This last Christmas certain environmentalist groups advertised meaningful green gifts – instead of giving your child a bicycle or a football for Christmas you could donate the money you would have spent on your own kid to some stranger who’s shown you a picture of a polar bear allegedly drowning.
It’s a polar bear, citizens; it swims in the water and eats harp seals, you know, the cute widdy-biddy harp seals with the big ol’ eyes. The polar bear rips screaming baby harp seals apart with its fangs and claws, and the baby harp seals die far more horribly than if they got whacked in the back of the head, and then they get eaten. How’s that for a bedtime story, PETA?
When I was a child there was nothing I would have wanted more than to stumble sleepily but excitedly into the living room to find a card (printed on recycled paper with recycled soy-based ink) giving me glad tidings that a penguin had the new cap pistol I wanted. Sadly, my parents weren’t green, and so gave me cap pistols and baseball gloves and toy trains and an ant farm.
Although not as exciting as a new bicycle, a good pocket knife is a far better gift than being bullied into pretending to feel good about a fish or a ground squirrel. Giving a boy his first pocket knife is a traditional rite of passage, and having it taken away a day or two later for misuse is another traditional rite of passage. A knife, after all, is a tool, not a toy, and owning one is a grown-up thing.
My ol’ daddy said that a man’s not fully dressed without his pocket knife; experience demonstrates that this is true. The knife was perhaps the first tool used by humans, probably beginning with a sharp flint, and necessary for skinning a rabbit, slicing veggies, building a fire, eating, building, mending, opening, slicing, dicing, picking your teeth, and cleaning your fingernails. Mind the order of usage, of course! No one who lives close to the land or the sea or the workshop can function without a good knife to hand at all times.
Thomas Jefferson is often credited for inventing the first folding knife, which, while not as strong as a one-piece, is certainly easier to carry about. Manufacturers began adding extra blades, and then the Swiss got the idea of adding specific tools in miniature, resulting in the Swiss Army Knife. Where or not the Swiss Army carries Swiss Army Knives is a good topic of conversation. While these gadgets are fun, I’ll bet your old grandpa could accomplish with his single-bladed pocket knife whatever task was necessary before you could find and unlimber the designated thingie out of a Swiss Army Knife or a multi-tool.
A friend gave me a nice little lock-back with a single blade with saw-teeth. I found this knife so useful that a few weeks later I bought a larger model, made-in-America, even while thinking to myself that the last thing I needed was another pocket knife. And then a few weeks after that Hurricane Rita did not hit New Orleans, and that big ol’ American knife with its one large blade and saw-teeth paid for itself many times over with its survival utility.
Shiny things under the tree or for a birthday are fun: little plastic boxes that light up and make noise, and other little boxes that allow you to hear The Immortal Words of Our Time – “Can you hear me now?” and “She’s all up in my face!” But when you are long-gone, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will not treasure your MePod or your cell ‘phone or your Brickberry, because those dinky disposables will have long since been recycled into beer cans or Chinese cars. But they will treasure your old pocket knife, its edge well-worn from good, honest use and from many sharpenings around a winter’s fire when the stories are told.
Sturdy, American-made pocket knives are great, traditional gifts for men and boys. They are also perfect for skinning baby harp seals.
Did Churchill Destroy His Secret Underground War Room Computers in 1945?
To be chanted whenever the O Machine 1 fails:
Rumor has it that the Enigma
Was to Churchill a foul stigma
And that the ancient, creaking Babbage
It was to him but so much cabbage
Colossus One and Colossus Two
Those gadgets too he began to rue
They say he let them rust and rot -
The pity is that he did not
(I checked with the Lizard People on this – Churchill’s secret Second World War computers, powered by a primordial Lemurian source of energy so dangerous that even speaking its name in the ancient language of the Atlanteans is said to be fatal, are secured in a locked vault on Oak Island and guarded around the clock (set to Martian time) by the Trilateral Masonic-Vatican Continuum of deadly albino flying fish.)
1 E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops,” 1909, Much-anthologized
With its four-beat
It plows and putts
It pulls and putts
It plants and putts
It digs and putts
It mows and putts
It rakes and putts
It bales and putts
A little oil, a little gas
A sweet machine
Upon the grass
When all is done
And all is said
There’s nothing like
My latest book, Coffee and a Dead Alligator to Go, is available, along with Don't Forget Your Shoes and Grapes, Lady with a Dead Turtle, Paleo-Hippies at Work and Play, and The Road to Magdalena, from Amazon.com both as a Kindle and as bits of dead tree.
BA in History, University of San Diego, 1976; MEd, Stephen F. Austin State University, 1984; MA in English, Stephen F. Austin State University, 2002. Mr. Hall also accomplished 18 months of field studies in Viet-Nam and Cambodia, once hitch-hiked from California to Texas, and has been rejected by some of the finest publishing houses in America.