In all the animal kingdom, humans have a few truly unique abilities. To see them, you have to look beyond the specifics of driving bulldozers and stretching canvases taught across formed wooden frames. These are manual tasks that you could, in theory, train a monkey to do. Elevate your imagination beyond circumnavigation (in which we are not unique on by any means). Think bigger than fire and rocketeering. What are the things REQUIRED of a species to get to the moon?
Language. If you said it, then you’re heading in the right general direction. We have one so complex that we can come together as a group, express desires that expand decades or even centuries into that future, and come to an agreement upon how to try to get there.
That first sentence contained another ingredient in the secret sauce: planning. For sure, other species work together to achieve goals. However, we don’t just plan the next few minutes. We plan across time and space. We plan cities, sports seasons, and school districts. What does all that really mean we can do, that no one else can do?
Social coordination. It gets us to Mars, delivers the meat to the deli, and sets the price of gasoline. In this part of the woods, no one else does it better.
What else do we nearly hair-free monkeys do uniquely?
Swing a fast ball. Yep. We are the only monkeys on the pitcher’s mound. The whip-throw is something that no one else needed or wanted to do, so we took that one. It allowed us to get up and throw spears at some VERY large things with lots of calories, after running them down for miles and miles and miles. Speaking of which…
…while many a modern man in the developed world doesn’t look it, each and every one of us is a potential marathoner. If sufficiently motivated, hydrated, caloried and trained, we can get up and deliver a pity message to a city more than twenty miles away after getting ourselves there at a dead run. Hopefully, unlike the first ever marathoner apocryphally did, we won’t then drop dead. Every year, tens of thousands of humans run further, longer than any animal ever will in their lifetime, then go home safely to their sandwiches. Why is it that we can do this crazy, spear-wielding endurance thing?
Because we sweat like mo phos. For real! On this field of play, no one sweats it up better while pitching a slider under the watchful gaze of a color-coordinated sea of our species. We sweat. We whip it. We talk and plan and game hard.
If we didn’t, I never would have gotten home this weekend.
Fact: When two members of this species get married, they inherit the clan of the other’s friends. This can be a good thing – more people to plan and chat with and whip balls to – or it can just be kind of awkward, with lots of silence and missed signals. In the ten years I’ve known my husband’s friends, I’ve come to enjoy and respect them and even love some of them. Until this weekend, though, I wasn’t sure that we were really playing the same game, or if we were, which of the many thousands of possible games it might be.
I happened to finally find out what that game really was this weekend, as we headed back east to see our families and have yet another wedding party. A bit of back story: He and I eloped, with the promise that we would oblige our far-scattered social network with parties at locations and times of their choosing. What that meant this particular weekend was coordinating getting me and my husband plus four unwieldy suitcases from one state to another, from one car another, from one house and one party to another and finally to the airport. It was a small marathon of moving people and their stuff through space and time. And by god, they got it done – as a collective.
I’d never seen anything quite like it. While I’ve personally arranged large events – medical field clinics, fencing matches, a party for 120 people when I turned 22nd – this movement had no central leader. When it was clear that suitcase Jenga was the only thing that would get him, me and the stuff I’d been storing in my brother’s basement to Logan airport, 3 cars and half a dozen people leapt into action. In addition to playing a mean game of 4D Tetris with us and our suitcases, juggling all like a small horde circus strongmen, these folks were simultaneously cleaning up from one party, which had happened the day after another party, while getting ready for a stuff swap, which was really a tea party, followed up a run to the salvation army with whatever was left over. If humans couldn’t sweat, man, this never would have happened.
If we couldn’t socially coordinate, when our flights out of Logan got cancelled, we never would have ended up in one person’s car while a 2nd called a third person canned a 3rd person to let them know that we were headed to their house for the night. That 3rd person, the collective decided, would take us and our stuff to the airport in the morning at slightly past O-dark-thirty. When that person didn’t pick up the phone, a 4th person – the 3rd person’s wife – affirmed that he would do this, no problem – and headed off to go play games. With a 5th person.
If you ever wonder how humanity got to where it did in spite embracing violence while possessing a streak of selfishness the width of the Nile and being typified by a certain undying propensity for self-destruction, remember: if we give into those things, we don’t get to play games. And gaming uses all of the things we are good at. The game both justifies and elevates our existence into something where sweating, throwing and coordinating wins us entire worlds…and gives us a reason to drink a lot of beer and mercilessly dispatch the sock monkey. Again.
So it was that with the help of more than half a dozen of my husband’s game-playing friends, and a few of mine, he and I made it to the airport with the things that inexplicably make my house the place that I live: the 1920’s portable royal typewriter; the black leather motorcycle jack with the hood tucked into the collar; my sword-shaped letter opener from Toledo, Spain. It’s a collection of stuff that simultaneously conveys and conforms to my life as I prefer to live it. Wherever I go, it’s me. Now, after a lot of sweating and coordinating, it was finally going home with me.
But first, the planes with the stuff had to agree to take us there. After an initial cancelled flight and a lot of hard-won, free food at La Guardia Airport (meal vouchers don’t buy beer, kids), we ALMOST made it to our connecting flight without a hitch. That is, until my husband realized that his ID had vanished somewhere along the way.
After the nice men in their blue TSA uniforms called a series of mysterious numbers, allowing them to ask him a series of specific questions – What’s the make a model of your car, and when did you buy it? Where did you go to high school and in what year did you graduate? Who are your parents? – he came sprinting and sweating down the hallway, arms full of his jangling possessions, screaming, “Whoohoo!” right up to where I had been chatting up/delaying the gate agents. Onto the plane we went. Some nice people shut the door. The AC kicked in.
Before the plane was in the air, we were both fast asleep.