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I Bought These Crappy Knives From My Daughter’s Friend

cutco knifeI bought these crappy knives from my daughter’s friend.  At least that’s what I thought I was doing.  If was right before she was going to enter college, and a friend of hers had gotten a summer job selling knives via in-home presentations. Direct selling! I could not believe that the poor kid had such a retro job, selling door-to-door.  Jeez, tell him to come over, I said.  I’ll buy some of his (crappy) knives.

So to my door he came, carrying his door-to-door salesman accoutrements – a kit of demonstration knives, a notebook with a scripted presentation, a metal can, and a tomato – yes, a can and a tomato – and he walked in the door with the most sheepish look on his face.  I thought he was embarrassed because he knew I was  buying his knives out of pity.

But no, it was worse than that: he was embarrassed because of the thing he was about to do.  Namely, he was going to open the briefcase on the dining room table and position it at just such an angle as to display the knives to their best advantage.   He was going to ask for a cutting board.  He was going to open his 3-ring binder to Page Number One; a plain typed page in a plastic sheet protector.  And he was going to read the words on that page, plus the words on the pages beneath it – out loud, verbatim, to me – as my daughter stood delightedly by, highly entertained by this delicious humiliation to which her friend  was subjecting himself.

I was as uncomfortable as he was; possibly more so.  I was actually starting to get sweaty, and I was dying inside.  “You don’t have to give me the full presentation,” I said.  “I’m already going to buy some knives. Just show me what the choices are.”  (Make. This. Godawful. Process. Stop.)

But no. No doubt he had submitted countless applications to countless places to get a job, and dammit,  this is the job that he had gotten. He had been trained and he had been told what he was required to do: how to present the knives; what to say to explain the finer points; what leading questions to ask of the stooge customer, how to finally hit home with the close: the sale! And he was performing his duties to the letter.

Oh god in heaven, must we suffer through this?

We must.

I endured it; the questions about my knives (I was a knife snob and had a beautiful set of sabatier knives) and how often they became dull, The explanation of how the knives he was presenting (made by Cutco!  Could there be a more plebeian name?) were manufactured. The anticipate-and-head-off-objections discussion of the cheap-looking handles; it’s not the handle that makes the knife, it’s the blade. And see? The body of the knife extends inside the handle grasp, all the way up to the end, just like a sabatier.  These blades will never come loose!  And, I assure you, Mrs. B (deliberate eye contact), they will stay sharp for a lifetime.  Lifetime guarantee!  Allow me to saw this demonstration knife through this metal can, and then use it to slice this ripe tomato…

So I bought the crappy Cutco knives; a large carving knife, a medium sized all-purpose knife, and a set of steak knives.  And when the young man left, I put the knives in the drawer.  These country-bumpkin knives, manufactured in Olean, New York -sniff! – were not going to be displayed next to my lovely sabatiers from Thiers, France – no sir!

That was ten years ago. And I’ll bet you know where this story is going…

Yup.  The knives are still sharp – as sharp as the day I bought them. They cut cleanly and quickly through prickly pineapples, they slice delicately through soft tomatoes, they reliably render crumb-free slices from my loaves of sourdough. They are my favorites of my entire collection: I always turn to them and I use them every single day of my life.

So, my “junk” knives that I “wasted” my money on, simply because of friendship, are one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

Which makes me think about Women At Woodstock 2012, and the moment when dozens of friends-to-be walked through the door for the very first time to join the welcome party. Most came alone – willing, for some wonderfully inexplicable reason, to trust that this experience would be what it promised to be. I can only imagine that each must have been wondering, as her foot stepped over the threshold, “Will this turn out to be a waste of money – or the best investment I’ve made in myself in years?”

I’m deep in the planning for the two Women At Woodstock retreats this year, and I’ve been reviewing all the surveys that came in after last year’s retreat, combing through the scores, the remarks, the suggestions, the wishes for WAW 2013.  One glowing “thank you” after another was gifted to me again.  This was one of the best:

I am still reeling from the week I spent with WAW.  It’s difficult to separate the emotion from it and try to come up with something that could possibly be as powerful as what our 2012 presenters brought to the table.  Some of your presenters really spoke to all the inner demons in my head and helped me clear essential brain space so I can get back to work.  Barbara Hannah Grufferman reiterated what I’ve been told by my doctors but included the “you are fantastic” chip and I left KNOWING I can step it up.  Ivy Slater reinforced goal setting… I am excited to be part of the ANNUAL Women at Woodstock event, and am honored I was at the first.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And another:

1. Did you have any criteria for the speakers? The fact that they were all so down to earth was one of the contributing factors to success.

2. Did you recommend the speakers mingle with attendees, including meals? Also, factor of success.

I loved the accessibility of each speaker – their willingness to be open and genuine.  It was palpable to me.

And another:

I have attended many conferences. WAW was definitely one of the most joyous experiences. The intimacy of the group lent itself to real conversation, the development of real friendships, amazing and open dialogue. I hope all of our paths will cross again.

Finally, to the question “How well did Women At Woodstock deliver on your expectations overall?” the average of all the scores was 99.44%  Makes me feel as proud as a Cutco knife.

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