Why Men Love Knives
Making hunters feel competent since 2 million B.C.
There’s something about a good knife that speaks to you on a primal level. It’s been this way for about 21/2 million years, ever since David E. Petzal was just a gleam in his papa’s eye and some nameless hunter-gatherer first began pounding rocks together. Anthropologists say we first made tools for two purposes: pounding and cutting. Your pounding tool is simplicity itself; pretty much any rock will serve to crush a mastodon bone to get at the marrow. But you need something very specific-a sharp edge-to butcher an animal or scrape a hide. Imagine that first hominid flaking a piece of rock into a shaped edge that fit his paw. Imagine the delight in his face as he hefted it and discovered its powers. I bet you anything he smiled, elbowed the nearest guy, and showed off his creation. And the message-verbal or not-has remained unchanged from that day to this: Got me a nice little cutting rock here. Check it out.
I understand this feeling in its totality. Not long ago, I picked up a very nice “rock” indeed. Mine was a serious folder, an Emerson CQC-7. It’s more knife than anybody but a Special Operations guy could justify. But it’s not more knife than I wanted. I liked the way it felt in my hand. The Teflon-coated blade is just over 3 inches long and partially serrated for cutting rope or other fibrous material. It has a Tanto point that can punch through steel. Its handle is an epoxy-fiberglass laminate known in the trade as G-10 that almost seems to adhere to your hand. The knife comes with a clip that positions it head-down in your pocket so that it’s in the right position when you draw it, and there’s a little round thumb plate affixed to the blade for one-handed opening. The click of the blade locking into position is authoritative. It’s a sound that says, I can handle this.
The knife is pure function with no concession to appearance. Because of that, it is all the more beautiful. Like the Parthenon, there’s not a truly straight line in it. It cost…let’s just say, enough that you might be tempted to pay cash so your wife doesn’t see the figure on the credit-card bill. You could easily field dress an elephant with this thing. Heck, you could probably build a house. It makes me feel more competent than I actually am. A good knife will do this to you.
The only problem is that it’s sending me into a severe funk because there is nothing in my life that justifies a knife of this seriousness. I am not in the Special Forces. I am a middle-aged bald guy who lives in the suburbs with a wife and two kids, a big mortgage, and a 1991 Honda Civic. Last night, with my new knife in my pocket, my younger daughter and I fell asleep in her bed after reading The Poky Little Puppy. And not long ago, an attractive young woman held the door for me as I entered a store behind her. When I thanked her, she said, “You’re welcome, sir.” That “sir” said things that no man who still has his own teeth and knees should have to hear.
So maybe my acquiring this knife is a reminder to myself that beneath this veneer of normalcy there still lives a hunter-gatherer whose every day is a struggle against a world filled with sudden and unforeseen dangers. True, saber-toothed cats no longer tread in the night, waiting to pounce, but there are challenges nonetheless. Just last week, for example, I was setting out the garbage cans at the end of the driveway when I ran into my neighbor, Dave, who was doing the same. Dave is about my age and is suffering from the effects of having recently traded in a sweet little pocket-rocket convertible for a green minivan. There we were, two housebroken hominids with lawns full of dandelions, wrangling our garbage cans. Then Dave began stomping the cardboard box from a new baby gate, as the trash guys won’t pick up any container that hasn’t been flattened to under 6 inches. He was kicking it harder and harder, to little effect, when I said, “Let me give you a hand.” I slid my knife out of my pants pocket, and the blade clicked into place. With four quick strokes, I slit the cardboard seams. The box collapsed.
“Whoa,” said Dave. “That is one serious little blade.”
“Yeah,” I said proudly, offering it handle-first. “Check it out.”