“Back-ups. Oh, my god. Burning your stuff to CD or DVD is not good enough. Trust me on that. Things go wrong. Understand that Storage Will Always Fail. Always. I have a ruggedised, manly and capacious 32GB USB memory stick that can withstand fire, water, gunshots and the hairy arseteeth of Cthulhu itself — but my daughter decided she wanted to liberate one of my bags for her use, took the stick out of it and put it ’somewhere safe.’ It has never been seen again. Storage Will Always Fail.”
– Warren Ellis, on “What I Use”
If you ever want to know how people look at serial killers, just repeat those three words to someone. Chances are you’ll be amazed at the response you get.
Once upon a time, men carried knives. If you go far enough back, it would have been a sheath knife, used for eating and general handywork. More recently it would have been a “pen” knife, kept handy so you would reshape the nib on a quill pen when writing. Then there’s the all-purpose “pocket knife”, which usually referred to a knife with a folding blade or blades that a gentleman could carry in a pocket. But regardless of the particular type of knife, men have carried knives for millennia.
At one time in this country no boy could imagine anything finer than owning a Barlow knife. After all, without a sturdy pocketknife, how could you possibly play a rousing game of mumblety-peg? Today if a kid is caught with a nail file, their school goes into lock-down. I can understand the reasons for it, but I don’t think this is progress.
I’ve always loved knives. I like the way they look, I like they way they feel in my hand, and most of all I love how handy they are. I’ve carried a pocket knife since the first time I could afford to buy one of my own. After churning through a few cheap ones, I bought my first quality pocket knife, a three-bladed Buck:
God, I loved that knife. I carried it through high school and used it to shave acres of bark and whittle mounds of chips from slim pieces of alder. That Buck was my trusted companion. My best friend carried a similar knife, a Schrade Old-Timer, and the two of us could spend hours carving walking sticks and hiking staves with them.
Years later, I gave that Buck to my wife to carry in her purse.
She lost it.
But I digress.
I have purchased other knives, including a beautiful Opinel French Country knife for picnicking, and a few lockblades. I have worn out a couple of swiss army knives. I must admit to buying a knife or two that were less utilitarian than they were simply dangerous. I purchased a Gerber Guardian “Back-up” knife in college. I kept it razor sharp and carried it in a sheath tucked inside my waistband. This was an affectation as well as an invitation to an accident, and with the solemn inevitability of such things, I managed to stick it into my own thigh a couple of years later. It took 8 stitches to close the wound and I had a patch of numb tissue on my leg the size of my palm for years. I didn’t carry it after that. But I still have it. I couldn’t possibly get rid of it. It’s a beautiful piece of work.
It must be said that a lifetime of playing with knives, including kitchen knives, has given me a number of fine white scars, mostly on my hands. Each one has been a potent reminder to handle a blade carefully, respect the edge, and keep it sharp. A sharp knife is safer than a dull one. If your knife is dull, you have to apply more force to make a cut, making it easier for the blade to slip and go awry. A sharp edge makes a clean cut, which heals much faster and neater than a jagged tear from a dull knife. I can personally attest to the veracity of this. If you let your kid have a knife, you owe it to them to keep it sharp. If you don’t trust your kid with a sharp knife, then they shouldn’t have one at all.
Squirreled away with my other knives is the Ka-Bar that my father-in-law carried in the South Pacific during World War II. He gave it to me when he learned how much I liked knives. The Ka-Bar is one of the most-beloved combat/utility knives ever made, and after I scrubbed and polished the blade and remoisturized the leather of the handle, it took an edge like a razor. When I hold it, I feel a little kinship with my father-in-law, as well as all the Marines and Naval officers that have carried their Ka-Bars into combat, and sometimes never came back.
I have a Henckel Five Star chef’s knife. I keep it clean and sharp. It fits my hand like a tailored glove, and makes slicing and dicing a joy rather than a chore. It is the only knife in the kitchen that I ask my wife not to use.
Eventually, I started carrying multi-tools instead of pocketknives. I have a first-generation Gerber multi-plier and a more modern Leatherman Wave. There is no question that you can accomplish more with a good multitool than just a knife blade, and there is a certain satisfaction in pulling out a desperately-needed pair of needle-nose pliers when you are miles from anywhere. But the extra weight and bulk of a tool and sheath on my belt became somewhat awkward, particularly when I was working in a “business casual” office environment.
Lately I’ve been missing the reassuring presence of a pocketknife in my pocket. Opening boxes is bad enough when you have to hunt down a box cutter or a pair of scissors, but trying to open up plastic clamshell packaging seems to require nothing less than a Bowie knife and high explosives. Plus, I admit, I just flat-out wanted a new knife.
So I went to REI over my lunch hour, and selected a folding lockblade with a pocket clip. It’s a Gerber Remix (one of my favorite brands, even though they’ve been purchased by Fiskars) and it is a thing of beauty:
That big ring in the middle looks kind of awkward, until you hold the knife in your hand. Your index finger fits inside handily, giving your grip an extra degree of security. You can also use it to sling the knife on a carabiner. The blade itself takes an edge beautifully. I’m in love.
Which brings me back to the serial killer comment. I’ve been truly surprised at the number of people who, upon discovering that I was carrying a shiny new pocketknife, expressed shock and dismay. “What on earth are you going to use it for?” one coworker exclaimed. Well, whittling for one thing. “You whittle??” Yes, I do whittle.
But I don’t mutilate cattle, rob grocery stores, or threaten sorority girls, which from the looks I’ve been getting, is what most people think a pocketknife is used for these days. It makes me sad. A knife is a great tool. It has few moving parts, requires minimal maintenance, and has endless uses. You can cut bagels, spread cream cheese, cut up an apple to share, open packages, make elegant curls of shavings for tinder, cut loose threads on your clothes, cut off the excess string after you tie a knot, etc. etc. ad infinitum.
What’s more, I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve sharpened a pencil with a pocketknife, because I needed to write something down and there simply wasn’t a pencil sharpener. To be honest, if there wasn’t any other reason to carry a pocketknife, in my opinion THAT would be sufficient.
So please, when you see a man carrying a pocketknife, try to remember that it’s a tool first, and a weapon second, if at all.