It’s Tuesday and I’m in Home Depot looking for a Torx screwdriver. The reason I need such a device is to tighten the pivot screw on a pocketknife I purchased over the Internet. For what I paid for it, the knife should have come perfectly tuned. But such is life.
“Excuse me,” I ask an elderly gent with a name tag reading “Bob.” “Where are the Torx screwdrivers in this place?”
“Whaddya need it for?” Bob asks.
“I need to tighten a pivot screw on a pocketknife.”
“You have it with you?”
“Sure,” I say, taking the knife out of my pocket.
“Hey,” Bob says. “A Benchmade. I’ve always wanted one of those.”
“They’re good knives,” I say. “But this one came a little messed up.”
“Can I hold it?”
I hand Bob the knife which he expertly flicks open one handed. “Nice,” he says. “Whad’it run you?” I tell him and he emits a low whistle. “Expensive,” he says.
“Well worth it though.”
Bob folds the knife closed and hands it back to me. “I’m a knife guy myself,” he says, producing a utilitarian looking folder. “I got this for fifty bucks.”
We men are a weird bunch. Throw a bunch of women who don’t know each other into a room they’ll always find something to talk about spontaneously. Throw a bunch of strange men into a room and they’ll mill around looking stupid. But if you introduce something of common interest – whether it’s sports, fishing, cars or the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, us guys will start blabbering like a bunch of old hens. I’ve never met Bob, but since have a common interest in pocketknives we start kibitzing about brands, blade types, prices and what we use them for.
“I use mine to open boxes around here,” Bob says. “But it’s nice to have in my pocket if things go south.”
Internally I wince. Just type “knife fighting” into You Tube and you’ll understand what I mean. Scary. If a guy ever comes at me with a blade you’ll see me turn into Jesse Owens in under a millisecond. I’ve always been a subscriber to the Monty Python School of Self-Defense. “Run away! Run away!” Cowardice is a pretty decent survival mechanism.
“I use mine as a glorified letter opener,” I say. “That’s it.”
After a few minutes of conversation Bob finds my Torx gizmo and I’m on my merry way. When I get home I adjust the pivot and the knife now works as advertised. I clip the Benchmade inside my pocket and go on with my day. The knife only weighs three ounces so I forget it’s even there.
I’ve carried a pocketknife since I was a twelve. My Dad bought me a Boy Scout knife when I was a Tenderfoot and I took it everywhere – even school. Today educators will call out the SWAT team if a kid’s got a nail clipper. But when I was a kid most of my school chums had pocketknives. And none of us ever used it for anything more lethal than whittling, show and tell or playing mumblety-peg. Those were more innocent times I guess.
But over the years I’ve picked up a variety of pocketknives; Swiss Armies of various sizes and functions, Leathermans, Gerbers and when I had a few extra bucks, something more elegant like a Spyderco, Benchmade or a Cold Steel. When I was a waiter I even had a pricey Laguiole wine opener that I never lent out because servers have a nasty tendency to “appropriate” corkscrews and pens. Suffice to say I always have a knife on me. It’s part and parcel of being a dude. When my godson joined the Cub Scouts I bought him a kiddie pocketknife with a dull blade which his parent’s probably locked up as soon as he got it. When my nephew’s old enough I’ll give him one too. It’s a rite of passage. Welcome to the world of men. But for all my talk, the one time I desperately needed a knife I didn’t have one…
It’s late Thursday afternoon and I’m driving my rented silver Dodge Charger through the Hollywood Hills in in Los Angeles. The day started out overcast and muggy but as the sun starts its dive into the Pacific the clouds have broken and air starts to cool. Stoked by the shifting sunlight the red clay roofs of the Spanish style homes higher up the hills start glowing like orange embers against a purpling sky. It’s very pretty, but I can only appreciate the view in quick glances as I maneuver my car through the serpentine streets. You have to pay attention driving around here. If you lose focus for a second you could run over George Clooney.
After I corkscrew down a tiny street called Laurelton I hit Laurel Canyon Boulevard. I want to make a left and head down to Sunset but there’s heavy traffic going uphill. As I wait for a break in the flow of cars I notice that an SUVs stopped in the lane opposite me. A heavyset woman has the passenger door open and is fiddling with the seatbelt of a small child seated in the back. Because the streets are so narrow the cars turning right off the boulevard have nowhere to go. As the severity of the jam increases exponentially with each passing second I roll down my window.
“Hey lady,” I say, my Jersey accent sounding incongruous to me after a week in Southern California. “You can’t stop there.”
The woman doesn’t respond. Either she can’t hear or is ignoring me.
“For crying out loud,” I say. “You can’t stay here!” Still no response.
The guy in the BMW convertible behind me starts leaning on his horn. I throw my hands up in frustration. What the hell does he expect me to do? Tired of waiting I get out of my car and walk over to the SUV to find out what’s going on. Sure enough I stumble into an interesting situation – the little boy in the backseat’s being choked by his seatbelt.
“Can you help me?” the woman says, panic flavoring her voice. “He’s in trouble.”
The little boy is blond, five years old and his face is red. His sister’s stroking his hair and telling him he’ll be okay. The kid’s dad is standing in front of the SUV looking helpless.
Without saying a word I get into the SUV and evaluate the situation. I don’t know how he did it but the seatbelt’s wrapped around the little boy’s neck like a noose. I gingerly try untangling him but quickly realize the belt’s locked and moving it will only tighten it around his neck. The little boy’s wide-eyed and starting to freak. He’s not turning blue but if he starts struggling he will. Time to make a decision.
“I’ve got to cut the belt,” I say.
“Do it,” the mom says. “Do it.”
I reach for the razor sharp knife in my pocket. To my utter horror I realize I left it in my hotel room.
“Do you have a knife?” I ask the mother.
I walk over to the cars behind me and yell, “Does any one have a knife?” The all look at me, dull and uncomprehending.
“Do you have a knife?” I ask the guy in the BMW.
“Give it to me”
“Kid’s choking on his seat belt.”
The man fishes a Leatherman multi-tool out of his center console and hands it to me. I own one just like it. Opening up the knife I head back to the SUV. The little boy’s sister is starting to panic.
“Okay kid,” I say. “Just relax. I’ll have your brother out of here in a second.”
Seeing the knife in my hand the little girl yells, “Don’t hurt him!”
There’s no time for niceties. “Sit down right now,” I loudly tell the girl. Crying, she plops back in her seat. I feel bad for her From her perspective a sweaty middle-aged guy with a knife is standing over her brother.
I can’t cut the belt near the boy’s neck. If he flinches that’d be a mess. So I decide to cut the belt where it attaches to the car frame. I plunge the knife into the center of the belt, slash one way, then the next and the belt comes loose. With the tension released I get the belt off the boy’s neck. He’s fine. Scared but fine.
“Thank you,” the mother says.
“You’re welcome,” I say, folding the knife closed. “But I’d take him to the hospital just to be safe.”
Suddenly I’m conscious of the adrenaline boosted endorphins coursing through my system. Did I just save a kid’s life? I tell myself I’m being overdramatic. Maybe he would’ve been fine without me. Or maybe I was in the right place at the right time. One thing’s for sure; I’ll never be without a pocketknife again. I pat the little boy on the head and walk back to my car.
I hand the Leatherman back to the guy in the Beemer. “Thanks pal,” I say. “You might’ve saved a life today.” The guy looks at me like I’m from Mars. Friggin L.A. types.
I get into my car and when the traffic unsnarls I make a left onto Laurel Canyon Boulevard. I feel like fucking John Wayne. Flicking on the radio the song Zero by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs fills the car.
Shake it like a ladder to the sun
Makes me feel like a madmen on the run
Find me never, never far gone
So get your leather, leather
Leather on, on, on.
What’s your name?
No one’s gonna ask you….
With the music blasting and wearing a grin a mile wide, I gun my Silver Charger’s engine and ride off down Sunset Boulevard.