"I was raised, you see, in a tradition to which it was considered improper for a man to be without a knife on his person … My grandfather had a number of dicta, all of them which were aimed at delineating how a gentleman should comport himself. One of them was: No gentleman should ever be without a pocketknife. You would have to have known him to appreciate the full paradoxically of the statement. He had the most elegant manners of any man I have ever met, but he was ready for anything — fish or cut bait, figuratively or literally — at a moment's notice. I give you one more of his dicta to help you take full measure of the man: A gentleman should be able to prepare a light supper without removing his jacket. Obviously, you would have loved him."
— Robert Farrar Capon
I suppose in this day and age, a man who always has a pocketknife on his person would be a prime target for Homeland Security. Still, I can't help but be inspired by the simplicity and readiness of this image of a well-mannered man and his pocketknife cooking up a simple supper. There's a tugging sense of reassurance, a nostalgia almost, for a time when such skills and comportment could be used to measure a life and find it good.
Modern times allow me to not have to rely on a man to produce the knife or the skills, so I lose a few hours to the interwebs, browsing pictures of lovely pocketknives. From the beautiful, handmade vintage models to the crisp, modern stainless steel army types, they call to me. I imagine myself wandering the fields, knife in hand, cutting stalks of wild fennel and laying them across the beach fire to create an impromptu grill on which to cook a freshly caught and pocketknife-gutted fish. I wipe the blade on my jeans, leaving behind a trail of fish guts, and slice up some foraged wild plums for dessert. When I'm finished, I plunge it into the cork and open another bottle of hard cider.
In my real life, I keep cans of tunafish and a hidden stash of cash in my cupboard, and jugs of water and Lara Bars in my earthquake kit. There are locks on my doors and passwords on my computer, all in the service of adverting disaster. But this notion of carrying a pocketknife and the skills to catch and gut a fish, or chop up some roadside herbs, is far more compelling. Somehow it seems more tangible, more connected to what it means to be alive and the imperative to feed the belly. I know that if (when!) The Big One hits the Bay Area, the tangibleness of my Lara Bars will be foremost. But I suspect that the pocketknife might come in handy, too.
And while I might be all rugged and independent with my fennel fronds and fish guts, the truth is this pocketknife in the hands of a suitor is a pretty sexy notion. After all, who in their right mind would turn away an elegant, well-dressed soul, especially when they're willing to prepare a light supper using only a pocketknife and their bare hands? Not me. No sir.
Related: The Best Picnic Knives
(Image: Peter Frank Edwards)