There it was under the Christmas tree.
A pocket knife.
I have not carried one for years but when I was a kid, a knife was a prerequisite for manhood.
All my friends had one and we took them everywhere. We carried them to church, to school and to the playground.
No one thought to object.
The thing about carrying a knife was figuring out what to do with it.
Sometimes that was a challenge.
You could always whittle a stick – but that got boring. You could etch your initials into your school desk – but that crime came with its own evidence. You could carve a declaration of love into a tree – but that required hasty edits.
Still for some things knives were actually useful.
Swiss army knives were the best, especially the model that came with every possible tool known to man. There was a can opener to open cans, a screwdriver to turn screws and a nail file (which no self-respecting kid ever used). There were scissors to cut paper, a saw to fell trees and a magnifying glass to start fires whenever temptation called for it.
The Swiss army knife was all you needed to fend off the Apocalypse and every kid wanted one because back then Armageddon was a mere push of a button away.
But that was then.
As the years passed, I learned that survival had more to do with punctuality and delivering on promises than doing manly things with a knife.
Eventually a knife became a liability, a thing that made airport metal detectors shriek and school administrators squawk. It got so you couldn’t even bring a pocketknife into a mall, so I stopped carrying one.
And just as I did (wouldn’t you know it) simple manly things became increasingly impossible.
“Would you open this?” my wife would ask – and after huffing, puffing and a grand mal temper tantrum, I had to admit I couldn’t.
When did opening something as simple as a bag of peanuts become a finger-busting, teeth gnashing, emasculating ordeal?
And who was the fiend who invented the clam shell package? Those things are tougher than iron and meaner than an alligator with a mouth full of abscessed teeth.
These days, consumer packages are designed to convenience the seller and humiliate the buyer. It is all about presentation and loss prevention – whether the consumer actually gets to use the object is not important.
And as each year passes, I am humiliated more and more by not being able to open simple things.
Until my wife gave me the small gift of a pocketknife for Christmas.
“Now,” she said, eyeing a pile of presents encased in tough transparent plastic, “when I ask you to open something, you can do it.”
“Gladly,” I said, “but first I have to figure out how to get the knife out of this stupid package.”