The Sharp End: After enough time, and even after a lot of care, notice how a set of knives lose their vorpal zing? I’ve been using the same knives for five years now, and they just don’t have that same “Hassan CHOP” quality that gives any fan of slicing and dicing in pursuit of the perfect meal the visceral thrill of sharp-edged execution.
Mulling this last night as I diced up odds and ends for the shrimp tacos I was whipping up, my first instinct was, “it’s time to buy a new set of knives.” My second was a blend of guilt over such conspicuous consumption mixed with wondering what ever happened to the Knife Sharpener.
Not the gadgets, electrical or less so, that you can — and I do — use to keep a blade in mettle. No, I mean the door-to-door tinker of my childhood, a man who would show up on our doorstep with a hand cart in tow one sunny afternoon, offering to sharpen every blade in the house for some agreed-upon price.
Admittedly, I haven’t had a tinker darken any doorway I’ve been associated with since the early ’80s, back in the old family homestead in Carmichael, California. He’d show up once a year, usually in the spring. He was invariably wearing a stained suede apron with pockets laden with assorted files, awls, leather-punches and the like, with his little cart laden with tools in tow. (This being California, I figure there’s no way he hauled the cart any great distance. Maybe a buddy dropped him off as he worked the neighborhood door-to-door, or maybe he parked his ride down by the park.)
Anyway, this red-faced grimy gent would knock on the door and I’d answer, and then fetch Mom. She would inquire about his rates and perhaps dicker; here, memory fails, but my Mom wasn’t one to just agree on the spot, especially with money tight. And then, a price agreed upon, we’d start hauling things out into the brick courtyard for sharpening. Everything from kitchen knives to the lawn mower, hoes, the post-hole digger, you name it, the tinker would sharpen it.
I could really use a tinker right around now, and I figure I’m a few decades too late on that wish. I’m sure that it’s a reflection of the value of goods in a discard-driven economy, that there’s some broader point to make about cheap (and cheaply made) tools, imported or not, the up-side and the down-side of big box stores. Maybe so, but right now that’s not what’s on my mind. Instead, I’m thinking about one tinker, a man I haven’t thought about once in almost three decades.
Dibs: It snowed on Friday, seemed like about seven or eight inches in total. Since I had someplace to drive on Saturday, that meant the morning’s first order of business was digging out the car. It’s an exercise in robotic labor we’re all familiar with in Chicago, and for those of us who have to use street parking, it’s led to the proud tradition of parking dibs. I’m one of those people who thinks dibs is a legitimate social construct: If I spend 40 minutes digging out the space my car’s in, including the barricade of snow plowed up between the space and the street, then marking it with a traffic cone as a bit of transient propriety seems like a reasonable payoff.
So, I dug out the car, and then I subsequently drove off with said traffic cone deployed; the honor code of dibs has been duly satisfied. So imagine my outrage when I drove back a few hours later, and what’s in “my” space? Some corporate-monikered Ford F-150 I’ve never really seen in the neighborhood before, which has piled indignity on top of inconvenience by squashing my little cone, trampling my “right” literally as well as figuratively.
I exclaim my outrage with the usual noisy, blue assortment of colorful metaphors and copulative impossibilities, drawing the attention of my building’s designated nosy neighbor. She’s one of a number of characters in the building (myself not excepted), a retired woman who taught me how to pop door locks with a credit card a few years back when I’d managed to lock myself out of my home. (Not that I now live in suspicion, but I dead-bolt with newfound zeal as a result.) Anyway, she popped open a window and helpfully informed me that the offending vehicle was the property of her new neighbors, who had only just bought one of the building’s unsold units.
Thanking her for this tidbit, I retrieved my traffic cone, popped back into the Astra, and found an unclaimed spot around the block. Still wearing my glad rags from the Equality Illinois event I’d co-hosted, I went straight to the offending party’s door and knocked. A nice young couple, perhaps celebrating their first night under their new home’s roof, answered the door. They will probably enjoy some measure of permanent amusement over the spectacle of myself first querulously (but cleanly) inquiring if they understood Chicago’s tradition of parking dibs — they did not. Refugees from the suburbs! Sacre bleu!
Well, leave it to this self-appointing avenging angel of pedantry to crisply explain the social convention with the warning that I wouldn’t be the last neighbor instantly angrified by their transgressions if they didn’t get with the program and honor the dibs demon. It’s one way to make a first impression.
Random Culinary Discovery of the Week: Earth & Vine’s Mandarin Pumpkin Marmalade. Insanely tasty on toast, and good with almond butter to boot. I was suspicious about how the citrus and the earthier squashy virtues of pumpkin would mix, but Mom & Dad gave me a jar for Xmas, and having finally popped it open, I’m glad that they did.
Random Store Sighting: Maya Essence on Lincoln. So let me get this right, it’s 2012, and these guys aren’t having a “going out of business” sale? Not even to demonstrate a sense of humor? As if we didn’t already know that was a bunch of nonsense.