Opinion » Bill Cope

Too Sharp

Lost and getting loster


ATTENTION: If you happened to be in the vicinity of the Ada County Courthouse on Front Street between 11 a.m. and approximately 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, the 18th of January, and if for any reason you happened to sift through the sand in one of the cylindrical cigarette butt receptacles outside the front door of that courthouse (I won't ask questions, and I won't judge), and if you happened to find buried under the sand and cigarette butts a yellow pocket knife about as long as your index finger with the ivory (or plastic or whatever it is) broken on one side of it, and if you thought to yourself, "Aha! I now have myself a free, if somewhat damaged, pocket knife!"... I would appreciate it very much if you were to return it to me. It belongs to me. Eleven years ago, it belonged to my dad. But he died and I've had that knife since. For 11 years (except on predictable occasions which I will explain soon), it's lain on the end table next to the place on the couch where I sit, always, right there where I can reach it when I have a letter to open or a pencil to sharpen or a lottery ticket to scratch. And I miss it. I am not one who tips easily to sentimentality, but I am sentimental about that knife. If you've ever hung on to something your dearly departed dad carried on his person all the time, you understand. If you give it back, I will happily replace it with a brand new pocket knife. Maybe even some un-smoked cigarettes.

Now I suppose I'd better explain how it came to be buried under the sand and cigarette butts of a receptacle outside the Ada County Courthouse.

See, I was called for jury duty. I was tagged about three years ago, and wrote about it on these pages--about how jury duty is such a civic privilege and such a weighty responsibility and such a symptom of democratic health and such, even if it is a pain in the ass.

But that time, I didn't have to go. My number never came up. Therefore, I never learned from actual experience just how big a pain in the ass it really is--particularly in this Age of Paranoia. Or as I now think of it, The Age of Municipal Employees With Crappy Attitudes (MEWCAs--pronounced "mu-cus").

This time, on the morning of January 18, my number came up. I was pretty sure it would. Two days earlier, they had summoned 1 through 134. The next day, it was 135 through two-forty-something. My number was 262. I had no reason to hold out hope. I stayed around the house that morning, prepared to throw on my pre-picked jury-duty duds at a moment's notice, and dutifully called in at precisely 9:45, just as I was instructed to do. I watched the Weather Channel for the exact time because I didn't trust the clocks in our house. And Lord knows, I didn't want to get off on the wrong foot with the jury pickers by calling in a few seconds early. I tell you this so you'll understand how dedicated I was to getting it right. The day before, I'd gassed the car to eliminate any distractions, and I'd even checked with a guy on my bowling team who'd once been on a jury to see what sort of clothing I should wear. I didn't want to dress up fancy if I didn't have to, but on the other hand, I didn't want to show up looking like a bum. That's how serious I was about performing my civic responsibilities. It's the first time in years I'd asked another guy what I should wear.

There was some sort of delay in the trial I was being summoned to, and the kind lady on the phone told me she'd call back--which she did. I was to be there by 11, which gave me 40 minutes or so to get from Meridian to a place I'd never been. A place I'd never had to find parking for. I pulled on my pre-picked pants (which happened to be the ones I'd worn bowling Wednesday evening) and zoomed out of Meridian, eager to give the American system of jurisprudence a hand. I got there with time to spare, no thanks to a surly parking attendant. A MEWCA if there ever was one. All I was asking was where I should park. A little farther up the driveway, my pathetic eyes could read the sign that answered that question. But going through the gate, all I wanted was a little help. He wouldn't even open the damn window to find out what I wanted. He just kept barking "Get your ticket right there!" and turning his back to me. I don't know who hires people like this, but I suspect they practice down at the DMV.

So I get into the courthouse with five minutes to spare. As I approach the security apparatus, I'm thinking, "Sure hope the jury pickers take note of how punctual I am," and then I start setting off security scanners like I'm made out of pig iron. My keys go into a plastic tray, my change, my money clip, my cigarettes (tin foil, you know), my Bic ... but I'm still ringing those ugly bells. I'm embarrassed.

"You wearing a belt buckle?" asks a security guard, and I am. He pulls me aside and goes over me with his magic wand. The buckle registers, sure enough, but there's something else. "You still have something in your pocket," says the man in the uniform, and there's not even the faintest residue of a smile on his face. "I smiled to him," I'm thinking. "Why the hell can't he smile back?"

You can guess what was in my pocket. Deep down, below the keys and money clip and the Bic. Down where I'd forgotten about it the night before, after I'd taken it bowling with me to make sure I had something dependable with which to scratch lottery tickets. I do it every Wednesday night, carry Dad's old broken knife from its normal resting place to the bowling alley.

Gad, you'd have thought I'd just pulled out an Uzi. Embarrassed was no longer the word for what I was. Like he'd been waiting all his career for just this moment, the security man went from stern to martial law. "You can't come in here with that!" Uh huh ... like I didn't already know.

I tried to explain it was a stupid mistake, that it was my old dad's knife, and I asked if he would hold it for me. He would hear none of it. "You gotta get that out of here. Right Now!"

And that is how Dad's pocket knife came to be under the sand and cigarette butts of an ashcan on the sidewalk on Front Street. I thought I'd hide it. I didn't think anyone would go digging through the filth and find it. Another stupid mistake.

I'd sure like to have it again. Of course, I'd sure like to see some consideration and civility and good old American neighborliness out of our MEWCAs again, too. But I'm betting there's a better chance of getting Dad's knife back.