The lonely forgotten knife

Several years before my father-in-law passed away, he was clearing out stuff he felt he wasn’t going to need much longer.

He gave me a beat-up old toolbox filled with a variety of well-worn tools. I’m not the handyman he was, by any stretch of the imagination, but I took the box graciously.

When I got home, I browsed through it, vaguely noting that it had pliers, wrenches, a partial set of sockets, long screwdrivers, a battered tape measure, a nub of a straw hand broom, and an old pocketknife. The knife was dirty, tarnished, with some paint specks on the rustic, imitation wood handle. It was not very attractive, so I left it inside the box and set the box in the corner of the basement and promptly forgot about it.

Until last night when I had an ADHD attack of I’m suddenly interested in this thing! Now! Get the thing! Where is the thing?! I need the thing!

Other ADHDers can relate.

So, I dug the knife out. Examined it and attempted to clean it up with Q-tips, some rubbing alcohol, and a little oil.

It looked like your average well-used, utilitarian four-blade folder with a 2-1/2 inch spear blade, a plain punch, a screwdriver-caplifter, a can opener, and a shackle (key ring?).

2017-11-15 07.55.102017-11-15 07.55.22

My wife said she remembered seeing it on her father’s nightstand after he emptied his pockets every night, so we determined it was probably his every day carry (EDC) knife.

There were no identifying markings on the knife, no name badge on the handle, but as I cleaned it, I noticed some illegible writing on the tang of the knife blade, which I speculated spelled out the word, “stainless” on the tang of the knife blade. It looked like my FIL’s EDC was just an ordinary, plain Jane, generic folder.

Not that I should have been surprised. My FIL was an unpretentious man who cared more about how something functioned than if it was flashy or had an impressive name. I liked that about him.

As I cleaned away years of accumulated gunk however, I saw that it didn’t say “stainless” after all. There was a brand name stamped there.

It said, “CAMILLUS, NEW YORK, USA.”

Yes! Now I could indulge in my most favorite hobby of all! Research!

Camillus, my research showed, was one of America’s oldest knife companies. It was established in 1875 by Adolph Kastor, a Jewish German immigrant, and they originally imported knives until the Dingley Tariff was enacted in 1897, which made it too expensive to import knives.

To survive, they needed to manufacture knives domestically and eventually, Kastor found a small knife manufacturer in Camillus, New York.

By 1910, with Kastor now at the helm, the Camillus Cutlery Company was producing close to a million knives a year.

Camillus was a very successful company throughout the twentieth century. They provided private label knives to Sears, Craftsman, and J.C. Penny and others, and created a wide range of collectible knives honoring famous people.

When WWII began, Camillus was contracted to provide knives to the military, including the development of their KA-BAR Fighting Utility Knife, which was adopted by the U.S. Marines. After the war, Camillus began producing a full line of official knives for the Boy Scouts of America.

As the twenty-first century arrived however, the company started to struggle. Revenue declined from overseas competition, and they suffered from poor management decisions, until they declared bankruptcy and went out of business in early 2007. Later that year, their product names and intellectual property were acquired by the Acme United Corporation (a shadow corporation of Wile E. Coyote, I’m told) for a mere $200,000 in a bankruptcy auction. In 2009, Acme relaunched the Camillus name.

But my FIL’s knife? Best I can figure by the tang stamp is it was possibly manufactured sometime between between 1946 to 1950.

It resembles the Camillus Camp knife, but lacks the badge on the handle that particular knife sports in their catalogs from that era.

In their 1946 catalog, they have a page showing their Army-Navy knives. The very first one, the Army General Purpose Knife, looks exactly like my FIL’s knife.

2017-11-15 11.44.09

My wife says that makes sense because her father would have been 18 years old in ’46 and he joined the Air Force a few years later. It’s possible therefore, that he either received the knife while in the Air Force or purchased it at the base PX.

And now that little folder, which once languished alone and forgotten in the bottom of a toolbox, now has an interesting history behind it and a prominent place in my collection.

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Writing Wednesday with Chekhov’s gun

“One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” — Anton Chekhov, from an 1889 letter to playwright Aleksandr Semenovich

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” — from Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on a wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” — Anton Chekhov, quoted by S. Shchukin, Memoirs

Anton Chekhov’s oft-quoted piece of writing advice, often referred to simply as “Chekhov’s gun,” is a literary concept that means every element introduced in a story must be necessary to the plot or it is superfluous and should be removed.

In other words, you should remove all false guns from your writing. This applies not just to physical objects and characters, but irrelevant scenes that don’t advance the story, as well.

gw077-chekhovs_gun

I bring up Chekhov’s gun because as I was reading through my own manuscript, I found one. I missed it my first read-through, however, it must have made an impression upon my subconscious because while I was sitting enjoying a cup of coffee (Sumatra from CoffeeIcon. Yum!)j Saturday morning while watching an episode of Star Trek on BBC America, it popped into my head.

“The knife!”

I immediately wrote knife on a notepad and placed it on my computer to remind me.

“Well? What about the knife?” I hear you ask.

I’m getting to that. Patience, young grasshopper.

I have a scene in my manuscript where my MC, an expert in things occult, and his friend, who happens to be a captain with homicide of the local police department, are together investigating a recent gruesome murder scene when one of the investigating officers discovers an ancient obsidian knife.

The knife turns out to be evidence from an earlier murder that the MC believes was a human sacrifice in a ritual to summon a demon.

The MC takes a picture of the knife and sends it to an expert in early Mesoamerican civilizations, who is aiding the MC in the hunt for the demon, in the hopes that he can identify the artifact.

When I had introduced the knife, I had fully intended to have it serve as a significant clue and later my MC and his Mesoamerican expert would get together to discuss where the knife had originally come from.

One thought I had was the knife was an actual museum piece stolen from an Aztec museum somewhere Central or South America and it would help the police to finally identify the killer.

The thing is I never mentioned the knife again!

That’s right. I placed the knife there for the reader to see and then I completely forgot about it.

Now, however, all sorts of new scenarios are presenting themselves on how to make use of the knife, including, but not limited to, adding needed information to not only identify where the killer came from, but also to help develop the relationship between the MC and his police captain friend.

I did a quick Google search just now and found a cool Aztec ceremonial knife that would work, but unfortunately, that knife is held in the British Museum nor is it ancient enough, which means it won’t work in my story. Shame.

aztec ceremonial knife

I’ve got more research to do. Down the rabbit hole I go!

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Freya’s Day

Welcome to another action-packed Friday blog! Let’s get started, shall we?

June Challenge Day 16

I’m still running a mile every day and still doing it in the morning. I know, right? Me, getting up early and running fifteen days in a row? Inconceivable!

I’m not sure what gains I’ve made. I do feel more erect when I walk, so it must be benefiting my core, which is good because I sit at a desk all day at work slouching.

And my legs feel more muscly, less flabby. And as I mentioned before, I feel more sure-footed carrying my elderly, 70-pound dalmatian upstairs at night.

Cardiovasularly, it’s hard to tell if I’m making strides (strides… Running… Ha!). If I push myself to a pace of over 6.7 mph, I tend to start gasping and I’m not sure if that’s helping or hurting my progress. 

I’ve always heard that you should be able to carry on a conversation. Well, that’s only going to happen if I jog at a slow pace, not run, and what’s the fun in that? Besides, I run solo; who am I going to talk to? The television?

Photographic Proof of Bigfoot?

I think I should have taken some semi-naked photos of myself before I started the June Challenge so I could compare and see if I’ve had any visible physical changes. I really regret not taking any “Before” pictures a year and a half ago so I could see how far I’ve come. (I imagine they would resemble a hairless version of the infamous Bigfoot picture.)

Oh. OK. Nevermind. Now that I see him, Bigfoot looks in better shape.

The photos would be helpful because now I look in the mirror and I don’t see much change, but considering I’ve dropped 30 pounds, there must be a change. Photographic evidence woukd have been nice to verify it.

The tape measure, after all, only shows minimal changes in size and that always depresses me. How is it possible that I’m now down to a 34 inch waist in my pants but the tape measure still shows it is 38 inches?!?

Weigh-In Friday

I’m down a pound from last week. I’m at 201.8. I’m still above my lowest weight of 198.6 from back on May 12th.

However, looking back, in the last month I’ve dropped -3.4% in average body fat and gained +2.3% muscle mass. 

So why can’t I lose the weight? Because I love junk food, that’s why. I love salty snacks, especially cheddar and sour cream potato chips. Don’t leave that bag near me or it is gone. Put a few in a bowl and I’ll be fine. Wait. It’s empty already. Just one more bowl.

And last night, I baked the Bigfoot-sized bag of frozen Jeno’s Pizza Rolls for dinner. Sorry, not sorry. Had a craving. Usually I’m good with portion control for dinner, but last night I went a little overboard stuffing those delicious little pizza-filled wonton-like things in my mouth. It was like the old Alka-Seltzer commercial:

https://youtu.be/VFKifpMtlNs

On Becoming an Auto Geek

I’ve never really been a car guy. By that, I mean, a guy who fusses around his cars, spending entire weekends in the garage massaging and oiling and pampering them.

Sure, I like cars. One day, I’d love to get a classic muscle car and attempt to restore it, except we haven’t the garage space for that and to me, a header is the thing at the top of a document.

The closest I came was my 1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z. I did change its oil. And I hand washed it. Applied polish. But to be honest, I never understood the process. 

Did you know that polishes and waxes are two totally different things? I didn’t. I learned washing from my dad, who also wasn’t a car guy. You got a bucket of hot, soapy water (dish soap, why spend money on car wash soap?). Then you’d dry it with old beach towels. Then lather on some Turtle Wax. Voila. Done.

And after the Daytona, I kind of lost interest in band washing, mostly for two reasons, 1) We were living in an apartment without access to an exterior hose, so automatic car washes became a habit, and 2) None of our cars really had a very impressive looking paint job.

And up until recently, my philosophy on car washes had devolved to, “If the rain can’t get it clean, it ain’t getting clean.”

That changed when I got the Fiat. Part of the reason I was attracted to it was the paint job, olive green metal flake that sparkles in the sun.

So I’ve been researching how to detail a car to preserve and protect that shine. I’ve spent hours on sites like Autogeek.net watching videos on car detailing.

Thursday, my order from Autogeek.net came. I can’t wait to take my new random orbital polisher and the detailing products to our Vibe and see if I can’t make her shine again. She’s got a bad case of neglected, oxidized paint. White? I thought she was supposed to be dirty dishwater grey?

Stay tuned.

Making Baseball Great Again

Did anyone watch the Congressional Baseball Game last night? It was very enjoyable, and not because the Democrats destroyed the Republicans 11 to 2. 

No, it was enjoyable because you could sense, despite the athletic competition they were in, that there was a sense of comraderie that probably hasn’t been evident in Congress for a long, long time. 

Sad that it took a shooting to make everyone realize that, despite our political beliefs, we’re all still human beings.

And who knows how long it will last.

The part of the game I found touching was (and I swear there was something in my eye), at the end when the Democrats received the trophy for winning, they called out the manager of the Republican’s team and gave it to him to put in the office of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana to keep until he recovered from his wounds.

That’s the spirit of cooperation and civility we should all be living every.single.day.

Currently Reading:

The Complete Guide to A Show Room Shine by Mike Phillips

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Meet Gina

I’ve been doing research on a new used car, because that’s what I do: I research the Hell out of everything before I buy it.

Is that an odd trait? To enjoy doing research, making comparisons, weighing the pros and cons? 

I know some people buy on the spur of the moment, sometimes making what to me seem like rash decisions.

But I have to know everything about something before I jump in. Or in my case, wade in and gradually test the waters.

It’s just how I’m wired. I think it’s the OCD aspect of my ADHD. Others with ADHD are the risk takers and make decisions immediately. It’s been said that I can’t make a decision to save my life  (which is untrue. In life and death situations the obsessive part of me shuts down and I rely on instinct).

Anyway, this was supposed to be about cars. So I narrowed my search down to two makes, Ford Mustang and Mini Cooper. These two were then narrowed down to two specific cars on the same lot, both 2007. The Mustang was a black deluxe with white hood stripes and 75,000 miles and the Mini Cooper was the S, turbo model with 84,000 miles. Same price.

I test drove both. The Mini seemed like a better driving experience, but the engine was covered with oil, which concerned me, and they had to jumpstart it because the battery needed replacement. Because of that, the radio didn’t work. But the interior was cool otherwise.

Whereas the Mustang’s interior seemed dated. And although it had a new clutch, the shifting just didn’t seem as smooth as the Mini.

So I made a chart of pros and cons. Doesn’t everyone? In the end, it turned out there were more pros for the Mini than the Mustang and surprisingly, the Mini was actually the faster of the two in the quarter mile and the Mini had a top speed nearly 20 mph faster. 

But talk maintenance costs and the Mustang wins, because Mini turbos are notoriously expensive when parts start to go and they suffer from carbon buildup that can be costly as well to clean.

So it came down to the Mustang, my childhood dream, a car that still turned heads when I test drove it, or the Mini which was fun to zip around in city traffic, would be smaller and easier to park downtown, and gets much better gas mileage.

My teenage son tried to influence me toward the Mustang. “Dad, you won’t have any street cred in a Mini.” 

Which did I choose?

Right? The 2013 Fiat 500 Lounge,  of course. 

“Wait,” you’re saying, “you never mentioned a Fiat was on your list!”

That’s because it wasn’t. The Fiat was a surprise last second entrant that we saw sitting on a lot Saturday as we went by and once I took it for a test drive, that was all she wrote. 

It’s a cute, zippy fun car to drive and its the first car, or even first inanimate objects, I’ve ever felt compelled to name.

Meet Gina, my Italian beauty:

Gina strikes a pose

“So all that talk about researching and not buying spur of the moment was just bullshit?”

Well, yes and no. I did generic research on the Fiat 500, Honda Fit, and Mazda3, among others, but using Autotrader and CarGurus, I didn’t find any specific vehicles that interested me. Not like the Mustang and Mini.

So I knew specs, Fiats got much better gas mileage than the other two, and reliability, Fiats didn’t have the mechanical woes of Mini turbos and since Fiat owns Chrysler,  the parts are Molar and more comparable to other domestic cars, like the Ford for repairability.

The Fiat 500, Gina, reminds me a lot of the first car I ever drove, my mom’s 1971 VW Superbeetle. It was stick as well and a blast to drive around town. I’ve driven many cars since then, but not one gave me the same thrills zipping in and out of traffic or the cute good looks as the bug did. Until Gina.

Gina’s two-tone leather interior

Gina is all the bug was, and more.
And both my sons like it and not a word about street cred from my teenager. In fact, he wants me to pick him up from school.

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Out of the darkness

A long, long time ago in a galaxy not so far away there existed people who were outcasts, shunned by mainstream society, bullied, picked on, and made fun of.

These were people who enjoyed strange and bizarre things. They read comic books, and enjoyed science fiction and fantasy. They stayed up late at on Saturdays, but not to go to the bars or nightclubs, no, these people stayed up to watch horror movies on TV; movies introduced by horror hosts.

These people would go to drug stores to purchase (shudder!) comic books! And they’d carried them home in unmarked brown paper bags.

They’d go to bookstores and lurk in the dark recesses where they kept the science fiction and fantasy novels. And when they’d walk through the store, they had “Conan the Adventurer” or “Tarzan of the Apes” sandwiched between ordinary best sellers by Erma Bombeck or Jackie Collins. Then at the counter they’d say, “I changed my mind about these” and they’d just buy the Conan and Tarzan, and the clerk would wink knowingly.

At home, they’d put on their Battlestar Galactica jacket (which they could never leave the house wearing for fear of ridicule) and go into their closet, pull out a musty old box labeled, “Grandma’s quilts,” inside of which was their secret stash of Marvel and DC comics, Warren and Mad magazines, and their collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. And they’d read!

It was a secret society. There were no meeting places, no memberships, no secret handshake, because you never knew who was watching you.

You never flashed the Vulcan salute because, like a gang sign, you couldn’t be sure who would see it. Maybe a school jock would see it, peg you for “one of those pencil-necked geeks” and before you knew it your ass would be on fire from a wedgy or you’d find yourself face first in a toilet receiving a swirly.

We lived in constant fear that our secret life, our forbidden passion for comic books and science fiction and fantasy, would be found out.

But today, that has all gone mainstream and geek has become a pop culture phenomenon.

We didn’t have comic books stores where you could speak geek with others who shared your interests. No Internet with forums for our kind.

Now there are whole shelves at Target devoted to superheroes, Star Wars, video games, entire online stores, like Think Geek, selling nothing but geek-inspired items.

Television is inundated with superhero and sci-fi shows. The biggest blockbusters at the theater feature the Marvel Universe.

We had Lou Ferrigno in green make-up as the Hulk. You have CGI. We had Robbie the robot and the robot from Lost in Space. You have R2D2 and some round little thing. We had Captain America in a motorcycle helmet and an Evil Knievel-like suit. You have Chris Evans. We had Adam West. You have the Dark Knight. We were laughed at by the girls. You have the beautiful women of Cosplay.

We blazed the trail, we took our lumps, we hid in the shadows. You get to come out of the darkness as the force awakens.

You’re welcome.

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Parker 45 Flighter or Special GT?

So I’m sort of on a binge with fountain pens, having purchased several since I refurbished my vintage Esterbrook.

Recently, I picked up what was listed on eBay as a Parker 45 Flighter, made in the UK. I probably spent more than I should have. But who knows, maybe not. I’m not exactly sure what they go for, nor do I know how to age one. But it’s a nice brushed stainless steel with gold accents and a black cabochon on the cap crown (and similar looking ones on Amazon seem to go for twice what I paid).

Parker 45 Special GT Flighter

Parker 45 Special GT Flighter

The black cabochon, if my research is up to snuff, might actually make this a 45 Special GT, the last 45 update before they retired it in 2006.

The nib is partially hooded, which gives the pen a sleeker look. It’s also a gold color, but I don’t know if its actually 14K gold or just some sort of plating. My research says that when introduced in 1960 it did have a 14K gold nib, but that was then, this is now.

Black section with hooded nib

Black section with hooded nib

Close-up of nib

Close-up of nib

Unlike my Rotring which uses replaceable cartridges, this pen came with a “converter,” as they’re called. This is a cartridge-sized refillable doohickey. That’s the technical term, by the way, refillable doohickey.

Never having run across one before, I had to figure out how to fill it. So I did some more research. Parker, it seems, has made six different converters over the years. And it took me a while before I found a YouTube video on how to fill it. As you can see in the picture, there’s a little slider and guess what? You actually slide it!

Slider-type Converter

Slider-type Converter

You’re probably thinking, “Well, duh.” And now that I know how it works, it is a well, duh moment. But when I first got it, not knowing what it was, I was afraid to do something that might ruin it (and gentle pressure didn’t make it move). And I’m reading different how to fill instructions talking about twisting one part, while holding another and the slider will go up. Nothing made sense until I finally saw that video showing me that it actually does slide.

So I filled it and started writing with it. It’s not a bad writing pen, and at this point, I don’t know which pen I prefer, the Esterbrook or this Parker.

But I do know this. The Parker looks sharp in my pocket.

Parker in my pocket

Parker in my pocket

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It’s alive! Wherein I bring life to a dead fountain pen

Sunday I mentioned I wanted to fix my vintage Esterbrook fountain pen. It needed a new bladder sac. The old one had essentially disintegrated.

When I first found the pen at my mother’s house, I had tried to use it, but it wouldn’t suck up ink. At the time, I had no idea how a fountain pen worked. And when I pulled the lever, it felt like something was being crushed inside. When I shook it, these little black particles came out. At the time I thought it was dried ink. Now I know the rubber bladder sac had dried up over time and crumbled away.

I set the pen aside, bought a new Rotring Skynn fountain pen, and forgot about the other pen. But now I need to replace my Rotring, as I mentioned on Sunday. I had ordered what I needed for the repairs on my Esterbrook on Sunday and they arrived today.

My supplies arrived from Pendemonium

My supplies arrived from Pendemonium

I must say I’m very pleased with the fast service I received from Pendemonium. I ordered a bladder sac #16. A bottle of blue ink. And a bottle of orange shellac.

I had previously dismantled my pen and cleaned out all the remnants from the deteriorated bladder sac. Next, I laid everything out so I knew exactly how short to trim the new bladder. The section (the part that has the nib) should be lined up next to the barrel the way it would be if pushed together. Then the bladder is laid out so the closed end reaches to the part of the barrel where the lever is. The cut will be made at the point on the section where the sac nipple meets (yellow arrow).

Measuring where to make the cut.

Measuring where to make the cut.

Once the bladder sac was trimmed, I then folded back the top section of the bladder so it formed a cuff about 1/4 of an inch. Then I tried my best to insert the bladder over the bladder nipple on the section. This was the fun part. I was all thumbs and struggled to get the cuff over the nipple. Imagine the fun I had after I applied shellac! Now it was slippery (yet oddly sticky). I was successful twice, but because the shellac was wet, it came off. The first time, because I tried to straighten it and it just popped off. The second time it just squirted off. But three times is a charm and I went away to let it dry.

Finally! Sac meets nipple.

Finally! Sac meets nipple.

When I figured it was all dry, I reassembled everything. Then I dipped the pen in the fresh new bottle of blue Parker Quink, pulled the lever slowly three times, wiped the nib off with a tissue, then tried to write.

It's Alive!

It’s Alive!

And Voila! I now have a beautiful working vintage Esterbrook J pen!

Now to do some writing.

And thanks go out to the folks at Pendemonium for their quick turnaround of my order!

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