Monday, February 25, 2008

Who Would You Throw Your Knife Away For?

My brother and I took my two sons to a Barack Obama rally today so they could get a chance to see our potential next president. We waited in line for two hours in a good-natured and talkative crowd; we bought the kids some souvenir buttons (it's never too early to begin indoctrinating the little ones); gradually we made our way to the doors. When we got to the metal detectors, my brother realized he had brought his pocket knife with him. When he reached the station, the guard made it clear that he either needed to discard the knife, or not enter the auditorium. In an important moment of decision, my brother decided attending the rally wasn't worth tossing his knife for*.

Later, after the rally was over and we had witnessed mini-speeches by Mayor Mark Mallory and Barack Obama, waved at ourselves on the jumbo-tron and clapped and hooted, we caught up with my brother, and I asked him why he didn't throw away the knife. It was only a ten dollar knife, which could be easily replaced. He said he would've felt bad for the knife if he threw it away. I can identify with that feeling. Knives are kind of like watches. They make interesting gifts,in that they have unique mythologies, prohibitions, rituals and guidelines attached to their being given and received**. Of all the things a man is likely to have on his person at most times, a knife rates right up there with car keys, wallet, watch and chewing gum. I threw a pocket knife away when we went to the capital building a few years back, and am still vaguely chafed that I didn't come up with a better solution.

So, after framing the situation, I asked him who he would throw a knife away for. Say we had a time machine, and could visit anyone in history, but those same metal detectors and guards and regulations stood between us and our target. Is there anyone you would throw your knife away for? Obviously, I'm easy. I threw a knife to see the inside of a building. My brother passed up seeing a speech from an potentially historical political figure in ascendance.

He pursed his lips and considered. Maybe Tesla. He said. How about David Bowie? I offered. I like Bowie, but I'm not sure. Maybe Einstein or Gandhi. More likely Tesla. But still doubtful.

I rattled off a list of people I'd ditch my knife for: Theodore Geisel.Teddy Roosevelt. Bowie. Tesla. William James. I felt somehow less in touch with whatever special ancestral (or whatever) vibe it is that links man and his knife. My brother feels inclined to honor that deep connection. I'd trade in my knife like it was a movie ticket.

Who would you ditch your knife for?

*I don't fault my brother at all for his choice. While it was neat to see Obama in person, and to be in that atmosphere, the speech wasn't long, and the material wasn't new or substantial. Much like a high school football rally, it was all pom-poms and platitudes.

**I'm thinking of the one that says you have to give someone coins when they give you a knife as a gift, otherwise the relationship will be cut.

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