For an old-timer, a rebirth

A once-suspect gift of a pocketknife slices away the years, and Barbie's shackles.


April 30, 2000|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff

I am armed. If need be, I could rescue a 6-year-old kid from a closet and never once point my weapon at him. Don't need to. One look and even an AP photographer would run for cover. Because the world knows this: Never mess with a man with an Old Timer pocketknife.

I wasn't always armed with an Old Timer pocketknife. For 40 years, I had foolishly waded through life without one. Even when my father-in-law, an old timer in his own right, presented me my first Old Timer pocketknife in 1987, I chose not to heed his profound words. I chose to ignore the wisdom of an older generation. I thought I knew everything.

My father-in-law (who could double for Andy Griffith's stunt double) had told me: "I use my pocketknife all the time. You will, too." Then he handed me a shiny new Old Timer. So moved by the tender transfer, I promptly stowed the knife away for 13 years. A pocket-knife just wasn't me. I'm more of a pocket comb kind of guy (Ace, if you must know the brand).

I associated pocketknives with Andy Griffith and the whole Mayberry gang. Barney carried one. Opie, too, I bet. What's a suburban boy like me to do with a pocketknife? Slice the tags off a new Lands' End windbreaker? Scrape off that confounding plastic wrap on new CDs? No, pocketknives are for scaling perch or carving initials in treehouses or peeling apples or prying unidentifiable gunk from under your thumbnail. Earthy stuff like that.

It wasn't that I felt I wasn't man enough for a pocketknife. At 28, I felt I wasn't boy enough for one. Now at 41, I feel ready for boyhood.

Two weeks ago, I freed my old Old Timer from the shackles of my sock drawer. I opened all three blades, then flipped them closed, then tugged them out again, using each blade's sly indentation for a probing fingernail. This is no Swiss Army knife with all its flashy retractable gear; my Old Timer pocket-knife, no bigger than my pinky, is a simple thing: no scissors, no can opener, no frying pan, no saw, no pliers, no Internet access.

As I held my first pocketknife in my palm -- seeing it really for the first time -- I found myself asking it: "Well, what exactly can you do?" Besides stabbing notebook paper, that is. Because the Old Timer's first test was to attack a sheet of notebook paper, and it had gloriously passed with flying colors. But how would the Old Timer perform on more challenging projects?

Methodically, I subjected my pocketknife to more difficult trials. It struggled before prevailing over the Lands' End package that arrived last Thursday (I rewarded the Old Timer with a spritz of WD-40). The knife then performed admirably in the service of our back yard, when the bag of fertilizer needed opening in the faint hope that the stupid dogwood trees will finally blossom in my stupid lifetime. But I digress.

Without realizing it, I had begun carrying the knife in my pocket, which, I guess, is how pocketknives got their name. Along with my keys and pocket comb, I now needed my pocketknife with me at all times. I had become my father-in-law. Actually, I had become Opie.

But the real test was yet to come.

On my daughter's recent eighth birthday, the Old Timer met its greatest challenge. My daughter has a thing for Barbie dolls. I have a thing against the packaging used for Barbie dolls. For the uninitiated, Barbie dolls are tied down in their pink packages by a wicked assortment of ties and strings bordering on barbed wire. The words most feared by parents on their Barbie-loving child's birthday are: "Can you open it now?"

My daughter received approximately 16 Barbie dolls (give or take 13) for her birthday. And she wanted them all opened immediately. I turned to my Old Timer, my new best friend. I thought I heard the blades whimper. I whispered a few private words to my Old Timer, then went to work.

Not to brag, but my pocketknife kicked Barbie's package. I slashed and sliced her free within seconds. My daughter was stunned. My wife nearly hugged me before coming to her senses. Never before had I felt so powerful, so useful, so much like a boy.

Nothing left to prove, I thought, poking under my thumbnail with the Old Timer.

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