Pocket Knife

When I was 16 years old, I worked on a summer hay crew. Where I grew up, this was practically a rite of passage. Most kids my age had been working on crews since they were probably nine or ten, if not earlier. The youngest kids usually got stuck on a windrake and later graduated to baler or balewagon. Since this was my first summer, I was given the job of running a windrake. The purpose of this is to rake the hay that has been cut by a mower (a pretty advanced job on a haycrew) who has been cutting a few days ahead of the rest of us. The cut hay has to dry out or cure in the sun for a few days before it gets raked up into neat rows, which a baler comes by and turns into bales which are stacked up and either sold or used for feed during the winter.

Being on a hay crew is hard work. It is mostly monotonous. You sit in the sun, rattling around on a tractor, making long, snaking rows of dead grass that someone else turns into blocks. Sometimes something breaks and you have to fix it. On my first day, a fuel line got plugged up and the old guy who ran the ranch was trying to fix it. He asked me to listen to the fuel tank to see if I could hear any air he was about to shoot up through the fuel line with an air compressor. I did this, and received a dousing of about five gallons of gasoline. I was covered in the stuff. Old Frank tossed his lit Newport into a ditch and went to help me, apologizing for what had happened as he washed out my eyes with water. I reeked of gasoline for the rest of the day. My eyes stung from my flammable sweat, even though we rinsed off as much as we could with the Igloo cooler of water we carried on the utility truck.

Every day for the next 30 days in August, I learned some kind of lesson. This was my first one.

The next one wasn’t so bad, but it was by no means less important than getting a gasoline shower. Frank asked me to cut the string off a bale of hay and when I couldn’t produce a pocket knife to do this, he implemented a demerit system, probably leftover from his years in Catholic school. He said for every ten demerits, he would dock my pay one day. I got paid $25 per day to sit on a tractor and roll hay into windrows for 12 hours. The first offense has earned me three demerits. He didn’t want to see me in the fields without a pocket knife from then on out.

He often spot checked me to see if I had a knife on me or not. It was a lot of incentive to not be without one, that’s for sure. Something as simple and basic as a pocket knife is invaluable in a hay field. As a Boy Scout at the time, we were less into pocket knives and more into these big fixed blade knives. We used to drive our Scoutmaster nuts with who could bring the biggest knife to a Scouting event. I brought a shortsword to one once. And though it impressed the other Scouts, I have to say, it was completely useless. Out in those fields, I discovered the value of an actual knife you carry with you all the time. I carried a switchblade my dad had gotten in Mexico in the mid-1970s. It had a cheaply inlaid scene of a matador fighting a bull in acrylic resin for the scales. It had a shitty spring which stopped deploying the blade all the way, but the blade was never really flush with the handle either, so you always ran the risk of poking yourself with it. What a stupid knife.

Over that summer, I got used to carrying a knife. And in those days, I kept this one or any number of knives on my person at any given time. I often carried a long, thin-bladed knife that used to be my grandpa’s. I was better suited to being in a flyfisherman’s pocket than mine for everyday use as it had a scaler and an inlaid silver fish on the handle, reminding people it was for gutting fish. Whatever blade I carried, at least I was never looking for a sharp rock if it came time to cut something. Even in Scouts, I found a pocket knife was infinitely more useful than whatever Rambo bullshit I would sneak in.

Over the years, I carried other knives, from Swiss Army multitools to a Gerber thing with built in pliers. Almost none of these were really what I wanted or needed. The must useful part of a Swiss Army Hunter is the set of tweezers in the scales. Maybe the corkscrew. I carried a knockoff brass handled Navaja my dad gave me for Christmas one year. The Indian steel was nearly as soft as the brass handle. It also wore holes in the pockets of my jeans and forget about carrying it in a pair of khakis.

Working at an office at a university also made it problematic to carry a knife. Jeez, the first time I pulled out a pocket knife to cut some string I thought everyone’s eyes were going to pop out of their heads. So, I stopped carrying them. Old Frank would have given me demerits for sure. Most of my knives came to me as gifts anyway, or handmedowns. They weren’t always in the best shape or I didn’t want to risk losing them. Or they were just not right.

My girlfriend carries a knife all the time, and considering the lessons I learned out in the hayfields, I have to say, anytime she pulls that knife out to cut something or peel something when I’m not carrying one myself, I give myself a few demerits. So, with the stimulus checks, I decided it was time to get myself a knife for everyday carry use. With the office job ending, I don’t have to worry about the delicate sensibilities of people I work with, or offending the uber-liberal people who have decided pocket knives killed John Lenon, caused 9-11, and are assuming their genders.

I bought a Benchmade North Fork, and I can’t wait to try the sucker out. This will be the first pocket knife I’ve bought in years. It was a long time past due too. Sure, it doesn’t have a bottle opener or a leather awl (because that is a necessary tool to use every day), but it does have a sharp blade and it fits well in your pocket. I also bought a Zippo, because we didn’t evolve this far to not be able to create fire anymore. I used to own a few of these and I don’t even smoke. They were just useful whenever you needed to light something on fire. And a “woobie.” Because it sounded like a good thing to have around. Especially as crazy as things are these days.

One of the things I’ve learned the older I get is that many of the lessons I learned in my youth are coming back into relevance again. Important things to have are a sharp knife, a way to make fire, and a way to stay warm and dry. The basic essentials. Some people might throw their smartphone on there or something. Though useful, I think other essentials are things to have like a good leather belt or a passport wallet. A decent hat or shoes that don’t hurt your feet to walk in all day long. Simple things like that.

Anyway, I decided on the Benchmade because they are made in the USA. Just like Zippo, and recently, the only thing to come out of China that has been built to last has shut down our economy, filled up hospitals, and made everyone decide they are going to walk around looking like Old West stagecoach robbers. I think we’ve given enough to China. We’ve sold ourselves short and forgotten the lessons from older generations.

Maybe if we survive this, we can consider having earned some demerits. Hopefully we don’t set ourselves on fire in the process.

For your Consideration

So, yesterday I ordered my podcasting equipment. Rather than spend the money on rifles, a giant TV, or a tiger, I decided to use the small loan of $1200 from Uncle Donnie to try to do something creative and maybe even something I can use for a little bit of money on the side as I venture into self-employment.

I’m going to start off small. A couple mics, my ancient MacBook Pro, and maybe begin by reading some posts from here that people seemed to enjoy. I plan on having guests too, so if you are in the area, hit me up and I will get something going for a conversation when we can stop hiding in our homes like voles. I would love to do that. Sit around, have a couple drinks, maybe smoke some cigars, and just visit.

For now, my format is going to be kinda all over the place. Maybe like my blog is now. I’m going to try to not be too political, but this is the world we live in, so I’m sure it will come up. I have a few guests in mind that I would love to discuss their politics and activism on the show. There will be stories. There will be cake. My son has already stated that he wants to help, so I’m sure there will be hours of content about Nerf guns and why he is irritated he can’t call his friends “Dude” or “Bro” at school. The kid is a podcast all on his own every day.

One thing I don’t want to do is have that awkward first podcast I hear everyone do. I mean, I’m sure it will be awkward AF, but if you have listened to podcasts, you’ll see how many spend the first one or two episodes talking about how weird it is to be podcasting and then…well, usually they don’t get any further than the first three or four before they stop.

I’ve been blogging since 2007. Yes, I have an old LiveJournal that I stopped using last year and now I have this wordpress site. The LJ represents years of experience and connections I made. Most of them in the SF community. It also documents some of the hardest struggles I have faced in my adult life, and sometimes I delve into the past to remind myself how far I have come.

I know I might be worried that the second I hit Record to start my first podcast, I’m going to choke. I remember that was how my first blog posts went too. Back then, I thought blogs were self-aggrandizing. Paramasturbatory. But today, I don’t see them that way. I see them as a way people express themselves and make connections. Unfortunately these days, nobody reads anything, so other than the dozen or so views I get on my blogs, there isn’t a lot of readership and almost no interaction. It’s a common factor to why Hemingway used to say, “Writing is the loneliest profession.”

By the time you deliver content, there is a lag anyway, and it could be months down the road before you hear anything about it. Writing is also a relationship between you and the reader. I’m not saying pander to a reader, because if they knew what they wanted, they would be writing their own stories. Readers are willing recipients of the stories we pluck out of the Aether. They are fans of the way we string sentences together to resonate with the truth inside of themselves they might not know how to articulate.

I think blogging has dropped off in much the same way reading has. For one part, it is reading, and for another, people might not have the time to read what you have written. We have work, kids, school, errands, meetings, and a whole constellation of other bullshit to contend with first. Throw in the scant hours we get for freetime on a weekend or an evening, and who the hell wants to sit down with a book? Much less a blog?

But, as I do with podcasts at my desk at work, I put in my earbuds and I let them drone on as background noise. I pick things up as I listen, and I drown out my coworkers who don’t know how to shut up.

Back when I was in HS, I visited with my math teacher about starting a radio station. He was excited because he was a HAM Radio operator. He told me about so many legalities and FCC regulations that regulate how stations run that honestly, it kinda ruined any aspirations I had to work in radio. I just wanted to be Chris for Northern Exposure. To wax philosophically, to play obscure old blues albums, and talk about the goings on of town through a window on a Main Street shop.

Well, in a weird way, maybe I still get to do that. And I can cuss if I want. Though the old albums probably won’t happen either (unless I can find some stuff that is 75 years old or older and nobody owns the rights to it).

Anyway, I’m just talking about my plans here so I don’t ramble on about them in my first podcast. The equipment will be here next week, so that gives me a little time to get some other things prepped too.

Who knows? It could be the beginning of a great opportunity. Or it could never get off the ground. But you miss every shot you never take, so there is that.

Question though…any ideas what I should call it? I’m currently shortlisting the name of this blog or my travel blog. Any suggestions?

Content and Contentment

I remember when shower thoughts used to be deep and profound. That is one of the things I dislike about my forties. At some level, I have traded deep thoughts and pondering the universe with things like the best way to budget a purchase or what my next responsible step is towards achieving a goal.

When I was first divorced, I was dealing with a lot of turmoil in my life. So many changes hit at once. It was a stressful time, especially in the beginning when the mudslinging and outright lies of my then-soon-to-be-ex were looking like the only way that I was going to see my kids was through supervised visitations. All because I decided I had put up with enough abuse and decided to leave. There is a playbook, my friends, and every narcissist got a copy of it. They don’t deviate from it either. The endgame is to make everyone’s life hell because they hate themselves.

Needless to say, this causes a lot of stress.

So, in the beginning, I changed up the way I was living. Out on my own, I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I was not longer doing two loads of laundry every day, or cleaning the house after working a 9 hour day, or doing dishes, making dinner for five. I had only myself to take care of for a short time. I got to learn how to be a little bit selfish again. I read a lot of things that helped me through those stressful days. It seemed like every day was different. New challenges awaited me every day with sharp teeth and an insatiable hunger.

I was retraining my brain too. In the beginning–and I know how sick this sounds–but I almost missed the abuse. I would check my email or voicemail for the familiar beratement, the humiliation. The sharp words I had gotten used to over the years. I distracted myself from that need to be criticised. I began criticising myself.

I started going to the gym. I realized that I had withstood fifteen years of that bullshit, I could power through twenty minutes on the eliptical. It was a hard twenty minutes. Then it became 40 minutes. I dropped weight. My cardio got better. I also ate less. I ate a banana every day because a divorced dad blog suggested this is a way to take care of yourself. It gives you healthy calories instead of empty ones. And unlike alcohol, you aren’t pumping a depressed body full of a depressant. I ate so many bananas in those first couple years that I can hardly stand them now. I eventually lost so much weight at such a rapid pace that my gallbladder shit out and I had to have it removed.

My dad gave me a great piece of advice. He suggested I make a list and every day, I cross something off that list. Some days I’ll cross a few things off the list and other days maybe only one. I got good at making lists and crossing things off. It was a good way to combat the depression. Yes, I said it. Depression. My life was hell in my marriage, I won’t sugar coat it, but I was going through a process of grieving. It was the end of a life I had known. In some ways I felt guilty for what my kids were going through. And then I was scared of the uncertainty of what would follow later on–in a life on my own. Those words she said would sometimes resonate with me. “Nobody is going to want a fat, bald asshole like you. Not unless you get one of those mail order brides!” My worth, she thought, was attached to the value she gave me. Which wasn’t a lot. At this point, I didn’t know what my real worth was. That would take a lot of time, a lot of miles on the treadmill, and a lot of bananas.

In the time between then and now, I have crossed a lot of things off so many lists. Today’s shower thoughts were what step comes next. I recently have found myself laid off from a job I have worked at for the last eighteen years. This was something that was in the works long before the pandemic. My next stop in life is trying to figure out how to maintain a life with freelance writing. In the shower I was thinking about how much to budget to buy equipment to start a podcast. Blogs don’t reach the audience they once did, and for some reason, I really have liked the platform of podcasting. It’s not the sound bites of the ADHD afflicted media where you are supposed to consume and digest all the information you know in thirty second sound bites. Clickbait headlines. And counterfactual content that varies from one content mill to the next. Journalism is dead, and I feel sorry for these kids going to college to become journalists. They might as well go back to work on a degree in phonograph repair.

But here I was, thinking about what kind of mics I might need, if my old MacBook can handle it. What would I talk about? Would anyone even listen to it? Why are my words any more important than anyone elses? It just seemed like a lot of self-serving ego tripping. Then I thought about all those miles and all those bananas and all those lists. Even then, I had a list I was checking off. Start a podcast. Why? Because why the hell not.

The lists allow you to maintain order. And outside, people are driving in their own cars right now wearing surgical masks and rubber gloves. They are washing their groceries when they get home. It is the same sort of insanity I had to live through when I was married to a self-congradulatory germaphobe. I find myself at a part of my life where the sidewalk has dropped out from under my feet. The world we once knew is changing. I don’t think it’s coming to an end, but it is definitely changing. The old Ivory Tower where I used to work is part of a system that has been revealed to be outliving its usefulness. Even last week, my son did his schoolwork from home. What would be expected to fill seven or eight hours in the day was accomplished before 9 am every day, with two Zoom meetings in the afternoon with his teacher during the rest of the week.

What comes next for me is just a matter of checking things off lists. Now, what comes next for so many of the rest of us is a little new. People aren’t handling things very well, being cooped up. They fear an invisible enemy. They are facing losing their jobs. Their relationships might even be coming apart at the seams because they are stuck with someone all day long they might usually only see for a few hours everyday. They are dealing with this depression, this mourning of the life they once knew by putting empty calories into their body. Self-medicating with alcohol. Infusing their daily thoughts with social media and the echo chamber you get from that. They are getting angry. Angry at the government. Angry at the press. Angry with themselves. And they should be! That is just one of the steps of processing grief. As shitty as my marriage was, I still grieved it. The potential ahead of me was often terrifying. Like a dog that gets kicked and finally gnaws through its chain, what happens next? Well for some of us, we run into traffic and get hit by a car. For the rest of us, we start off small. We eat bananas. We take care of our bodies. We cross things off lists. We fall down and get back up. We go in new directions and seek out new opportunities.

We leave that world behind because it wasn’t doing us any good.

I don’t know what happens next, but I know I’m not going to poison myself just to numb the pain. To drown out the confusion. It’s time to start making lists again. Put one foot in front of the other. Barring any disasters, I have the next 40 plus years ahead of me. Granted I wouldn’t mind having those old shower thoughts back. Like if we couldn’t see colors would we still appreciate sunsets? Or what would life be like now if I had made difference decisions?

Right now is a day to make decisions.

I decided to spend some money to start off something new in my life. And then I blew some more money on some stuff I have been wanting to replace, that I lost in my divorce. It’s going to be a gamble, but I am content with what I have. I’m fine with waiting things out at home. I have a supportive family and girlfriend, a son who wants to become a YouTuber and has been practicing his own content delivery on the iPad, without any resistance. Unlike my 40 something self. I keep thinking my first podcast will be a lot of ums and losing my train of thought. Lots of hating the sound of my own voice. That fear of not doing it perfectly. What Content can I come up with to enthrall people?

Well, let’s find out.