One of my coming-of-age milestones was carrying a pocket knife. Completing Cub Scout training at about ten, my mother allowed me to have one. For the last forty-seven years, the world judged me competent to carry it, but for about the last five it’s been getting me into trouble. It’s a little black one with a two-inch blade I got at WALMART for eight bucks. I can open the blade with one hand - which is handy since I often need it while holding onto something else with my other hand. It’s one of the six things I always have wherever I go, the others being my glasses, my watch, my planner/wallet, my pen, and my flash drive. All are essential: I can’t read without my glasses. I can’t be on time without my watch. I can’t remember much unless I write it down with my pen in my planner/wallet - without which I can’t buy anything either. I can’t transfer files between computers or back them up without my flash drive. Without my knife, I can’t peel the orange I eat every day, open envelopes, boxes, newspaper bundles, clean my fingernails, or countless other things I use it for.
All last week, however, I reached into my pocket and it wasn’t there. Finally, it was delivered back to me by Federal Express. I had to give up my little knife when I rushed through the Portland Jetport trying to catch an early flight and avoid a storm delay. I’d forgotten to put in into my luggage before checking it at the ticket counter and didn’t realize it was still in my pocket until I’d taken my shoes off and was about to go through the metal detector. The guard pointed to a little kiosk nearby where he said I could ship it to myself for five bucks if I stepped out of line. Though I had very little time before I had to board the plane, I did it. I addressed an envelope and paid the $5, then waited at the end of the line again. I still set off the alarm on the metal detector though, because I’d also forgotten to take out my pen or take off my watch. Again, I had to step aside and wait to be frisked before going to the boarding area. They let me keep my glasses and my watch.
I keep a Swiss Army knife with my traveling toiletries because it has scissors and a corkscrew. At the hotel I took it out and put it in my pocket. It’s bulky and I need two hands to open the blade, but it was better than nothing. It was okay for a few hours until I had to go through another security checkpoint to attend Vice President Cheney’s speech in the hotel’s ballroom. I had to turn on my laptop so the guards could ascertain that it really was a laptop and not a bomb, and I had to do the same thing with my digital camera. Because I was carrying that Swiss Army knife though, I had to step out of the line in which I had waited for half an hour. The guard wouldn’t keep it for me to pick up after the speech so I had to bring it up to my room, then go back down and wait in line again. Traveling between Israel and West Bank last year I could keep my pocket knife, but not while traveling between Portland and Washington DC. Israelis and Palestinians trusted me with it but my own countrymen are afraid I’m going to kill someone.
Sometimes I carry a handgun because I’m caretaker for properties with alarm systems and occasionally I have to answer one in the middle of the night. It would be foolish to do so unarmed. As a teacher, however, I work in a “gun-free zone” where there are penalties for carrying a weapon. We’ve seen how well they work lately at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University. Although I consider gun-free zones a violation of my Second Amendment rights, I comply, but I refuse to give up my pocket knife. Five years ago, I got a visit from an administrator because a student had seen me peel my orange with my little black knife and she was scared. Imagine that. What are we doing to kids these days to make them scared of a two-inch pocket knife? “You’re not supposed to have those you know,” said the administrator.
I was flabbergasted. “When custodians give up utility knives and cooks give up kitchen knives, I’ll think about it,” I said. “The school is not dangerous because I have this in my pocket. If it bothers you, don’t call it a pocket knife. Call it an orange-peeler. Call it a letter opener. I’m not giving it up.”
Correction: Last week I wrote that Congressman Ron Paul withdrew from the race in his speech at CPAC. I wasn’t actually in the room for it, but watched a small portion on a monitor outside with others who reported that he was dropping out. I didn’t double-check and I should have. His campaign is anemic and hard to notice, but continuing - rather like when "Silent Cal" Coolidge died. One reporter asked: "How can you tell?"