You might want to mark down this day somewhere, because I'm going to give you a tip that might make your life much more enjoyable. Sadly, it's nothing life changing like how to pick Lotto or how to lose weight while eating everything (I wish). But this little tip has certainly made my life immensely more enjoyable, and I'm hoping you'll enjoy it as well.

It all started when I decided that one of my life's goals is to visit every major city that starts with the letter T. Why T you ask?

Well T is a very cool letter — just a simple horizontal and vertical line. That's good enough for me.

So I started my quest by going to Toronto and thoroughly enjoying it. Toronto is a world-class city that is vibrant, clean, and full of fun things to do. Can't wait to go back.

The next big T city I want to visit is Tokyo, which is going to be tough since I don't like to fly but I'll figure something out. From what I've read, Tokyo is another beautiful city rich in culture. Looking forward to that trip immensely.

Thinking about Tokyo got me noticing things related to Japan, including  ads in magazines for author Haruki Murakami. I read a lot and I have a reading list a mile long, but something clicked and I decided to give him a try. Good move, because he is really, really good. This is where my tip comes in.

If you've ever:

— Been in a big, crowded city yet felt totally alone;

— Had your heart broken, leading to intense, almost physical pain;

— Wondered what 16-year-old girls think about;

— Experienced a devastating loss;

— Awakened from a dream and had a hard time telling if the dream was real or not;

— Felt that women look best in a simple dress with little or no makeup;

— Had trouble finding meaning in your work;

— Felt like sitting in a deep dry well or a silo all by yourself, just to think; or

— Wondered why calculus is easier to comprehend than relationships —

then you will like reading Haruki Murakami very, very much.

Listen, this guy is the real deal. His latest book sold one million copies in its first month in Japan alone and has been translated to over 50 different languages. When it comes to good old-fashioned books in this day and age, that is just off the charts.

The thing about reading a Japanese author like Murakami is by necessity you have to read a translation. There are always tough choices translators must make — ask any Biblical scholar.

Often you're not sure if you're getting the right nuances as the author intended. In addition, one of Murakami's books was too long when it was translated, so entire chapters were omitted and others were rearranged. That's too bad for us but it is what it is and these books are still awesome.

Here are the Hiroshi Murakami books I've read so far:   

— "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage": This is his latest blockbuster, about a guy who in high school had four close friends, two guys and two girls. These five did everything together and were inseparable.

Then one day the four won't take his phone calls and start to avoid him totally, with no explanation or apparent reason. From this simple premise comes a book that deeply and exquisitely explores the vagaries of the human condition.

I found it absolutely marvelous. Now I'm not an English major or a literary critic, so I know this is kind of crude, but to me he's like a combination of Kurt Vonnegut's sharp satire and knack of pointing out the silliness of so many things, with Andy Rooney's uncanny powers for observation, along with the sheer narrative power of Ernest Hemmingway. That's pretty good for a guy you are reading through a translator, I think.

— "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle": This one is about an ordinary guy whose wife leaves for work one morning and never comes back. Along with that, we have a missing cat, clairvoyance, World War II flashbacks, and a lot of solitary dreaming and thinking.

After reading this one, I seriously thought about digging a well in my backyard to go sit in and contemplate, but our water table is too high and I'm not a very good swimmer. This is a spellbinding book with a lot of dream sequences (or are they dreams?). A great read.

— "1Q84":  This is a sprawling, very ambitious, tome over 900 pages long set in a world close to our own but with two moons. The year is 1984 (and Orwell is indeed referenced), but it's a Questionable 1984, hence "1Q84." This one has dreams and cults and religion and much more.

While it's terrific I wouldn't recommend this as your first Murakami book since it's so long and there's just so much going on. Still, the two main characters, Tengo and Aomame, are so intricately envisioned that they stayed with me for weeks after I finished the book. That's how powerful Murakami's writing is.

— "Norwegian Wood": A 17-year-old commits suicide, leaving his girlfriend and best friend to pick up the pieces. This is the most personal Murakami book I've read so far, in the sense of how deeply he explores the most intimate feelings of each character. A very emotional and beautiful work.

— "Wind/Pinball: Two Novels": An interesting way to get into Murakami very easily is this new translation of his first two novels that was just released this year. Even in these early works, you can sense the seeds of greatness.

In the introduction, he tells about being at a baseball game and realizing, literally at the crack of the bat, that he could be a writer. He also tells about starting out by writing in his very limited English, and then translating that back to Japanese. He thinks this process allowed him to find his unique writer's voice. However he found it, it's very lucky for us that he did.

I've read some reviews of Murakami's work and there's the constant comparison to Kafka because of the recurring theme of alienation in modern society. I can see that, but until he has a character wake up as a giant insect, I prefer to think of his work as uniquely his own.

What other Japanese writer has had this kind of success in the West? No matter who you compare him to, he's still a great read, and that's all that really matters to me.

There has been a book about de-cluttering by a Japanese writer on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks and weeks ("The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo), so, in that spirit I've been taking out the Murakami books from the library instead of buying them.

There is often a long wait for his books since they are popular, so when the library finally calls I get real excited, drop whatever I'm doing, and run down there. Then it's no TV or even music until I read the whole book cover to cover.

There are around a dozen Murakami books and I can't wait to get to them all. You gotta love your local library.

I wanted to pick out just one Murakami sentence from the thousands I've read at this point to give you an example of the sheer beauty of his writing, so I chose this one, from his short story "Kino": "Like dry ground welcoming the rain, he let the solitude, silence, and loneliness sink in."

That sentence just takes my breath away; simple, exquisite, and beautiful. If I could write like that, I wouldn't have to spend all day playing around with computer databases, that's for sure.

Of course, nothing is perfect in life, and I do have a couple of nits to pick with Mr. Murakami. You know how Woody Allen basically plays the same character in each of his movies?

In the several Murakami books I've read so far it seems like the narrator is just about the same guy: a simple, quite, contemplative young man thrust into some ordinary and some quite extraordinary situations.

Also, in each book the word "concrete" is used way too much, as in "Can you give me a concrete example?" or "Can you say it in a concrete manner?" I'm wondering if this is due to the translating. Despite these couple of things, Murakami's books are terrific.

Oh, one more thing — Haruki Murakami writes about people, and people like to have sex, so there are quite a few graphic and steamy scenes in these books. That doesn't bother me but if you have a thing about that don't say I didn't warn you!

It's only in there because that's what that characters call for and it adds to the stories in a good way. In fact, his female characters are so alluring that, if I ever got to meet the somewhat reclusive author, one of the first things I'd ask him is which one of them he'd date if he could.

So there's your tip. If you're looking for a good read (and why wouldn't you be?) try Haruki Murakami. You won't be disappointed.

— Photo by Frank L. Palmeri

BJ: Frank L. Palmeri named his truck both for the official Ford color, "Blue Jeans," and also for "Borrow me, you must be Joking.”

Well, I went and did what I said I never would. In doing my part to keep the economic recovery going, I bought a brand new pickup truck to replace my unfortunate mini-van that got hit by lightning.

The thing is, no one ever wants to borrow your mini-van, but, now that I'm once again a guy with a truck, we'll have to see how good my diplomatic skills are (because I'm not letting anyone borrow my truck; you heard it here first).

So why did I purchase a truck when there are so many other types of vehicles out there? Well, as you know if you are a truck owner and as you can imagine if you're not, having a big open box to haul stuff around in can be incredibly handy at times. I like to work with wood and buy quite a bit of sheet goods and dimensional lumber

Having that big bed to slide these unwieldy pieces into is just so convenient; no need to even hook up the trailer. Gotta love that.

When I was a kid, I always looked forward to the annual Lionel Toy Trains catalogue. This glossy book was manna from heaven for little boys, and I'd drool over the many different trains, sets, and accessories, even though I could barely afford any of it.

It's kind of like that with trucks. Before settling on a 2015 Ford F150, I visited many dealers and picked up all the fancy brochures and catalogues. The people writing this stuff must have grown up with Lionel like me because they really know how to keep you drooling and entice you to spend a lot more money than you really want to.

Let's take Ford, for example, since that's what I wound up buying. The F150, which happens to be the number-one selling vehicle in this country for 37 years in a row, comes in five trim levels — XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum.

Each trim level is about $5,000 more than the next, with a top-of-the-line Platinum costing around $70,000. That's a lot of Benjamins, my friends, especially for something that will only depreciate over time.

The insidious thing they do is put one or two things in the next-up trim level that you really want but don't want to spring that huge $5,000 premium for. It's like they're dangling candy in front of a little kid.

I went with the XLT, which is the most I've ever spent on anything in my life except for my house. The next trim level up, the Lariat, has many things I would have liked, but not enough to open up the checkbook even further.

A few of those things I can add myself, which is a savings, but some of them — an automatic full-time 4x4 mode, most notably — can't be easily added. Oh well, it's nice to have something to look forward to "someday."

This 2015 Ford F150 is really an amazing piece of technology in three big ways, which is why I went with it. First, the body is made of aluminum, a first for this kind of vehicle, resulting in a weight savings depending on options of as much as 700 pounds. Talk about going on a diet.

Second, the 2.7 Liter EcoBoost V6 (only 164 cubic inches) puts out 325 Brake Horse Power with 375 feet per pound of torque. If you don't know what torque is, let's put it this way — the next time I cut down a tree, I won't have to rent a stump puller.

Third, in certain conditions the engine shuts off completely at a full stop, restarting instantly when you take your foot off the brake. This can be a little strange at first, but soon you're thinking why can't all vehicles be like this; what a great way to save on gas and cut down on pollution.

The small but very powerful engine in this truck can even tow 7,600 pounds, yet still gets a combined 20 miles per gallon. Blending power and great gas mileage in such a large vehicle was unheard of only a few years ago, and I give Ford credit for achieving this level of performance. It's terrific to see an American company leading the way for a change, isn't it?

I can't speak as highly of the actual buying process, however. I have a friend who is a car salesman and I purchased from him, but even with his help the entire process took many hours over several visits and was quite complicated

For example, the truck I wanted was not on my friend's lot, so we had to do a "dealer trade" to get it. The good thing about dealer trades is it allows you to get the vehicle you want at the price you want; the bad thing is your new vehicle will have some miles on it when you get it and will by necessity have been driven by someone else.

I think if and when I ever buy another new vehicle, I'll try to avoid a dealer trade just to keep the transaction as simple as possible. The good news is I may have found a good part-time post-retirement job. Getting paid to drive around in brand new vehicles all day sounds like a lot of fun to me.

With the F150, you have a choice of three cab styles: Regular, Super with passenger doors that open forward, and Crew with normal passenger doors. What I wanted was a Super with the full-size eight-foot box, but my salesman advised me that this makes for a very long truck, so I went with the Super and 6.5 foot box.

With this one I can still carry motorcycles in it I choose, and full sheets of plywood and Sheetrock fit flat with the tailgate down. Even though this is not as long a vehicle as I wanted, it's still plenty long; you stick out when you park in one of those underground garages, and I won't be taking it downtown very often. I'm good at parallel parking but why bother.

The truck sits so high that you really have to grab the handle and pull yourself up to get in; however, once driving, you have a clear, unobstructed view of the road, which is nice.

Also, the days of trucks riding like trucks are over; this thing rides so smooth it's like being on air most of the time. Now I see why F150 has been number one for so long. If I were a plumber or carpenter or whatever, I'd buy one of these, ride around in style, and then write if off on my taxes. Such a deal.

Speaking of taxes, the amount of tax I paid on this new vehicle purchase is more than I've paid for most of the cars I've ever owned. Then whoever buys it from me pays tax again on it, and so on down the line until it winds up on the scrap heap.

I guess it's good that car sales do so much to fund our government, but I'm thinking that some kind of tax relief would spur sales even further. After paying this much tax, I'll never look at new high-end cars and trucks the same way again.

When I said I was doing my part to keep the economic recovery going, I wasn't kidding. Since buying "BJ" (the name comes from the official Ford color, "Blue Jeans," and also stands for "Borrow me, you must me Joking"), I've added a spray-on bed liner, a folding bed step, mud flaps, a bug deflector, floor liners, bed stake pocket hooks, and a truck-bed cover with an integrated tool box.

It's like picking out stuff from the Lionel catalog. Trucks are just big toys for big boys after all.

Unlike the mini-vans I'd been driving forever, the F150 is rear-wheel drive. This brings back memories of when I first learned to drive, when most cars were like this (yes, I'm old).

Rear-wheel drive just feels right to me. Plus, because the engine is not transverse mounted as with front-wheel drive, everything in the engine compartment is easy to get to. Changing spark plugs will be a cinch. I like that very much.

Whenever I own a pickup, there are three things I always do. The first is to get a pack of Camel cigarettes and stick it on the dash somewhere. I don't smoke cigarettes, but it just seems right to have a pack of Camels with that iconic logo in there.

The second thing I do is put on a ball cap, go to a lumberyard or home center, and drive around the parking lot in reverse. Yes, I really do this.

When I was small, I'd go to lumber yards and there'd always be guys with ball caps on driving around the lot in pickup trucks in reverse, so that's why I do it. Just like old times. Isn't it nice it takes so little to make me happy?

The third thing I do is put on the country station. Country music is about the only music I don't love, but since at least half the songs actually mention a pickup truck, it's only natural to play it, for the truck's sake if nothing else.

Speaking of country music and pickup trucks — the other day I was driving in the truck with my son-in-law, Ricky, who grew up in Houston. Ford was nice enough to throw in six months of free satellite radio, which is fantastic.

So we're driving down the road singing along with channel 60 "Outlaw Country" blasting from the seven speakers (Ford really does things right). Then Ricky turns to me and says, "It's just like we're in Texas!" Yee-ha, yippee ki-yay, howdy pardner, we're havin' big ol' fun for sure.

Now all I need are some overalls, a new fishing pole, a BB gun, and some empty beer cans to shoot. And some juicy barbecue while we're at it, why not.

If you happen to see me and BJ on the road, please give us a wave, just like I wave to the mailman as he takes my loan payment out of the mailbox each month


My little brother has been a teacher for a very long time. Over the years, I know he's been very popular with his many students (he won Teacher of the Year twice, and his current students sent not one but two beautiful floral arrangements for my mother's wake).

He enjoys teaching and wants very much for his students to do well. That's a win-win situation. Or so I thought.

I recently found out that there is now a plethora of rate-your-teacher websites. This is where students, often anonymously, get to tell the world what they think of their teachers. You can probably imagine where this is going.

Yes, my little brother got rated, or should I say ripped, by some students. I think this stinks for a number of reasons.

It's obvious that any student will like some teachers more than others. That's just human nature. Each of us has specific personality types we feel more comfortable with than others.

The thing is, school is not a popularity contest; you're there to learn. Anything that helps with learning is a good thing.

I've had good and not-so-good teachers, and only rarely a truly bad teacher. No matter the teacher, if I put in the work, I got a good grade. It's as simple as that.

Now take this same formula and add publicly ripping some teacher you don't like. That's a bad recipe if you ask me.

Are there some bad teachers? Yes, of course, just as there are some bad car mechanics and some bad grocery baggers.

The thing we need to do is find a way to foster excellence in teaching; publicly humiliating them is not going to help them I'm sure.

Think about it: someone may rip a teacher for whatever reason, and someone else may read that and then decide to not take that teacher. Meanwhile, that teacher may be perfectly fine, and someone may have missed out on a really good experience because of some rant by a student who was dissatisfied for whatever reason.

I'm sure this happens and it, for lack of a better word, sucks.

When I go to buy something on, I, of course, look at the reviews. This is especially helpful when there are a lot of reviews and you have the time to read a good share of them.

Sometimes there are only a few to look at, with one being a five-star review, saying it's the greatest thing since sliced bread followed by a one-star review, saying it's garbage. That's to be expected because we all have different experiences and expectations; what works well for one person may not work well or work at all for another. Having a lot of reviews assures the good and bad will average out, like when ice skating judges throw out the high and low scores.

Now it's one thing for this to happen with a widget on sale at Amazon, but quite another when it happens to a teacher. Think about it: When you like a teacher, you're probably not going to seek out a website to say he or she is doing a good job. You just accept it and move on.

But, if you're disgruntled for whatever reason, you might want to "vent." Reading even some of this drivel can make the teacher look bad. That's not good at all.

At home I use the Linux operating system on my computer because it's fast, free, and technically on the cutting edge. Other people might struggle with learning to use something different, even if it is better (and trust me it is).

The point is, Linux, like some products on Amazon, or even a specific teacher, is not for everyone. This is fine, but ripping things or people that you don't particularly like is not fine. It's unproductive unless it's done constructively, and what I've read on the teacher-review websites is far from constructive.

The funny thing is I've visited my little brother (he lives in Wisconsin) several times, and have seen him interacting with students and faculty. He always gets a good reception.

I'd even go so far as to say he's very, very well liked in the academic community that he's been a part of for so long; he has a PhD. and has chaired his department for many years. That's why it was so jarring to see him get ripped like this.

The only thing I can figure is some folks just don't like his personal style, which is their prerogative. Again, we all have cerain personality types that we like more than others. But, if my brother is teaching correctly — and by all accounts he is and has done so for a very long time — then it's just not fair to rip him, or any teacher, simply because you don't like his style, jokes, or hair. How petty and stupid.

What are we going to have next, websites where our doctors, dentists, and plumbers get reviewed or ripped anonymously? Actually, I'm sure these already exist, but I don't bother to look for them.

When I find a professional I like, I stick with them and that's it. Any mature adult who doesn't have good professionals would be best served by asking around for good referrals, and not wasting time ripping ones they don't like as much. Note that I'm not saying to give crooks or swindlers a pass, just, if you don't "click" with someone right off the bat, let it go. I can see if you want to provide positive, constructive feedback, which we all can benefit from; that's a good thing. But, when it gets nasty and rude, you lose me every time.

I'm especially sensitive to teacher criticism because I've given many technical presentations over the years. You're up there in front of the room, looking out into a sea of eyes, and you have no idea what the background of each person is.

A lot of times, you just get blank stares, so now you're thinking, “Am I so technical that they have no idea what I'm talking about?” or, “Am I dumbing it down so much that they're bored to tears?”

It’s very hard to strike the right balance, and this is just for a 90-minute technical presentation. Compare that to a group of students with very different backgrounds, abilities, and expectations that you have to work with for an entire semester. That can't be easy.  

It takes me about an hour to write one of these columns, then another hour to go back and edit it, and then it's done. That's not much of a time investment, I know, yet overwhelmingly, when I meet one of my readers around town, I'm always flattered by how much they like my writing.

Now, I'm fully aware that there are others who may think this column is suitable for birdcage lining and nothing else, and that's fine as well. We all like different music, books, etc.

Thankfully, I'm not aware of anyone ripping me online like they did my little brother. What a waste of energy. Blowing off steam is one thing, but intentionally and anonymously ripping someone who is trying hard (teaching, writing, or whatever) is just punk.

I have no respect for it at all. Constructive criticism, yes; crude insults are just mean.

The question I ask myself is: If I were going to take a class now, would I look up the teacher on a review website? I suppose I would, just because it's there, but I can guarantee you I would ignore any rants or comments about looks or personality.

Rather, I'd look for anything constructive and try to base my decision on that. Yet I went through my whole academic life never worrying about what teacher I was getting, and, except for one, I never had any complaints. Even with that one, it was just a personality thing.

I still learned something and passed the class; it just wasn't as great an experience as it could have been. Not bad when you consider the many, many teachers I've had over the years.

 I wonder what it's like for a teacher who reads an anonymous bad review somewhere. Here he or she is trying to do more and more with fewer resources, trying to impart hard-earned knowledge, trying to have a positive impact on some young people’s lives, and then have to deal with getting ripped publicly. Ugh.

If it were I, I'd ignore it completely and let my work speak for itself. Life is too short to deal with such nonsense. I'm going to find and hug a teacher today, and you should, too.

You read about earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornados and you wonder what it would be like to experience them firsthand. You see footage of extreme weather on TV, and you can't help but empathize with the poor folks who had to suffer through it.

The thing is, until you experience it for yourself, you really have no idea what it's like. My lovely wife, Charlotte, and I just had such an experience, and I sure hope we never have to repeat it.

We were driving my mini-van on I-88 East, about a half-hour east of Binghamton, on a recent rainy summer Sunday. We were towing an enclosed trailer with a couple of motorcycles in it, so our speed was really slow, between 55 and 60 miles per hour at the most.

Soon the rain began coming down in buckets. It was so bad several cars had pulled off to the shoulder to wait it out. I try to always have good tires and good wipers on my cars, so I continued going slowly, dealing with it as best I could. Not a great situation but nothing we haven't seen before. Just being extra careful usually works fine.

Then we noticed some thunder and lightning appear in the distance. It seemed to me like it was far off. I wasn't too worried but my wife was getting nervous.

The next thing you know there was a humongous explosion, and at the same time a bright, blinding light. When I say explosion, I mean there was a very loud KABOOOOM. A split second later, the van shook as all the warning lights on the dash came on and the engine shut off. Holy cow.

This was in the right lane, on a slight uphill, in a blinding downpour. Somehow I kept my wits about me and got the entire rig, including the trailer, completely onto the narrow shoulder before the forward momentum stopped. Whew. I'm surprised my underwear stayed clean after that.

So now we're on the side of I-88 East with a dead mini-van and trailer. In total, we would be there for four hours, and, in that entire time, not even one State Trooper passed in either direction.

Isn't it amazing that when you're speeding they're so plentiful? I mean, four hours is a long time to be stuck on the shoulder. Let me tell you, when a semi-trailer passes right next to you at 70 miles per hour, you really, really feel it; the wind blows and the ground shakes. It's truly frightening.

My wife and I had no choice but to work the cell phones, trying to find any help or assistance. I have a road-towing plan, but get this — they wouldn't come because they only give you a tow if you have a breakdown. Getting hit by lightning is, according to them, an "accident" and therefore not eligible for breakdown service.

Does this sound right to you? It doesn't to me — I mean, when you're stuck your stuck, but that's what we were told. Fortunately, our insurance company came through, and eventually we got towed, thought it wasn't cheap — $150 each for the van and the trailer, ouch.

This is the mini-van I wrote about a while ago. I purchased it used from a well-known local dealer, and it came with a terrific warrantee — as long as I let them do all the oil changes. I've been changing my own oil since I was 16 and I enjoy doing it, but I had to give this up due to the warrantee.

So, from the side of the road, I call them. I tell them what happened, figuring I'll get the van towed to them and use my warrantee coverage, when I hear on the phone that we had just experienced an "act of God" and as such would have no coverage. Hmm

I asked where in the manual it said I couldn't drive in rain storms. They said it didn't say that, but still it's an "act of God" and no warrantee coverage of any kind would be provided.

The guy on the phone must have said “act of God” five times before I hung up in frustration. I mean, at least say something like, “Bring it to us and we'll look at it and see what we can do.” You know, try to be helpful. Try to make it seem like you care about your customer.

This is why I will never shop at that dealer again. I never from day one felt like they were on my side. Quite frankly, I don't know how they stay in business. Even if getting hit by lightning is considered an act of God, at least show some kind of compassion for your very stressed out customers in their time of need.

My lovely wife did some research, and it seems like, when a car gets hit by lightning, the insurance company has no choice but to total it. Amazingly, there were no burn marks or any other visible damage on the car or trailer, so my insurance company wanted to try to have the car fixed. As if I'd want to drive or even be able to sell a car that had been totally disabled by lightning.

Over a two-week period, they had the shop where I'd had the van towed try a new computer, a new alternator, and many other electrical parts. We spoke to the mechanic doing the work — he said it was like trying to plug up a leaky garden hose, where you plug up one hole and another opens up.

They finally had him give up when there were serious problems with the air bags. Good thing I had full comprehensive coverage on this vehicle.

I do some work on cars, and I have the tool to read the on-board diagnostic system. For example, you plug the code reader into a connector under the steering wheel, and it might read something like this: P0301 Cylinder 1 Misfire Detected

Pretty straightforward — check the plug, wire, and coil for number-one cylinder and go from there.

Can you imagine what the code says on a car that was hit by lightning?

ZZZZZ — Are you serious? You're hosed! Better get to the bank and get a new car loan.

All kidding aside, the explosion from the lightning strike was so loud, powerful, violent, and scary, I hope I never have to experience anything like that ever again. I'm told the next time it happens, just pull over and sit with your hands in your lap (don't touch any metal) and wait it out. Extreme weather is better when you read about it or see it on TV, trust me.


— Photo by Frank L. Palmeri

Four knives: One from the author’s ex-girlfriend, a classic Buck hunting knife, a whittling and carving knife, and a throwing knife.

I had an argument with a girlfriend one time — I can't even remember what it was about — and to patch things up she gave me a nice Buck pocketknife. Well, the girlfriend is long gone but that knife is still one of my favorites. The knife was easily the best part of that relationship.

I'm a big fan of knives. A knife can be so primal, pure, and simple in design and execution. Think of our primitive ancestors honing a flat piece of stone on a big rock to make a sharp edge — the first real manmade tool.

A simple knife is not much more in concept than that. Knives may be the best all-around tools ever designed by humanity.

I know hunters and outdoorsmen need knives to field dress game. Same with fisherman, chefs, and many more — knives serve a specific purpose for them. I camp a little but I don't ever need to cut back brush or dress an animal. Still, I love my cheap machete. Every time I hold it, I feel like I'm ready to tackle the wild.

There are many ways to enjoy a knife. Pride of ownership is one but there are so many more.

A good large knife will have a heft to it, a solid feel in your hand. That's a wonderful feeling. Even smaller knives, many jewel-like in their construction, can be very satisfying to hold and admire. Craftsmanship never goes out of style.

Of course, knives are for cutting, whether something mundane like breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling or more fancy like preparing dinner. Knives are very useful in so many ways.

An interesting thing about knives is that sharp ones are much safer than dull ones. That's kind of counterintuitive, I know, but, if you think about it for a while, it makes sense. A dull knife is dangerous because you have to force it so hard to cut something.

Any time you're forcing a knife, there's a chance you might slip and that's where you get into trouble. Conversely, a sharp knife makes cutting smooth, almost effortless, so there's much less chance of an accident.

You have to handle sharp knives with respect. A quality knife will come with a sheath of some sort that protects the edge from harm and you from the edge.

Good kitchen knives come with a wooden block that keeps the knives safe from you and from each other. Despite knowing all this, I still have a drawer in my kitchen with random knives just banging around in there. Surprisingly, they still work for many tasks. Serving butter and opening letters don't require much of an edge.

Speaking about sharpening, there is an entire industry of knife-sharpening gadgets. Many of them work so poorly as to be just about useless. A lot of them are V shaped pull-through things that work for a while, but then wear out right in the spot where you need them most.

To truly sharpen knives well and consistently (assuming a clean, straight knife in good condition) requires you to be aware of the edge angle (and know how to alter if it necessary); to thin the knife (the secondary bevel) if it needs it; to use the appropriate abrasives in a consistent fashion; and to remove the burr with a final stropping step.


Ready, aim, throw: Frank L. Palmeri made this knife-throwing target and finds it “surprisingly satisfying to throw some knives around.” — Photo by Frank L. Palmeri


When you think about all that, it's easy to see why they sell a lot of cheap knife sharpeners. A lot of folks don't have the time or interest to really learn to sharpen knives the right way.

One thing you can do to prevent dulling kitchen knives is to try to avoid glass cutting boards; glass is very tough on a knife edge. Instead, use boards made of wood or a manmade material (and go easy when cutting that steak). Your knife edges will thank you very much (and don't forget to keep your cutting boards very clean so harmful bacteria doesn't become a problem).

There is an article on Wikipedia titled "Scary Sharp" that describes a simple and inexpensive method to sharpen things like chisels and planer blades relatively easily (you can use this method for knives in general but you might need a guide of some sort to hold a consistent angle until you get good at doing it freehand).

All you need is a piece of thick glass or another smooth surface and some sandpaper. Attach some coarse sandpaper to the smooth surface. Then place the blade on the sandpaper, bevel side down, and start to move it around. If it's wet-dry paper, you can spray some water on it as you go.

Then you do the same with finer and finer grits of sandpaper. If you flatten the back of the tool first, then hone the bevel using coarse to fine sandpaper, and finally remove the burr on a leather strop or similar, you will indeed get a "scary sharp" edge.

Of course, there are many variations on this — go to YouTube and search and you'll see plenty — but the point (pun intended) is you can do some really good sharpening with not much of an investment in supplies and some very basic techniques.

I collect those ubiquitous 20-percent off Harbor Freight coupons that appear in newspapers and magazines because you never know when you might need one. I'd been using a little penknife to cut them out.

Recently I sharpened the penknife. The next time I cut out a coupon, using the same pressure as I always do, I cut through three extra magazine pages. The difference between a dull knife and a sharp knife is truly amazing.

You know how yo-yos go in and out of style about once ever seven to 10 years? That's how I am with knives. Something just clicks and then all of a sudden I start buying just about every knife I can find.

Again I don't do a lot of outdoor-type activities; I just really appreciate a well designed and manufactured knife. Don't get the idea that I'm a collector, though — that's a game for investors with a lot of money.

I only buy knives that I will actually use: multi-tools, Swiss Army knives, kitchen, carving, everyday carry, etc. There are so many categories of quality knives available these days that this has to be the golden age of knife making.

I'd like to be able to carry some kind of knife on my person at all times but it's not always easy to do. In jacket-wearing weather, you have plenty of pockets to choose from but lose the jacket and things get harder.

There are only so many pants pockets and those are already spoken for by the wallet, phone, hanky, change, comb, and keys (at least I always have my trusty Swiss Army knife on my key ring). Many knives come with belt attachments, but these don't look right with office, dress, or some casual attire.

Sometimes, when I'm working on stuff, I load up my belt with a knife, a tape measure, a flashlight, and my phone, then I start to feel like Batman with his utility belt. Too much to deal with.

One of the more interesting knives I own comes with a strap that goes on your calf right above your ankle. For dinner once, I took my lovely wife to our favorite restaurant, and just for kicks I decided to bring that knife.

It was quite something to be eating a gourmet meal and drinking fine wine while feeling this knife on my leg, with no one having any idea it was there. I've not carried that knife in this manner since — too much to think about when you just want to have a good time. There's a time and a place for everything.

Some of my knives have sentimental value, like that old Buck knife. Then there's the multi-tool I thought was lost for five years until finding it behind a desk; my trusty Swiss Army knife with its tiny super-sharp scissors; and my cool little black mini-machete (I had a neighbor who felt the need to carry a full-sized machete just to visit relatives on Long Island!).   

The other day I did a YouTube search on "knife skills." As you might imagine, I found many chef's demonstrating their skillful manipulation of kitchen knives. Then there's the Japanese sushi and steakhouse chefs, whose deft knife skills are legendary.

I also found a video from an ex-Israeli Defense Forces member, giving tips on hand-to-hand combat using knives. That guy was so intense I had trouble getting to sleep that night. Amazing that the same tool can be used for so many different purposes.

Of course, the dark side of knives is that they can be used for violence. Still, it's the person, not the knife, that causes the problem. I don't like flying in general but the fact that you can't even bring a little key-chain knife on a plane anymore really rubs me the wrong way. It's the same story as always — the few bad apples always ruin it for the rest of us.

Recently, I've been getting into whittling and knife throwing. Whittling is fun because you can do it almost anywhere. Skilled whittlers and carvers can produce amazing works of art. I'm nowhere near that (if I can just carve a little without cutting myself I'm happy).

Knife throwing is simple in concept but full of subtleties in technique and execution (another pun, sorry). I built a target and it's surprisingly satisfying to throw some knives around. When you "stick" a well thrown knife solidly, it's a really good feeling.

Knives are great to own, admire, and use, and learning to sharpen knives well is a worthwhile endeavor for anyone who appreciates a precision tool. It's terrific that such simple things like knives and such basic skills as sharpening are still so useful in this modern day and age. Now that I think about it, I’ve always wanted a Samurai sword . . . .