Monday, July 13, 2009

Palette of the Nine Fingers, and the Tree of Doom

OK, I exaggerate for dramatic purposes. I still have all my bits. But Jesus, that was a close one. Before I continue, though, I need to tell you a little fact about myself and then a story.

Fact: I like knives and guns. I don't obsess over then (at least I don't think I do) and I can't quote you facts about muzzle velocity or steel composition. But I know enough to make informed decisions and have intelligent conversations about these things, and the main reason is that I find weapons beautiful. I'm sure a psychologist could have a field day exploring my particular eros-thanatos intersections. I admit that a large portion of what draws me to goth as a culture is the whole concept of "lethality as beauty and elegance."

I know I'm not alone in this: anyone who has admired the graceful lines of an F-14 Tomcat or a fine Japanese katana knows exactly what I'm talking about. It's the inanimate version of appreciating a lion or a great white shark, the attitude of "Behold this killing machine, elegant and perfect and pure of purpose."

So when I tell you that I like my knives sharp, don't be surprised or think I'm into self-cutting. I just like for things to be according to their purpose. A car that no one ever drives, a tool which no one ever uses; these things offend me on some primal, visceral level. They are not toys to be played with, not some object d'art to be kept in some pristine state. A wolf which does not kill is not a real wolf, but merely a shadow of one; a dog pretending to be a wolf. There are enough dogs in the world; let dogs be dogs and wolves be wolves, say I.

So yes. All my knives are very, very sharp. Probably because I like to hone them as I watch television. I find it soothing. My kukri machete is... well, not razor sharp, sadly, but then its purpose is not to be a razor. Still, for a chopping tool, it slashes and slices very, very well.

Story: It was 1996 or 97, I believe, in Florida during a particularly nasty summer. I don't exactly recall the month but I know that it was so hot and humid and sticky and oppressive that we felt Hell held no horrors for us.

I was hanging out with my friends, as bored college-age kids in their twenties are wont to do. There was really nothing worth doing, seeing as how it was mid-afternoon, for we'd seen all the new movies and played all the new games and the only thing left for us to do was bitch about how bored we were and how fucking hot it was. We might have gone drinking, if it weren't for the fact that some of us were underage and the rest of us were poor.

Then suddenly, my friend K had a brilliant idea: we would go across the street to the grocery store and buy a watermelon. We all agreed this was a sublime notion, and so we pooled our money and raced across the street (because asphalt in the summer is HOT!) and thence we collected our cold, sweet, juicy bounty from the promised land that is Publix.

It was a large watermelon. LARGE. At least as large as a 20-pound turkey. It took two of us to carry it, not because it was heavy but because it was large and awkward and slippery from the condensation forming on its skin as the cold rind hit the hot summer air. We carried it with as much love and devotion as you might carry a child.

When we arrived back at my friend's apartment, we were confronted with the sudden horrible truth we didn't have a knife suitable for slicing the watermelon. At best, all we had were pocket knives, and that would be long and awkward and messy. And then, K had yet another idea, and as I write this I begin to suspect that he planned the entire thing just to show off.

There is a common expression in the South that "Hey y'all, watch this!" are famous redneck last words. K was one of those people whom we believed -- with no small fondness, mind you -- would not die a natural death. Looking back, he reminds me quite a bit of Adam Savage from Mythbusters, only without quite so much foresight or common sense.

But I digress, because after only a moment my friend K had reappeared wearing a short bathrobe-kimono thing, with a white cloth across his forehead, and carrying -- brandishing, really -- a katana. The entire mood of the room could be summarized as "Holy shit." We knew we were in the presence of something awesome about to happen, but we didn't know if it would awesomely cool or awesomely disastrous. But still: watermelon, right?

K decided that in order to get the proper overhead swing, we would need to go outside, because otherwise he'd hit the ceiling, and we began looking for a way to, for wont of a better term, build the sacrificial altar upon which this watermelon would be butchered. And that's when K saw the old air conditioner, just the right size and shape to serve as a chopping block.

Now when I say air conditioner, I don't mean the window kind, nor do I mean the kind that you find outside of houses that are roughly the size of a refrigerator. No, this was some strange mid-size condenser unit, about the volume of a large but still portable drink cooler. It was covered in sheet metal, rusted and warped from its exposure to the elements, and obviously old. But it still worked, because we could hear it humming.

K placed the watermelon into the unit, bowed, and dropped into iaijutsu stance. The rest of us took several steps back. We weren't sure if we were going to witness John Belushi, Gallagher, or Tim Allen in action. K raised the katana, gave a kiai, and CHOPPED.

THUNK went the watermelon into two halves.

CLANK went the katana as it embedded itself into the housing of the (still hooked up to industrial voltage, thank you very much) air conditioner.

GASP went all of us as K began to twitch. Someone went to hit him with a log, ostensibly to keep him from being electrocuted but in truth, how many times in life do you get to clobber your friend with a piece of wood and still have a clear conscience?

Sadly? Luckily? it turned out that K's twitching was not electrocution, but merely him trying to extricate the blade from the steel housing. It had made a cut nearly an inch deep.

Later, as we ate our watermelon, K said that at the last minute he had thought better of actually chopping down with full force and instead had only used a fraction of his strength. Basically, gravity and a sharp edge had done that much damage. If he had gone full strength, well... K might not have been eating watermelon that night.

So now, in light of all that, I will tell you what happened yesterday. There is a tree just on the edge of our property which has a branch in what my mother feels is an inconvenient place. Knowing that I had this kukri and was itching for a chance to use it, she asked me to remove the branch for her. Easy-peasy, says I.

Turns out, the branch was too large for me to prune with my kukri. I mean, I suppose I could have, but what a waste of time and effort it would be. So instead I got my Winchester Pocket Chainsaw and (with some difficulty) sawed the branch off.

But there was just one problem: It wouldn't fall. The upper branches of this limb were tangled in the creepers and vines that tie most of Florida's foliage together. So clearly, this was a job for a machete, and out came the kukri.

I promise to you all that I was being careful. I was careful to chop away from my body, from lower left to upper right, because I didn't want to risk hitting myself in the leg on the downstroke.

I have no idea how I managed to hit my left index finger. None at all. If you had asked me an instant before the accident where my left hand was, I would have told you it was down by my waist. All I know is that somehow I managed to slice the hell out of my finger, between the first and second knuckle, and all I could do was think "Well thank God I wasn't chopping, or it would be completely gone."

Run inside, flush wound, disinfect, wrap with gauze and tape. If I'd done nerve or tendon or ligament damage I'd have been screaming in pain, so I figured merely muttering "Fuck!" over my carelessness was a good sign.

Nearly 24 hours later, everything is fine. It's still a nasty gash, mind you -- I'm pretty sure I'm going to lose the flap of skin I nearly sliced off, so it'll be a scab for a long time and I'll probably have a scar when it's fully healed -- but I have full range of motion on the finger.

Morals of the story:
  1. Wear gloves, dumbass.
  2. Know where your hands are at all times.
  3. Respect your tools and practice with them, or they'll bite you.
On the good side, if I can do this much damage to myself with what was basically a glancing blow, I know I can take someone's head off with this thing without too much effort. Loreena is sharp.

Yes, I named my kukri Loreena. Irony is a bitch goddess, to be sure.


  1. And here I'd thought you'd call it "Vera".

    As for what attracted you to the goth culture. It was sort of similar for me, on a more abstract basis.
    I liked the basic philosophical thought of appreciating the Destructive and as such turning it into something Creative.
    In the end everything, every state of mind, is a positive and creative state of mind.
    Or something like that.

  2. Silly Bunny! Vera is a gun's name! ;)

  3. it's all good. scars are awesome. :-p

    Yeah, ive got a pretty nasty scar on my right index finger from a similar incident with a machete and brush clearing behind my house.

  4. Good lord that was a close one!

    I'm glad you didn't actually disfigure yourself, Loreena must have been feeling merciful that day!

    On the positive note I suppose it did give you a chance to practice your emergency first aid and not-freezing-in-panic skills which will be so vital come the zombie apocalypse.


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