A foldable, analog app

It’s a good thing that I’m not a frequent flyer – TSA would have arrested me by now.

No, I’m not a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda. My danger is that I carry – a pocket knife.

Constantly.

Everybody outfits themselves in the morning to go out the door and face another workday with their own implements. Cell phone, tablet, laptop, car keys, briefcase, whatever. For me, I don’t consider myself fully dressed until a pocket knife joins keys and spare change in my pants.

I’m surprised now the number of people, especially guys, who find it strange I keep a folded sharp-edged implement on my person.

Maybe it’s a “good ol’ boy” thing; having a pocket knife. A Southern rite of passage as boys move toward men. I felt like I reached another milestone of maturity when I got my first “real” substantial knife. I remember the Christmas when I was about 12 and received the pinnacle of pocket cutlery, a Swiss Army knife – the knife that was more than a knife. (This was before multi-tools came on the scene.) I was still carrying it when I got to college. When my campus friends discovered I had one, they started calling me MacGyver after the 1980s television action hero who solved most of his problems with the multi-bladed, red-handled wonder tool.

Once in front of a friend I pulled out my pocket knife for some innocent task, like opening an envelope (a big part of its duties) or cutting a string or something similar.

“You carry a knife! What on earth for! Are you expecting to cut someone?” my startled friend asked. She acted like I had whipped out a broad sword and brandished it menacingly at her. I thought her reaction was, well, over-reacting.

But it did underscore to me a difference between the way society is thinking now and the mindset that existed when I was raised. When I was a boy, we settled our differences with fists and bad language. I carried a pocket knife then too. But I never dreamed of pulling it out against someone, no matter how disadvantaged I might have been against my adversary. Unfortunately, nowadays we have students carrying guns to school to settle their scores.

My pocket knife was, and still is, just a tool. A useful, portable tool ready at a moment’s notice. Yes, it could be a weapon, although not a very efficient one. Like any tool, it can be used effectively or dangerously (as handfuls of cut fingers can attest). My father, a professional woodworker, taught me and my brothers how to use a knife correctly and the mysteries of sharpening one properly.

I like knives for the same reason I like old typewriters, analog cameras and guns – they are precision instruments. Keep one well maintained and it will serve you for decades. Any instrument used improperly can cause harm, including cameras and writing tools. My father carried a simple Old Timer four-bladed pocket knife. Often he whittled with it. I remember he would use one for years until the blades had been sharpened down into awls – small, slender triangles of metal and very pointed. Then he retired it and started a new one. I saved a few of his retirees after he died.

I have several Swiss Army knives now, included the thick granddaddy containing a host of implements: file, awl, scissors, saw, kitchen sink, pliers, flamethrower, can opener, screwdrivers, etc. It’s so big it has its own belt pouch to tote it.

Nowadays I’m most likely to have a multi-tool on me. I think this is one of the greatest inventions since duct tape and WD-40 solvent. A sturdy, foldable pair of pliers with a knife blade and several screwdrivers compacted inside. Ingenious! I’ve become a minor connoisseur of multi-tools, noting the functions on each I think are essential, innovative or superfluous.

I like my smart phone. I haven’t scratched its potential yet. It is the digital version of a Swiss Army knife with all the downloadable applications for it.

However, it’s nice to know in our sophisticated, electronic world, some problems still need an analog answer. “Tool-user” is one of the criteria anthropologists use to differentiate us from the animals.

And a knife is one of the oldest tools we have been using.

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