At Arm's Length
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (Jan 2011)


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            I can reach any spot on my own back. I can get items down from the high rack in dept stores without calling for assistance. I was never a master of those middle school basketball dribbling drills, but it was tough to get the ball past me when I was playing defense. In karate sparring, my reach is deceptively long; I might be able to tap you from here. I feel a surge of potential usefulness whenever I overhear, “Can anyone reach that?” In the notoriously uncomfortable salsa dancing “arm wrap” position, where the lady’s forearm is behind her, parallel to the floor, and the gentleman takes that hand from the front, I am totally relaxed. You can probably wrap mine around twice.

            There are sometimes drawbacks to having a wingspan like mine. From childhood through today, as cooler seasons approach, I cannot escape my nemesis: “long sleeves.” Always there. Always mocking me. “Long sleeves” are made for people with average proportions, which renders them part of an evil master plot to drive me mad. I laugh at ¾ sleeves because, in my world, 75% of all “long sleeves” are already ¾ sleeves. Of course, there are far worse problems in the world than having constantly exposed wrists. I have learned to work within my sleeves’ limitations: push ‘em up, roll ‘em up, or just sigh and wear a T-shirt. So, sleeves aside, Plastic Man arms are generally an asset when properly harnessed.

            When properly harnessed.

            Over a decade ago, a few friends from my bible study group and I were planning to meet for a night of bowling. There would be lots of mess talking (wholly holy mess talking) so I knew I would need to demonstrate that I am a force to be reckoned with in the bowling lane. I decided in advance to swing the ball back with high drama and, on the forward toss, strike a jaunty pose and yell, “BOOYOW!” That ought to do it. The hideous rental shoes could only intensify the effect.

            We all met and stopped at McDonald’s to grab a quick bite, and the mess talking commenced on schedule. When it was my turn, I told everyone to watch out, because tonight, this is what they’d see. Perhaps I should have made the “watch out” part more urgent before I inhaled and swung my imaginary bowling ball back, with high drama, to yell, “BOOYOW!”

            I didn’t make it to “Buh.” An unfortunate woman had just stepped into range behind me. She was carrying a tray loaded with a Supersized Big Mac meal. Then she wasn’t. The tray went flying. The Big Mac disassembled before her eyes in mid-air. The hundred or so fries leaped valiantly to their deaths. The Supersized Diet Coke exploded upon impact with the floor, sending a spectacular spray of cola syrup and aspartame far and wide, and onto the cuff of the nice lady’s slacks. I drew back the offending arm and covered my mouth in shock.

            This was the day I learned that sleeves were least of my problems if I could not keep my arms from becoming a danger to myself and others. I also learned that, if you have to accidentally knock a full tray out of someone’s hands, do it with gusto! No, wait, the second lesson was to choose fast food restaurants with sympathetic employees at the counter. The ones on duty that day were kind enough to replace the woman’s entire meal at no charge. Whew.

            Years later, I was sitting with friends in a booth at a diner, telling this very story. I prepped for the windup but, just before the moment of truth, I paused to look down the aisle behind me. Directly in the path of where my arm would have flown was an approaching waiter carrying a tray so stacked that it would given Slacks Woman’s tray an inferiority complex. The aftermath of this collision would have involved a great deal more than Coke-speckled cuffs, and I developed a fear that telling this story would magically cause trays of food to appear behind me at crucial moments. I am fighting the urge to look over my shoulder right now, as I type this.

            I won’t lie. It would have been pretty epic to cause an accidental tray knockover during the recounting of a separate accidental tray knockover. In its own awful way, it would have been kind of awesome, and would most certainly be an extension of the story you are reading. Still, I am content with a shorter story if it means that the waiter, the surrounding patrons, and the clean-up staff that evening could reap the far-reaching benefits of living in a world where my arms and I occasionally learn from our mistakes.