(originally published in Remarkable Doorways Literary Magazine (now defunct) 9/23/2014)
You know when somebody goes from a friend to a “good friend?” When they are trying to sell you something.
That’s how I knew that my friend from college had suddenly gained lofty “good” status. He was sitting in my kitchen with what looked like a large duffel bag telling me all about the unique opportunity that was sitting in front of me.
A unique opportunity I wouldn’t have had to endure had the dumb bastard just studied more. When I said I went to college with him I wasn’t lying, but I didn’t say he graduated. He quit senior year because he couldn’t pass his calculus class.
He just walked away. I wonder if he romanticized it like people do when they see a balloon get away from a child and float off.
And then a few years later he walked into my kitchen after calling me up and asking for a few minutes of my time to discuss his exciting new career.
Knives. He now sold knives.
Who the hell sells knives?
I’ll tell you who sells knives… old friends who never got their degree. That’s who sells knives. He didn’t even have courtesy to barge into my kitchen and try to sell me insurance or pitch me on some crazy investment.
He wanted to sell me knives.
So I sat and listened and pretended to care about all things cutlery for the sake of an old friend. The first thing he did was try to shame my current knives. I leapt to their defense. It was the least I could do after all the years of service they had put in. To that end I opened up with a salvo from one of my favorite old English brewers Charles Buxton: “The rule in carving holds good as to criticism; never cut with a knife what you can cut with a spoon.”
I could almost feel my silverware drawer titter in appreciation. Truly a quote that would have sent most knife salesman scrambling, but this was a “good friend” who was only three credits away from a degree so after a small wince he unzipped his bag and produced a knife.
“Temptation is like a knife, that may either cut the meat or the throat of a man; it may be his food or his poison, his exercise or his destruction,” he countered. I appreciated that he stayed in Jolly Old with his choice of John Owen.
Now before you start to think that we are eggheads who attended some prestigious university let me admit right now that I had to use autocorrect to spell prestigious correctly. Both times. That second i is a sneaky one. To be quite honest, we spent the vast majority of our time drunk and/or high and on an endless hunt for sexual encounters. We were far from the polished specimens exchanging knife quotes.
“So did they give you a list of quotations about knives for moments like this?” I inquired.
“Nope. I Googled them after I got the job.” He seemed proud in a “not bad for a man who never finished college” way. I gave him a “you were only three credits short you dumbass” look back but I’m not sure he caught it.
The thing about balloons is that you imagine them traveling a great distance, on some great adventure and seeing a lot of cool sights, but typically they just go up. Up will give you as nice view for awhile but eventually up gets cold.
He fished out a larger knife and began to extol its virtues. He went Italian on me during the big close. “Happiness, for you we walk on a knife edge.” He just assumed that I would know a quote from a Nobel Prize in Literature winner and I appreciated that. If he was willing to whip out a little Eugenio Montale to influence me then I was only too happy to be on the receiving end.
Then he got to the price. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. I had spent less on automobiles and much less on beautiful women. There were samurais back in the day, whose very existence depended on a keen blade, that did not spend that much cash on their sword. If I bought one lone knife it would become the most expensive item in my kitchen.
“Hell no. Sorry but I can’t afford that.” I was firm.
He launched back into his sales pitch, noting repeatedly how we were “good friends.” This seemed to imply I should feel on the hook for at least the 5-piece starter set. Why? Just because I finished my degree and got a decent job and didn’t have to schlep around with a bag of knives humiliating myself in front of all my “good” friends?
Irritated I got all Lao Tzu on him. “Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.” I hoped he would get the hint.
He did not. Instead he went for the throat with a little Sophocles. “A wise doctor does not mutter incantations over a sore that needs the knife.” Sophocles… a tragedian. The room grew silent and I understood.
Sometimes you see deflated balloons in the oddest places. Like in your kitchen trying to sell you knives.
If someone close to me was kidnapped and a ransom in the same amount was required to assure their safe release I would probably have to receive at least a few fingers before I finally coughed it up but because he was a “good friend” I forked it over and sent him on his way.
Now before you leap to the conclusion that this makes me a nice guy I want you know that I’m not. I put the knives on top of the cabinet and I haven’t touched them since. Out of sight. Up high where hopefully they’ll soon be forgotten.