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?).

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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.

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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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Thor’s Day

As a child, my parents gave me a children’s book on Norse mythology, “Norse Gods and Giants,” written and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.

The stories, adapted from the Norse myths that come to us from the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, captured my imagination.

(In school, I was disappointed in the obvious bias against Norse mythology. They never touched upon it, making it seem like there were only the Greek and Roman gods. Bah.)

In “Norse Gods and Giants,” I learned about the nine worlds, and learn about Ymir, the frost giant, his cow, the giants and trolls, the birth of the Aesir gods and their battle killing Ymir and creating the world with his bones, how Odin, the All-Father, lost his eye, how Loki, the mischievous one, was blood brother to Odin, the story of Fenris, the wolf, son of Loki and how Tyr lost his hand when the gods fettered Fenris. I loved these stories.

But above all, I really loved Thor, the hot-tempered, if dim-witted god of thunder. They drew as a bulky, angry God with fiery red hair and beard.

Often he’d fly into a rage at the mere mention of jotuns (giants) and throw his mighty hammer, which they drew as a roundish mallet with a very short handle. He’d throw it so often, the hammer would become red hot and he needed an iron glove to catch it so his hand wouldn’t burn. He road on a chariot drawn by two angry goats.

So this was my image of a Thor (and one I used when I wrote him into one of my still in progress novels). An image which is very different from Marvel’s version.

I mentioned Friday, I was reading the early stories of Thor when he first appeared in Journey of Mystery. I have almost finished that book, “Essential The Mighty Thor, Volume 1.”

It covers Journey into Mystery #83 (August 1962) through Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965). None of these stories did I read as a child. I was still reading DC, Harvey Comics, Archie Comics, and Gold Key at this time.

Now for a really bad segue, when the Thor movies came out, I was very disappointed when they decided to make the Aesir aliens instead of actual mythological Norse gods. It pretty much ruined the movies for me.

Part of that was because at a young age, I came to love Norse mythology. And the Silver Age Thor I read, dealt with the mythical gods, not aliens.

Some people seem to think the comic book Thor was an alien, too. I don’t know if they recently changed canon, but I stopped reading Thor sometime in the mid to late 1970s, the Bronze Age, and he hadn’t been changed into an alien at that point.

To prove this point, one of my favorite features within the Thor comics were the “Tales of Asgard,” which began in Journey into Mystery #97.

“Tales of Asgard” was a wonderful feature illustrated by Kirby showing the majesty and grandeur of life in Asgard. He drew sweeping vistas of gleeming Asgard and momentous battles featuring Balder, Syf, Thor and others that really captured my budding sword and sorcery loving soul.

But to my point, the first several “Tales of Asgard” were essentially a retelling of the Norse creation myths. No aliens. No ancient galactic space travelers settling on Earth.

No. These were fairhful retellings of how the Norse gods came to be including the birth of Ymir, the frost giant, his companion cow, and how the first Aesir, Buri, grew out of the ice, took a wife, had a son, Borr. And that son had three sons, Odin and his brothers.

The “Tales of Asgard” mention the Yggdrasill, world tree, and even tell how the first man, Aske, and the first woman, Embla, were created from an ash and adler tree.

Granted Lee and Kirby took artistic license and told these creation stories in their own inimitable style, but they still followed the original Norse mythology stories.

In the beginning, therefore, Marvel’s Thor, Odin, Loki, et al were actual, true mythological Norse gods, never aliens.

So there.

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That reminds me

An interesting characteristic of our brain is associative memories.

It is throwback Thursday, after all.

I’m refering to the brain’s ability to connect two completely different items or concepts.

Music, for example, has very powerful associative properties. For many of us, hearing a certain song will awaken certain memories, some happy, some sad.

Many songs will remind us of a time in our past when we first heard the song, say a childhood event, or a year in school.

Some songs give us a vague feeling, such as “Sugar, Sugar,” by The Archies gives me a general happy feeling about my chikdhood, whereas others are more specific. When I hear “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron,” I’m back in the Cub Scouts with my friends taking a train down to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Some parent had brought an AM radio along and we’d sing to somenof the Top 40 hits.

Another example is, I used to listen to Black Sabbath’s first album while a teenager reading sword and sorcery tales, particularly the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard.

Now, when I listen to Black Sabbath, a feeling comes over me, a mood, if you will, that is similar to reexperiencing the awe and wonder I had back then reading those stories.

So intense is this mood that now I’ll play their music when I’m writing, hoping to capture some of that magic in my own story.

Smells also provide strong associative memories. Maybe a whiff of a certain cologne or perfume will bring back memories of someone out of our past.

Sometimes the association will surprise us because it was unexpected.

For instance, the reason for this rather bland post is because I was making coffee and enjoying the aroma of the freshly ground coffee.

Now I’ve been around the smell of coffee my whole life. There are many decades worth of memories associated with it that I could have recalled.

I could have remembered my time in the Navy, where coffee was figuratively our life’s blood. We drank it nonstop from the moment we awoke until we fell asleep. Our index fingers nearly atrophied into a permanent crook from holding our coffee cups.

On the other hand, because I do drink it regularly, the pleasant scent of coffee doesn’t always trigger any specific memories, it just puts me into a good mood.

Today I was surprised when the coffee scent triggered a memory of my childhood. I was taken back to my parents’ house before they were divorced. Back when I thought my childhood was happy.

Both my parents had coffee in the morning, so our house would fill up with the odor as it was being brewed in an old aluminum electric purculator in our kitchen.

It was similar to the old perculators they’d show in the Maxwell House coffee commercials, like this one:

I remembered that my dad, who, because he drank a lot of coffee, smelled of it. Many people remember the scent of their dad’s calogne. Me, I remember that he smelled like coffee.

My mom had made breakfast and ee were eating at the kitchen table, while my dog, Thor, lay just outside the kitchen doorway watching us. He wasn’t allowed in the kitchen and he stayed obediently on the other side until we came out.

It was an odd associative memory and I thought I’d share.

Have you had any associative memories lately that surprised you?

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Adventures in ADHD – Impulsivity

One characteristic people suffering with ADHD have is impulsivity. We are impulsive! We do things first, then think about it. We don’t consider the consequences of our actions beforehand. In other words, we leap before we look.

We don’t need no stinking beer. We have ADHD!

Long before the phrase, “Dude, hold my beer” came into the vernacular, those of us with ADHD said, “Watch this.” We don’t need alcohol to deaden our self-preservation center. We were born this way.

My childhood was rife with examples of impulsivity, of “Watch this.”

Friend: Bet you can’t jump off the garage roof.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! I’ve never seen anyone do a lawn belly flop before.

Friend: Bet you can’t climb to the top of that tree.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! Good thing that big branch stopped you.

Friend: Look at this minibike I made. Wanna try it?

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! I forgot to mention it has a high center of gravity and you can’t turn at high speeds.

Friend: Go kick that cat off of our baseball field.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! I’ve never seen a cat that mad, clinging to a person’s leg before. That’s a lot of blood.

Friend: Our dogs are fighting! We’ve got to stop them. Go grab yours.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! That’s a pretty deep hole in your wrist.

Anyway, I could go on.

And on.

And on.

But you get the point, impulsivity sucks.

It is also expensive. I become suddenly interested in something, a hobby, or what have you. I read everything there is about it. Join tons of forums so I can talk about my interest with others. And I spend money.

Then I lose interest. And again, impulsivity kicks in and I purge my life of that interest because, of course, “I’ll never be interested in this again.”

My most famous and regretable “I’ll never” was when I threw out all my Silver and Bronze Age comic books when we were moving. I had Captain America #100 through 150. I had Conan the Barbarian #1 through 35. And others. All in the trash. “I’m in my 40s. I don’t need these. I’m not interested in comics any more.”

Me: *screams*

Yeah. You guessed it. Over the last decade or so I’ve been buying them back on eBay.

A more recent example, but not nearly as costly, was an interest in drawing. I went out and bought some drawing books and several types of drawing pencils. I worked for several months learning how to draw. I could draw a realistic human eye like nobody’s business. I’d like to show some samples, but I purged all my drawings from that period. (Somewhere I have a blog post featuring drawings from high school, if you care to look. Found it.)

Then I lost interest (or found a shiney new interest). After a few years of not drawing, I finally got rid of the books several months ago. I mean, it had been years, right? “I’ll never want to learn how to draw again.”

Me: *screams*

Yeah… Who’d have guessed? I mean, really? I went searching my bookshelves for the drawing books, then realized, oh, yeah. I got rid of them.

Today, I wisely went to the library to check out a couple beginner books on drawing. At least I’m not spending money.

Yes, impulsivity is the reason I’m a jack of all trades, master of none. I learn as much as I can, as quickly as I can, about an interest, but I lose in it before I can master it.

By the way, if you play guitar, I’m thinking of selling my 2008 Gretsch Duo Jet in silver flake. I mean, I haven’t touched it in two years, right? “I’ll never play guitar again.”

Future Me: *screams*

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Friday on my mind

We made it to Friday! Time to party! (Or as I keep thinking a commercial for a local Native American gaming casino says, “Some people like to BUTTAH! all night long.” Yeah, my wife gives me that same look every time I say it, too. “Why would you think she’s saying butter?”) Fine, let’s get to it.

Bad Friday Haiku

Let us hit the streets

The weekend beckons us again

It’s time to buttah!

Coffee, a little bit of Heaven on Earth

My wife and I recently (a month or so ago) found a newly-opened coffee store. But not your ordinary coffee shop that serves beverages, no, this store sells coffee before it’s brewed. It is called, CoffeeIcon. The location used to be the Java Hut –Oh, drink coffee you will– Sorry. And we frequented it infrequently. Then it was gone and the store stood empty for years. 

I forget why we stopped by. Either for the Walgreen’s on the corner and we noticed it in passing (“Stop! Coffee! My precious!”) or we were getting some pizzas from Papa Murphy’s next store. (Funny, but as a kid, I always thought people were saying, “They’re our next store neighbors.”) Anyway, I digress, as usual.

We stopped in and were stunned. Inside there were shelves upon shelves of coffee. Dark roast, medium roast, light roast, flavored coffees, coffees from Africa, South America, everywhere. It was like we’d died and gone to coffee Heaven. 

They have the largest selection of Keurig-style coffee pods I have ever seen. This isn’t your average supermarket selection. This is premium coffees. Coffee that you can sample! Yes, you heard that right. Find a k-cup coffee you’ve never had before? Take it up and they’ll brew it for you. No charge. As in free. 

That’s the best thing ever! Free coffee!

Their selection of brands includes, for example, a nice selection from Twisted Pine, which is a Green Bay Wisconsin roaster that started with their “1265 Breakfast” roast (any guesses what that address is?) and has greatly expanded their offerings. Their “Jamaica Me Crazy” is one of the few flavored coffees I like. Caramel and vanilla flavors blended with a hint of coffee liqueur.

But CoffeeIcon is more than just Keurig cups. They sell beans, as well. In fact, they have a large variety of green beans on the premises and they will roast them to suit your taste and grind it to your preference.

Our most recent visit, I picked up a pound (12 ounces once it’s roasted and ground) of their “Jaquar Espresso” (and I apologize, but I do pronounce it with an X, but I’m working hard to stop), which is an organic blend of several South American varietals. It’s a dark roast, but it’s smooth and delicious. 

The cool thing is, on the bag the barrista wrote the temperature and length of time it was roasted at so the next time I can go in and say, “Could I try it a few degrees cooler this time?”

If you like spicy, get the Marley Coffee “Catch a Fire.” It has natural chili pepper flavor in it. Delish. And yes, that’s Bob Marley’s son, Rohan, who founded it.

They’re online, too, and they ship. Coffee Icon

Running within myself

This morning I experimented running at a pace that allowed me to breathe through my nose the whole time. Usually, I run too fast and I end up gasping through my mouth. I’m not sure if that is beneficial aerobically. But it always leaves me exhausted, almost burned out afterwards. 

Today, I made a concious decision to run slower and I did. Sure, my time was 2-1/2 minutes slower than I had been running for the same distance, but I finished the run still breathing through my nose and actually had enough kick left to sprint to the finish. Usually you can’t tell I’m sprinting because I’m so worn out.

I guess I’ve been pushing myself too hard all this time. I need to slow down in order to build up my aerobic fitness.

Weigh-In Friday

I lost 0.2 pounds. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

I spy a Monarch!

I saw a Monarch butterfly in our yard the other day. I was happy, but at the same time, quite sad.

I was happy because I’ve always liked Monarchs with their bold orange and black wings and because they are so unusual due to their marvelous migratory pattern, traveling thousands of miles from the U.S. and Canada to central Mexican forests.

As a child, that fact alone facinated me; that this delicate creature could survive an exhausting and hazard-filled flight of over 2,800 miles was simply miraculous. I still have a book from my childhood about it, “The Travels of Monarch X” by Ross E. Hutchins.

But I was sad, too, because seeing a Monarch has become a rare occurance. As a child, I remember them swarming everywhere. They were among the most common of butterflies in the summer.

Now, they are endangered. Pesticides, which are decimating our honey bees, are killing the regal Monarchs as well. They are also suffering from a loss of habitat; Man is encroaching on their winter mountain retreats. And let’s not forget climate change (which, if you’re conservative is easy to do). It too is having a negative effect upon the once proud Monarch.

It’s sad to think that one day our children, and our children’s children will not be able to experience the joy and wonder that is the glorious Monarch.

I think I’ll go read that book tonight. Maybe it’ll uplift me.

#climatechangesucks

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Summer solstice

It’s June 21st, the summer solstice, also known as midsummer. 

As a child, June 21st meant summer vacation was well underway and there was still the rest of June, plus all of July and August before school started up again in September.

That was an eternity.

I have vivid memories of my childhood doing all these wonderful things with my friends, riding our bikes across town to play in the Menomonee River, going to the nearby park to play on the swings, teeter-totters, or play a game of hide-and-go-seek or sandot baseball, climb trees, or throw a frisbee. Going to summer camp or on family vacations to the Wisconsin Dells or down to visit relatives in Kansas. These events seemed to last forever, yet in reality, took place over a few short weeks during summer vacation.

Now, as an adult, I see June 21st as a signal that summer is in full swing. I regard Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer (compared to the meteorological start of summer). There are still three full months to come of decent warm weather, July, August, and September, in which to go to the beach, or enjoy one or more of the many festivals Milwaukee is known for. We just had Pride Fest, Polish Fest, and the Lakefront Festival of the Arts.

Yet to come is Summerfest, the world’s biggest musical festival, Germanfest, Italianfest, Mexicanfest, Africanfest, Wisconsin State Fair, Feast with the Beasts at the Milwaukee County Zoo, and Indian Summer, to name a few and not including every church festival that we have several of nearly every weekend throughout the summer.

Then, on the other hand, there’s the part of me that suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) and that part of me sees June 21st as the beginning of the end of the long days of Sun light. To quote Shakespeare from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The true beginning of our end.”

Yesterday and today are the longest days of the year, giving off life sustaining and mood enhancing Vitamin D enriched Sun light.

After today, the days grown shorter, the lush greenery outside begins to fade, and before I know it, nature is hibernating again, the days are gloomy and cloud covered, and I’m in a funk struggling to keep alert and active.

But that’s months away. Let’s focus instead on how beautiful and alive the world is today, June 21st. The trees are spreading their branches, showing off their emerald glory. The sunshine is warm upon our upturned faces. The days are filled with the sounds of singing birds and the nights with chirping crickets.

It’s grilling season. Enjoy the smell of charcoal briquettes and the sound of sizzling meat as you enjoy a cold drink and celebrate the summer solstice.

It is midsummer, a major holiday in Finland, a time for family and friends. As the Finns say, “Go peaceful or go party.”

Today, is the best day of the year. All full of hope and beauty and life.

Get out and enjoy it.

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Let’s play favorites

Do you have a favorite car? One that, over the years, you’ve consciously or even subconsciously, used as the measuring stick by which all other cars are measured?

Mine had been my mom’s 1971 Super Beetle. I learned to drive with that car. It was a four-speed manual and a blast to drive.

1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle

I was a teenager and got my license in my junior year in high school. Many of my classmates, if they had their own cars, drove the muscle cars of the day, complete with jacked-up rear ends and big, wide rear tires, so they looked like funny cars (the race cars, not something to laugh at). 

They drove Pontiac GTOs or Firebirds of various vintage, Chevy Novas, Chevelles, Camaros, as well as 442s, Skylarks, Cudas, Chargers, Challengers, and so on. All tuned so those big V8s would growl and cough and rumble as they drove around John Marshall High School, squeezing tires, to show off for the girls like peacocks waving their colorful tail feathers.

They lived for cars and girls  (queue song).

And here I’d come with my mom’s Bug. There’s not much you can do to mod a Bug, especially when it’s your mom’s, but I had a friend help me install an 8-track stereo that I could just plug in, then take out when I was done. We used my home stereo’s set of book shelf speakers, which fit perfectly behind the backseat storage area of the car.

So I’d cruise around blasting tunes and to really get attention, I’d pop the clutch and lay down some rubber. I think it caught people’s attention because no one expected a Bug to squeal it’s tires. Sure, the back end would hop and I’m sure I wasn’t doing the transmission or clutch much good, but it would leave about a two or three foot long burnout.

(And if I my younger son, once he has his license, ever pops the clutch in my Fiat 500, he’s grounded for life.)

That Beetle was a fun little car to drive. It had decent excelleration and was quick enough and small enough that you could weave in and out of traffic without any problems.

And it has been my reference car ever since. Whenever I’d test drive another car, I’d mentally compare it to that one. In the end, none even came close. 

I mean, sure, I enjoyed my 1986 Dodge Datona Turbo Z. When the turbo finally kicked in and threw you back into your seat, it was a lot of fun. But otherwise, it was a heavy car, despite its small size and wasn’t very zippy in traffic because of its turbo lag. And shifting always felt clunky until it finally did go clunk.

1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z

The two Ford Escorts I had were what would be called basic transportation. One was the body style from the ’80s and the other was the sportier looking version from 1995. They were more utilitarian than fun.

And although our 1996 Pontiac Sunrise served us faithfully for nearly 15 years until it developed a hole in one of the cylinders, I wouldn’t necessarily call it fun to drive either. In fact, it seemed rather heavy, but we always felt safe in it during the winter.

So over 43 years, and at least 14 cars, the memory of that Beetle lived on… until three weeks ago when we bought the 2013 Fiat 500 Lounge.

Queue angelic choir singing “Ohhhhhh!”

Now I have a new favorite car.

Small is the new black.

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