The outcome of genetics freaks me out a little. One morning while waiting for the bus, I eyed my sister as she laughed and chatted with her way-cooler high school friends. I was just in the third grade and with my pin straight hair, blue plaid skirt and knee socks, was miles apart on the popularity spectrum. I watched as they formed a circle around her, and then I heard shouts of amazement: “No way!” “Gross!” “How do you do that?” As I edged close to the circle, I saw why they were yelling and laughing. She had done the Arm Thing.
I don’t know what made me do it. I cut through an opening in the circle and proclaimed, “I can do it, too!” She rolled her eyes at me and looked around at her friends, as if to say, “Can you believe this irritating pest?” “You can not!” she snorted, and that was all the prodding I needed. I threw my backpack on the ground, planted my loafers on the asphalt and clasped my hands behind my back. Leaning slightly forwards, I bent my right elbow backwards at a sickening angle and in a fluid yet grotesque movement, twisted my shoulders impossibly until my clasped hands came forward and rested in front of me. I lifted my chin in triumph, her friends thought I was cool for about two minutes, and then the bus came.
I had witnessed her do the Arm Thing before and somehow just knew I could do it. It became my signature show-off move, better even than touching my tongue to my nose. I bragged that if I was ever arrested, I would be able to get out of the handcuffs. Once people had seen me do it, they’d ask me to show their friends: “Watch this!” they’d say, “Come on, do your Arm Thing!” I did it through high school and college by request. At a college retreat as a college sophomore, I won a Stupid Human Trick contest with the talent. Turns out, my younger brother was able to do it, too, the irritating little pest, and he often upstaged me since he was a smaller, cuter version of me.
We were double jointed in the elbows and shoulders, I learned. If I leaned my hands on someone’s desk, my elbows would hyper-extend and look like they’d been put on backwards. It came from my dad and his aggressive genetics. We got his nose, his feet, his warped sense of humor, and apparently his build. I’d never seen him do the Arm Thing, but as a teenager he was built like all of us–thin, gangly, a bit clumsy. This came from his mother. In her 70’s she would scrub her entire kitchen floor by hand, folded in two at the waist, her legs straight, her torso bobbing slightly as she worked. We were bendy. Had we thought about it, we could’ve developed it more and joined one of those Chinese acrobatic troupes as the Amazing American Trio. I have no idea how my sister initially figured out she could do this. At some point, maybe she had escaped the back of a police car? (Hmmm…I will need to investigate this further…).
At least one of my sister’s kids and both of mine have inherited this ability. They heard me talk about it once and, like me, just knew they could do it too. I never asked them to try it and certainly don’t encourage it. Age has changed my doubled joints, alas. The last time I attempted the stunt, I heard so many crackles and pops as my arms passed my ears that I declared it the end of the Arm Thing. Let’s just hope I don’t get arrested any time soon. I’d be shuttled off to the Big House with no hope of escape.
We could have won the genetic jackpot and gotten genius musical talent, a natural immunity to the common cold, or a killer metabolism that kicked in at middle age. But no. We got the Arm Thing to amuse and entertain others. Maybe it was a small gesture to help us through some awkward childhood moments. Unless some more aggressive genetics invade our gene pool down the line, it looks like it’s a hand-me-down that’ll be there through a few more generations. As for me, the Arm Thing is just a stunt from my past. I can still wiggle my ears and touch my tongue to my nose, but the Cool Factor is just not there. I’ll need to find another way inside the circle. :/