It’s not just bikes that went from being utility equipment to museum pieces, status objects, collectibles, or whatever. While I was looking at $2,000.00 full carbon shaving razors that were 100% pure carbon and made of all carbon, I came across a manly link that took me to knives.
In two seconds I arrived at this, which costs over $5k, and is advertised as an “everyday” folding knife. Everyday.
My dad had what we called a pocketknife. It was made by Case and might have cost ten bucks. It had a little blade and a big blade. And you know what? Every man and boy had one. A pocketknife was the difference between boys and girls. Boys had ’em, girls didn’t.
No one in my family ever collected knives. Both my grandfathers had pocketknives that they kept — in their pocket — from the dawn of my consciousness until they passed away. A man’s pocketknife was more a part of him than his wedding ring. He’d had it longer and he used a lot more and to better effect, usually.
You carried a pocketknife because over the course of the day there was so much stuff that needed cutting. String, paper, gristle that the dinner knife couldn’t hack through, the coating on a piece of wire, tape, cardboard, packaging, fingernails that had grown ungainly, splinters in your feet, and of course sticks for whittling.
Remember whittling? That is what you did forty-five years ago when you were bored and didn’t have Twitter. Or cable TV. Or a TV.
And the thing was, a man put that knife in his pants pocket as automatically as he put on his shoes. Going outside, or even downstairs, without a knife in your pocket was the same as walking around undressed. And that pocketknife wasn’t a weapon for stabbing people or fending off bears, it was your eleventh finger.
A man’s pocketknife was simple but well cared for. My dad and every dad had a little whetstone and some 3-in-1 oil, and every couple of weeks he’d go out in the garage, oil the whetstone and sharpen the knife. Because the only thing more embarrassing than being caught without a pocketknife was having one that was too dull to do the job, or having to hack at something that you should be able to slice like butter.
And pocketknives did jobs, important ones. They opened letters and packages and cut tape and such, but as important as the jobs they did were the jobs they didn’t. Having a pocketknife meant knowing that the tip wasn’t a screwdriver, the blade wasn’t a lever, you never misused it by trying to cut something too big or hard or thick, and most importantly, you never lent it to anyone, ever, for anything. “Can I borrow your pocketknife?” was not a question anyone knew how to ask, unless, for example you were naked and tied to some railroad tracks, you might have said, with great embarrassment at not having yours, “Do you have your pocketknife with you?” and the person would see what needed to be done and reach into his trousers and fish it out and do it.
I never saw one person of the male persuasion ever tell the other one what it was that needed cutting, or, dog forbid, where to cut, or, risking the end of the relationship, how to cut. Asking whether the other person had his pocketknife was enough.
I quit carrying a pocketknife when I was 22. The reason is that I lost the slim Victorinox that my grandfather Jim had given me when he went to Switzerland in 1976 and brought it back to me as a gift. Losing your pocketknife, much less one that was given to you by your grandfather, well, you might as well hand back your man card and start wearing diapers again.
Then one day when I was 41 and standing on the sidewalk in Granbury, Texas, I badly needed a pocketknife. I had a giant bundle of fliers that were bound so tightly I couldn’t slide one out from under the cord to give to a fellow who wanted a couple. He was a young city guy snappily dressed and I knew there was no chance in hell he was going to have a pocketknife.
As I vainly tried to entreat out one of those fliers, this ancient, stately country gentleman and his lovely blue-haired wife passed us by, slowly. He nodded at me kindly. “Afternoon, young fella,” he said.
“Good afternoon, sir” I said back, standing up straight from being bent double over that massive package of 10,000 bound fliers. “Sir,” I said, “do you have your pocketknife with you?”
He glanced at me and the package and the string and said, gravely and without missing a beat, “I got my britches on, don’t I?”
He looked at me with kindness and mild reproach as his hand slid into the pocket, a motion he’d done a million times before, and with one hand he smoothly unfolded the blade on that small Case pocketknife, bending his wrist quickly so that the blade snapped open on the well-oiled pin. The blade glittered in that midday Texas sun, reflecting my own past back to me.
He reached down and barely touched the knife blade to the cord. It instantaneously split in half, popping like a firecracker. With the same one-handed motion he folded the knife and put it back.
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
“Not a’tall,” was his gentle reply.
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