Cuts like a knife

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.



For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get none of the news that’s fit to print but all the news that’s fun to read. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

29 thoughts on “Cuts like a knife”

  1. Wow. Talk about taking you back on time. I still carry one. My dad always thought that was the difference in a man and a boy.

  2. I have gone through periods of carrying over and not carrying one.

    Every morning. Watch, knife, wallet, keys

    The pocket lint that would build up over time.

  3. I must’ve gone to the same growing up school you went to…I still have the pocketknife my pappy gave me in Italy when I turned five; use it all the time; Jan thinks I’m nuts to love something that insignificant so much.

    1. It’s like your fingerprint, except you could live without fingerprints.

  4. Awesome!…I started the boys early and they both got framed collector knives when they finished cub scouts and became boy scouts. Over the years they have aquired whole shelf stacked with various knives. Years ago the Mrs was at some sporting good store looking at shoes with the older one when I rec’d a call from her. The kid had found a knife he wanted. I said,” Ok whats the problem?” She said, ” Its a huge Bowie knife!!” I said, “Ok whats the problem?”
    He has a really cool 15in Bowie.

  5. $5K for a pocket knife, huh? Well hell, dragonskin! That’s not cheap and is a bit hard to come by…;) Worth it right there! Lol!

    1. For everyday use if your everyday is way different from mine. But carbon!!!

  6. I have a Swiss Army knife given to me by a Swiss uncle and I carry it around with me too. Always a bit of a hassle in airports, I’m extra careful pack it in the checked bag cuz I’d be really bummed if TSA took it from me.

  7. I stopped carrying mine after 9/11when the TSA started confiscating them. Oh no I let the terrorists win.

    Oh yeah good story.

  8. East Coast baby seal

    I’ve been carrying a pocket knife since I was about 8. Started out with the basic 2 blade, then moved to the lightweight swiss army knife in my teens & early 20’s (the bottle opener was essential). I learned to hide it in my shoe when going to concerts with a frisk at the gate (thanks Glenn Hellen Amphitheater). Now, in my 40’s it’s a Leatherman Juice – gotta have those pliers too. I feel naked without it.

  9. I remember my first (twin blade Barlow), my current and every one in between. Thank you for that elegant bit of memory magic.

  10. Wanna know how old I am? That’s OK, I’ll tell you anyway.

    When I was eight or nine or ten one of my male elders gave me a pocketknife. I carried it in my pocket through the rest of grade school, through junior high, high school and college and never had a bit of trouble because of it.

    That knife and it’s successors never hurt a single person, except for me, when I was clumsy and cut a finger. Now days, if I tried to carry a knife to school, SWAT would be called and classrooms would be locked down. I would would be arrested and, along with three generations of my family, would be secretly shipped under cover of darkness by the CIA to a prison in a third-world country where the Bill of Rights is not honored.

    That’s how old I am.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: