I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. Whether it be getting my ears cleaned on a sidewalk in India or paying 25¢ to be slapped in the head as a blessing by a holy transvestite, I just can’t resist these things.
So, while sitting at a cafe in San Cristobal, Mexico and noticing a man walking down the street with what appeared to be half of a bicycle with a stone grinding wheel attached to it, I knew I had to investigate.
I had a cheap folding knife that I had bought in Bangkok’s Chinatown two years prior — it had cost me a whole $3 and was so dull it might cut a gummy bear if you got a good running start.
I waved him over and found that he’d do it for a mere 50¢ — score! I wish I had a better photo of his rig but my camera battery died after just two shots, so this is all I have.
It drove a small grinding wheel and he sat on the seat with one foot holding him up and the other driving the pedals. Sparks flew and he really worked the blade over pretty hard. And when he was done, it was –of course– duller than before.
I am now afraid of being attacked by gummy bears.
A Lesson Not Learned
So now I’m in Léon, Nicaragua and am sharing a kitchen with several other people in a rented apartment. It’s been –literally– years since I’ve had access to a kitchen and I’m cooking like a fiend. Most of it is barely edible but I’m having fun and my veggie intake has quadrupled.
Unfortunately the knives here are crap — the plastic handles fall off and they’re all so blunt they should feel lucky that Nicaraguans don’t eat gummy bears.
One of my best friends gave me a really nice Benchmade folding blade that cost about $100 and I’ve tuned it to perfection — I can flip it open one-handed and stab myself in the finger in a matter of seconds.
After all of this use, it’s losing its edge so I’ve been looking for a small whetstone. All of the hardware shops only carry one that is the size of a brick and costs $12. (Yeah, I know it’s only $12 but that’s nearly 2 nights rent, to put it in perspective). And who wants to carry a brick around?
He has a different setup — a small red wooden bench with a large grinding wheel that he can work by a hand crank and has one of those brick-sized whetstones strapped to the bench.
I just want a bit of a polish so I tell him not to use the grinding wheel but just the whetstone and to be tranquilo — go easy. He takes my knife, runs his thumb over the edge and starts just grinding it into the whetstone as hard as he can, as if he’s trying to carve the damned brick in half.
“Tranquilo! Tranquilo,” I plead but he just looks at me like I’m an idiot. He’s the expert here, after all. He hasn’t bothered to add water or oil to the stone so gray dust is billowing up like I’m watching a moon landing.
“Houston, we have a problem… this knife is screwed.”
Finally, I stop him. “No mas, no mas…” He tries to fold the blade back as he hands it over but he’s worked it so hard that the screws have loosened and the blade is now out of alignment and won’t fold more than 45 degrees. I hand him his 50¢ and walk away.
While doing so, I notice that he’s actually knocked one of the Torx screws out and no matter how much I try, I can’t get it to swing open the way it did before. This means I have to flip it open with more force and am now more likely to stab myself in the toe than the finger.
And it is –of course– duller than before.
So that’s it. I’m done. Unless I get a free ear-cleaning or it’s done by a transvestite, I’m not letting anyone sharpen my knife again.
(Note: Chalk this up to artistic license: Nicaraguans actually do like gummy bears.)