Hazardous duty

When I was in college I took a part-time job over winter break so I could make some holiday money. Talk about a turn on the capitalistic treadmill. I had to work at a mall to make money to spend at the mall.

I worked at a cutlery shop. Half of it was devoted to kitchen knives, of which I knew nothing. The other half was devoted to outdoor and camping knives, a realm in which I had some familiarity. One of my favorite knives was a very small model of the Swiss Army Knife made by Victorinox. It was called the “Classic,” which has a derivative, the “Classic SD.” With one exception, customers, standing five deep at the counter, were happy for the recommendation, and we sold those great little knives by the handful.

As for that exception, well, I’ll get to that in a moment.

As for the knife, it weighs less than an ounce. It is scantily longer than two inches, just a little bit longer than a standard house key. In fact, people often carry it on their key ring.

Its knife blade is, by my rough measure, about 1.3 inches long.

Its other blade is a file, and this is where the Classic and Classic SD differ. On the Classic SD the file has a squared-off tip that serves as a screwdriver; this tip is also beveled, which makes it good for prying. On the plain old Classic, by contrast, the tip of the file just tapers to a point. I think the Classic SD is the more useful choice.

The knife also has a small but highly useful pair of scissors, a small pair of tweezers, and a plastic toothpick.

The knife is made in Switzerland with admirable precision. I like to mention the knife from time to time because, in our electronic age, the old-school tools are going overlooked. As handy as electronic “apps” might be, sometimes you’ve still got to deal with stuff in the tangible world.

A few years ago I bought a Classic SD at Joeten Ace Hardware. I am now advised they’re not stocked. If anyone knows where this knife is being sold on Saipan, I hope you’ll let me know. Barring that, I’ll mention that prices in the outside world seem to range from about $14 to $20.

No, you can’t repair a typhoon-ravaged electrical grid with the one, but you can tend dozens of little, or even not so little, tasks that crop up whenever life starts to get interesting.

Anyway, back to my shopping mall stint. There was one customer who wanted a gift for someone who liked to camp. But this little knife was so small it didn’t strike the customer as a serious piece of gear. The customer scowled at it. For that matter, the customer scowled at me, too.

“It can do a lot of stuff,” I said in reference to the knife.

“Oh yeah? Like what?” I was asked.

Hey, good question. What do you cut with a knife? What do you cut with scissors? What do you tweeze, pry, jab, slice, trim, or file? Whatever you want to, I suppose. I did offer a couple of random examples, but they just elicited more scowls, so they must not have been very striking.

Today, as I dawdle over my coffee, I decided to note a few specific things that, based on my experience, can be done with the Victorinox Classic SD:

• Remove a splinter from the skin;
• Cut bandages, tape, thread, fishing line, rope, cloth, etc.;
• Cut stitches;
• Trim fingernails and toenails;
• Shave wood into tinder;
• Tighten or loosen a hose clamp;
• Trim fuel line;
• Trim automotive heater-hose;
• Trim automotive vacuum tubing;
• Pry open a small-appliance access cover;
• Clip a newspaper or magazine article;
• Clip a coupon;
• Remove, repair, and re-install an electric switch;
• Pry a small battery out of a device;
• Pry out an automotive fuse;
• Cut a plastic bottle into a field-expedient cup;
• Pry off a bottle cap;
• Remove a staple;
• Cut a V-notch in a cigar;
• Pare or cut small pieces of fruit and other food;
• Slice open a box or other packaging;
• File a corroded electrical connection;
• Cut and strip an electrical wire;
• Tighten or loosen a screw;
• Sharpen a stick, because sometimes dull sticks just won’t do.

I’m not suggesting that the knife is the ideal tool for all of these tasks. The point is that it’s that it’s easy to keep at hand, which makes it the available tool for all of these tasks.

This time of year my pals and I talk about the latest gadgets. We all have boxes full of multi-tools, some quite nice, but I still consider the Victorinox Classic SD the most useful tool of them all.

I may be asked what the second-most useful tool is. I’d nominate the old military P-38 can opener. That’s a tale for a different day. It’s also a tale that has nothing to do with shopping malls during the holidays. That’s fine with me. After all, some duty is too hazardous to contemplate for long.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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