Published Nov. 20, 2006
Before shows at Firehouse Theater in Alliance, musicians hang around behind the curtains for about a half hour before each show with nothing to do, having tuned and practiced and then cleared the theater when the doors are opened for the audience. Strings of Christmas lights provide scant light backstage, enough to avoid corporeal collisions, unless those bodies are clad in black, as are the musicians and stagecrew, in which case you grope about, moving slowly to avoid breaking a leg, or any other bone. Years of groping convinced me to carry a small light, not so much to avoid the men and women in black as to choose the correct snacks and not get a raisin by mistake.
A small table against one wall holds cheese, crackers and cookies, and my small red light illuminates the food just enough to allow me to find the hot pepper cheese. The light emanates from an LED in one end of my Tool Logic Ice Ultralight, a flat plastic gadget a bit smaller than a credit card but thicker, 1/8 inch thick, its sides 1.25 by 2.5 inches. Besides the LED, the Ultralight contains a cutter that can be pushed through a slot for a quick cuts or turned around, slid in and locked for prolonged cutting; a pen that slides out of a groove and back in point-out, making the tool a penholder; and a double-ended flathead/Phillips screwdriver that fits into a hexagonal hole in the Ultralight for added leverage.
Carrying my red light around one night before the show, hanging out near the castle set of “Once Upon a Mattress,” led to discussing pocket tools with two theater acquaintances, and a stagecrewman pulled his chain of dogtags from under his shirt and showed me his P38. The P38 is the classic military can opener of the mid-20th century. The name allegedly came from the 38 punctures needed to open a can of C-rations, but many World War II soldiers and sailors called it a “John Wayne” because Wayne used a P38 in a training film.
During the Vietnam era, the P38 was made by Mallin Hardware in Shelby, near Mansfield, and came in a brown paper wrapper that bore a diagram and operating instructions. For decades the P38 came with boxes of C-rations, but it was made obsolete by MREs — meals ready to eat — in plastic pouches, which my backstage friend called “meals rejected by Ethiopians,” adding in a serious vein that MREs were good if one knew how to prepare them.
The king said that night that his father had told him he should never go anywhere without a pocketknife, and in elementary school no self-respecting boy would be caught on the playground without a pocketknife. Now he would get arrested, he added. In Boy Scouts I carried a pocketknife that had two blades and two openers, a simple knife by today’s standards but a marvelous implement in the early 1970s.
My favorite pocket tool now is the Swiss Army knife, made by Victorinox. It bears the white cross of Switzerland in a shield on a red ground and “Officier Suisse” on the large blade. Victorinox’s grandpere of knives is the Champion, which has two blades, metal and wood saws, a fish scaler, metric and English scales, several Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, bottle and can openers, a corkscrew, a metal file, a reamer, a toothpick, tweezers, a magnifier and scissors. The only thing missing is a solar-powered flashlight.
I used the wood saw once while hiking to cut a sizable limb that had fallen across the path, I’ve fixed eyeglasses, reamed holes and cut fabric, and I’ve opened many a fine ale and lager with the bottle opener. The smaller Officiers Suisses have fewer tools than the Champion but still contain a respectable number of utensils in a small space. Any part that breaks will be replaced for free by Victorinox if the knife is mailed to the Connecticut service center.
Rounding out my suite of survival tools are a magnifying glass, compass, pens and paper, and spare mandolin picks — you never know when you’ll be asked to try a guitar or mandolin, and it’s no fun without a pick. I once used a paper clip in the absence of a pick.
So far I’ve used my survival tools in normal camping, hiking and music situations where bottled ale figures prominently, but if ever I get stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, I’ll be more prepared than Anthony Hopkins, who was sans Victorinox in “The Edge.” Hopkins plays a well-read man having encyclopedic knowledge — not knowledgeable enough, though, to know to carry a Victorinox — who is adrift in Alaska and asks the bad guy if he knows how to make fire from ice. The answer: compact snow in your hands until it turns to ice and make a lens to focus the sun’s rays. With a Victorinox, though, you can keep your hands warm.
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