I know about New York’s itinerant knife sharpeners thanks to Steven Seagal. In his classic 1991 movie, Out for Justice, his character, a rogue cop named Gino, tells a sad story about an old man who used to travel the streets of Brooklyn pushing a foot-operated grinding wagon. He’d ring a bell to alert residents of his presence, and housewives, chefs, butchers, and tradesmen would come out to get their blades sharpened. But then people started buying disposable knives and scissors, and business dried up. The old man, feeling useless in the world, died of
cancer a broken heart. Turns out, the old man was Gino’s dad, and Gino, not wanting to be useless in his own life, goes on to kill Richie. So, weekend before last, as I noticed an old-timey knife-sharpening guy making his way up my Brooklyn block in a red truck, ringing his bell, I immediately thought about how badly I wanted to kill Richie dull our kitchen knives were, so I grabbed them and rushed down to the street. Here’s how it unfolded.
BlackBook: You a knife-sharpening guy?
Dominic Del Re: I’m the knife-sharpening guy.
I got this block of knives. How much?
Let me see.
He studies the five knives intensely. They’re semi-fancy J.A. Henckels knives, but have never been sharpened.
Sorry, that’s too much for me. I don’t think the knives are even worth that.
When they’re as sharp as I make-a them, they’re worth hundreds.
Will you do it for $40?
I never do this.
You don’t have to.
Okay, okay, fine.
Can I take your picture?
You don’t like being in pictures?
What do you do?
I’m a writer.
What do you write about?
Music and art, that kind of thing.
What did you study in school?
You studied English literature and write about music and art?
Sure, why not?
My wife, she has an MBA.
He’s got glasses on and a bandana over his face, and he’s holding the blades against the rapidly spinning grinding wheel, sparks flying. He then pounds the blades on a block with a big hammer like some orc in Mordor. He finishes each knife with a few swipes on a whetstone. One older guy, a regular, approaches the truck and hands five white-handled knives in through the opposite window. “Whicha housa you live in? Thata one? Okay, I’ll knock on the door.” A twenty-something guy appears on the sidewalk with a camping hatchet. Dominic will sharpen anything except weapons. After ten minutes or so, he’s done with my knives.
Here you go.
Okay, thanks, see you later.
So, my local Brooklyn grinder is not quite as personable as I’d hoped, and I’m pretty sure he overcharged me. But the knives are sharper than they’ve ever been, Kill Bill “Should you encounter god, god will be cut” sharp. And I’m getting pretty good mileage out of the story. Now I suppose I should cook something, but I don’t want to dull my pristine blades too quickly. I can’t afford to sharpen them again.