In Consideration of the Pinkie Finger...

One day back in sixth grade, following lunch, or recess, or lunch followed by recess, we returned to Mrs. Mina's classroom, enthusiastically sliding along the aisles between desks. My form, if I remember correctly was worthy of a shot at the majors, as good as any pro might exhibit sliding safely into 2nd base - legs outstretched one way, arms the other. Believe it or not, but I don't think I had ever entered the room in such a way before. I was followed in by Teddy Cook, and that's where things took an unexpected turn. Before I could get up and out of the way Teddy's foot made contact with my right hand, the pinkie to be exact and jammed that middle section into the knuckle. Oh man, I thought, fingers are not supposed to look like this. I manned up to the disfigurement and dull pain the rest of the day - kept it hidden, kept it secret - until finally at the dinner table I confessed to my parents that "I think something is wrong with my finger." The next school day I appeared with a metal splint and heavily wrapped little appendage. Little did I know that this would be just the first of a string of mishaps affecting that smallest of fingers.

For what ever reason, or number of reasons, the right hand pinkie has borne the brunt of various and multiple impacts with the ground. It has been broken, dislocated, and sprained; it has had enough skin ground away from the knuckle-top to see glistening white bone underneath. As small as it is, square centimeter for square centimeter, the right pinkie finger has been subjected to a grossly unequal share of abuse and pain. For all their bigger, stronger, more prominent roles the other fingers have nothing on the pinkie. Oh, they might brag (assuming they could) about this accomplishment, or that daring feat - middle fingers everywhere, I have noticed, are especially adept at this - while the pinkie finger modestly takes care of business and moves on to the next task. To take that kind of punishment, and unflinchingly be ready for the possibility that more may be on the way, entails a special dedication. A dedication reserved uniquely for the one at the end of the line, the one that, because of its placement, will hit the ground first.

I can't be the only one whose mind, on those long solo rides, tends to wander to matters ranging between historically weighty and numbingly inconsequential. Clearly a consideration of our ten end-of-hand digits is of due importance. Well, maybe undue is more accurate. And, perhaps insignificant is more correct than important. But hey, it passes the time. Admittedly, the pinkie normally, has little to do during its time on the bike. Those first three fingers get the bulk of the workload - grip, shift, brake - it is all them. The ring finger, the pinkie, they are kind of along for the ride; the silent body-guards hovering nearby, called into action only at the worst of times. Sticking their knuckles out, hitting the ground first so the others don't have to.

Now, this post didn't start out as a consideration of how hard-as-nails, take-a-licking-and-keep-on-ticking, the pinkie can be. The original intent was for a "what role does it play while on the bars" topic. Those tangents, they do make for some off-camber turns.

Anyway, most times, for most hand-on-bar positions, my pinkie forms up in its usual spot at the end of the line where, I suppose, it provides some small degree of grip. Whether on the tops of the bars, or on the drops, it wraps around like the others. Though being shorter, and less muscular [?] I am not convinced it is all that effective in this role. When gripping the brake hoods, it tends to tuck in behind the bars where it may help to keep the hands from sliding forward, its one marginally active duty during the ride. Other riders, other pinkies - on occasions I have noticed that there are a rare few, less than few in other words, riders who who assign their pinkie a more substantial role. These, I guess, are the upper crust of the peloton, the cultured few who paid attention at some manners class they took in their youth. They drink their tea, maybe even swill their ale, with pinkie upraised and slightly bent in a sign of class distinction. After long weeks of training and, I would guess, real-life reinforcement that upraised finger on the end has become an ingrained action, performed without thought. Or maybe a more sinister motive lies behind that upraised, curved finger - something along the rounded line of a hook with which to latch on to a competitors bars and bring him down. That's a role I never envisioned for the pinkie before, raises it to the despicable category right next to the middle one, the perennial bad guy. 

These days the right hand pinkie can almost, but not quite, bend as well as the undamaged left one, and I can swear that it is just a little bit, but visibly, shorter than its other-handed counterpart. The fact that it is still there after all these years, beside compelling me to knock on wood, says something about the near-legendary toughness of that little appendage. Yup, that Pinkie is one mean hombre.