I have twice, recently, found myself struggling over knives with friends. Neither involved my wallet or car keys, and neither resulted in even minor flesh wounds. My struggles lay in knives but not of them. Or of them but not with them. The first occurred after I moved in for a few weeks with S. S is convinced that his knives, which he keeps in special assigned slots in a wooden block next to the stove, must not for any amount of time, however short, remain sitting with food on them. No more slicing and enjoying of cheese or apple and then returning after to clean up. The knife must be scrubbed immediately, even while the cheese turns rubbery and apple browns. The knife is to be cleaned with a softish sponge, once, twice, and again, and then extra lovingly dried and polished with a clean, soft cloth. The knife must be swiped in one direction along its special sharpener a few times to renew the edge and then maybe again caressed with the clean, soft cloth, and finally reinserted—take care not to rub the cutting edge against the wood!—into its slot. S did not at first insist that I clean the knives with such fastidious care. Rather, he would sneak around behind me picking them up as I set them aside. I perceived a disapproving cast to his mouth, which prodded me to confront him. Our exchange included such jewels as “If you don’t take care of nice things, you can’t expect them to stay nice.” To which I responded reasonably I thought with “If you can’t let a knife sit with food on it for an hour after using it, it doesn’t seem like a very ‘nice’ thing; it seems like an inconvenient and useless thing.” And then, in a huff: “I will just buy my own knife, one that doesn’t disintegrate when it comes into contact with food.” Then, we said some other stuff, and I said I should just move out and thereby avoid destroying S’s overnice things. Then, we made up, and S said I could use the knives in whatever slovenly fashion I want. Now, I clean the knives right after I use them. So it goes.
The second knife-significant incident took place during a recent trip to Brooklyn to visit my also very dear, long-time friend, J. On my final, full day in New York, J and I went to the Tenement Museum, walked along the High Line, and had tea and scones at a place in the West Village. Walking back from the subway in rain and dark, I failed to notice dog crap on the sidewalk. Stepping in dog poo is always a hassle, but when you’re visiting in Brooklyn and leaving by plane the next day, it’s especially terrible. Even worse, imagine that you’re wearing Keen shoes which include an ingenious rubber sole that features narrow and apparently bottomless cuts, placed there presumably for grip, although I’ve always felt the shoes to be especially and surprisingly prone to slippage. What could I do? I borrowed a butter knife from the kitchen and went to the front stoop to remove the poo. I rubbed the shoe vigorously in the wet grass in the yard. I pounded the shoe raucously on the bricks that line the driveway. I took the shoe to the attic bathroom and worked on the poo over the sink. I pried and sawed, scooped and gouged. The more I worked, the more poo came to light. The shoes seemed to have deep diverticuli into which the poo had instantly and perhaps permanently worked its way. Finally, after much sniffing and the application of fragrant hand soap to the bottom of the shoe, I was satisfied that it was safe to mummify the shoe in 3 plastic bags and stow it away in a side pocket of my to-be checked bag. I went downstairs and washed the knife carefully hot water and dish soap. I repeated the process several times. Soon, a small voice from the couch: “I should have given you a plastic knife.” In subsequent, semi-terse conversation it came to light that J was not convinced that dog poo could be adequately removed from a stainless steel kitchen utensil. Given the tenacity with which the poo adhered to the bottom of my shoe, I should have been more sensitive to this possibility. But I was done with the poo and indifferent about the knife. I said with a kind of restrained, and again, I thought reasonable irritation, “Why would dog poo be any more likely to remain on a scrubbed butter knife than, say, mayonnaise or raw hamburger?” J responded that she wasn’t sure, but that it creeped her out. I could sympathize with that. I left the knife in the sink, to whatever fate J would assign it, and sat down to contemplate how nineteenth-century tenement dwellers would have handled the situation differently. So end two pointy, though also arguably pointless tales of friendship.