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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Small Town Knife 

Crocodile Dundee brandished a very dangerous looking Bowie knife and backed down a would-be criminal, taunting "Now that's a knife." 

I had gotten by with a nothing more than a plastic butter knife my first few months in Manhattan.  Being a new New Yorker with a tiny studio apartment, I was making due.  And didn’t cook any more than I absolutely had to. Which, for the most part, stopped and started with brewing a pot of coffee. Then one day while replenishing coffee filters and toothpaste at my local grocers,  I see a very respectable looking knife for sale. It was merely $5 for 7”of serrated aluminum. I told myself I could afford it. I couldn’t, but practicality had me in its grip, leaving me no choice.  I reached up tall on tippytoes and claimed it as my own. “What the heck.” The accumulation of basic household items had to begin somewhere.

Each time I had an occasion to use that knife I was impressed with its performance. No matter what I asked it to do, it was done with ease and precision. I may not have had much, but at least I had a knife that would never let me down. Seemed odd to feel so proud about a random purchase that was neither considered nor researched, but rather just sort of happened.  I felt that I had all the knife I’d ever need, ready to chew mercilessly through packing tape or vacuum packed coffee bags, an apple and cheese when entertaining, and on occasion, serve as a screw-driver. That knife would wear any hat I asked it to - and I developed a love for it, born of reliability and dependability. Perhaps that’s how people feel about their pets – a devotion that stems from nothing more than continued presence.

The years wore on. Other dime-store knives entered the scene, but always, when faced with a need for precision, not to mention strength, I’d dig past the other utensils that offered themselves to me, opting for My 1st Knife. Like an old Army friend, waiting to do what I asked of it,  I’d find it. It’s jagged, eternally-sharp teeth were always at my service.

Jobs changed, salaries increased, coveted one-bedroom apartments on the Upper West Side were found, and so too, the day came when I got a set of Henckel knives.  I was quite excited about this as it seemed to represent more to me. They were Henckel’s for crying out loud. I’d been in New York long enough to know that brand names mattered. Henckel’s were the ones to have. And I so loved the big butcher knife especially. Now I chopped herbs as though being filmed for the live broadcast of a cooking segment on the Today Show. Just as I’d seen it done so many times before, lifting the heel, pulling it toward me, and clamping down on the ingredient with confidence. It sounded just like the chef’s on TV, too.  While my cutting board was still just a piece of plastic from D’agostino’s Supermarket, my agility and performance and hardware were camera-ready.

Occasionally, I’d still reach for my 1st knife, mainly out of melancholy, but it never,  not ever, could it reside with the Henckel’s.  I was moving up, and this 1st knife had served me well,  so I’d always have gratitude for it’s indestructible service. But I’d moved on, clearly. Just ask my Henckel’s. They would emanate success and kitchen prowess, a cook who is now in the know, and comfortable being there. I had mastered the art of sharpening my Henckel’s, once I learned that sharpening was necessary maintenance of the owner. Again, I felt the cameras rolling on me as I swish-swish-swished the left side across the 10” diamond sharpening steel, and again on the right. “Ting!” Sharp as a… as a Henckel.  I punch through an arm of gourmet salami like a 300 lb. man through thin ice; cube out a cheese tray in minutes flat; gingerly maneuver the tip in, around and through the core of a cantaloupe  There was no mercy for the groceries awaiting me and my Henckel’s. I was on my way to being a Domestic Goddess in the kitchen, and ready slice, sliver, and  match-stick my way into a man’s heart. All I needed all along was the right tools.

It was long after the thrill of my Henckel’s wore off, when in the deep of the night, when the lights of my judgmental city were dimmed, I’d hunt amongst the miscellaneous cutlery to find my 1st knife. I didn’t have a serrated Henckel to make an apple cutting-to-apple cutting comparison, and maybe that was more of a conscious choice than I might have thought. I am nothing if not loyal.

And in that same way, my small-town self will always be in me. Mr. Right will have to make room for the drug store make-up plastic-shoe wearing eternally sharp $5 knife wielding part of me too.

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