looks like the perfect solution to these hard times. She makes thumbsucking look so good who bothers to waste 3 seconds feeling sorry for her, feeling bad, wondering why, etc. etc.  How many of us mainly wonder why she gets to do it and we don’t!  Not even in private. We don’t dare, most of us. 

This girl, plan “b’s” currently calling her Edwina, is absolutely still when she’s doing it.  Her eyes are open, slightly hooded, and she never blinks.  There is no expression in her eyes but she definitely looks alive.  This might be her last and only suck of the day, until the ride home, it’s hard to tell.  There is nothing urgent or tragic about it, this is one endless moment of pure serene being. There is no indication of daydreaming or grudge inventory or plans or unhappiness of any sort. Is the human thumb, our precious distinction, the portal to another world?

plan “b” remembers the Olden Days, when kids were forcibly broken of thumb sucking, for their own good.  Here’s how it was done:  drug stores sold little bottles of pepper water applied with the little glass stick directly to the offending digit. When tough little thumbsuckers developed a taste for hot stuff some parents tried the little chrome cage that slipped over the thumb like a chastity belt and was tied to the toddler wrist by a pink or blue ribbon.

plan “b” wonders if there’s an increasing tolerance for thumbsucking. The neighborhood babies and toddlers all suck but it’s their own permanent pacifiers, generally not themselves. plan “b” recalls a roommate years ago, a cultural anthropologist actually, who had designed and was trying to market a disco pacifier that Baby Dolls would dangle or suck suggestively under the flashing disco lights. But that was intended to be an interactive social instrument not entirely unassociated with mating, very different from the solitary, autonomous thumbsucker of today.

How many things offer reliable relief in the vicissitude of life? Put a better way, how many of them are free and have so few secondary side effects (possible dental complications?)? And yet, plan “b” is fairly certain she will not be sucking her thumb in public or in private any time soon.

But what about talking to oneself? Walking around the house, walking around town, riding the Red Line, talking to yourself. No blue light in the ear or black wire dangling from the ear to certify the solitary talker as not only sane but solvent enough to pay upwards of $60 a month for “a package.” Just bare-eared talking to yourself wherever and whenever. That would sure be a load off! That would just about hit the spot wherever and whenever. And it’s dry.

And, why not, let’s throw in political, that’s it, thumbsucking or talking to yourself is a political act, it’s the strongest indicator of how messed up it all is right now. Because we just don’t care any more.

That’s what the “b” plan is all about.




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