What Are Your Tools?

Like most people I enjoy getting new stuff. It’s nice on some small level. The dopamine jolt. Then you use the item excitedly for a little while and then it gets relegated to the place in your closet with all your other “stuff”. You don’t dislike the item necessarily, but it doesn’t occupy a place in your heart the way some other things do. And things pile up. Was it worth it?

Other times we get something new and it rocks! It was exactly what we hoped it would be and we reach for it excitedly whenever we can. It becomes a staple of our wardrobes and we look forward to donning it at every opportunity.

Still other times we get something new and that item slides so seamlessly into our lives that we hardly even notice it. We reach for them every day, to be sure, but it’s without the anticipation and mental fanfare of the prior scenario. These items fill some hole we may not have even realized needed filling. They are the items that we wouldn’t even dream of replacing since they do their jobs so admirably, yet they are underappreciated. These aren’t the items that garner the love of, say, an heirloom watch or a cashmere blazer. These are the things we hardly even think about. Their dependability is so rock solid that they are practically woven into our DNA. They are steady, like a couch or a KitchenAid mixer, and fade into the background of your life. They just chug along day after day. They are the workhorses. The fullbacks. The dependable, no-frills, unremarkable shelter dogs of the sartorial world. They exist somewhere beyond “clothes” or “accessories”. They are more than that. They are tools.

In an effort to bring greater joy and appreciation of the things we use every day, and to feel satisfaction with what we HAVE rather than chasing wants, I showcase my daily “tools”.

Coach Bag

My wife gifted me this bag 8 years ago (before we were married). I didn’t have a “grown-up” bag at the time. I was using a cheapy nylon messenger bag which in no way looked even remotely professional. But it was relatively early in my career and the nylon bag did the job.

Fast forward to today and I don’t know how I ever lived without this Coach bag (as ridiculous as that statement sounds). It’s gone with me from New York to California to Europe, and everywhere in between. The supple black leather, once silken and glossy, is now a scuffed and ashy grey. The strap is frayed and the bottom has worn away in places from the friction of the floors of so many planes, trains, and automobiles. When I look through pictures from years past, it’s always there. Casually slung over my shoulder on that blisteringly hot day on London Bridge or that absurdly extravagant sales convention in San Diego.

More than its utility, this bag represented an evolution in how I viewed not only my career, but myself as a man. My first job out of college was a criminally low-paying, soul-destroying NYC corporate gig with a very casual dress code. The bag I used in those days was an old green backpack with an AC/DC patch I had since freshman year of high school. I, in no way, took myself seriously as a proper adult and it showed. Thus, no one else took me seriously either.

The Coach bag was a milestone of sorts. An announcement to myself that I was ready to tackle some real responsibilities. I will feel a twinge of sadness when I finally need to put this old war horse out to pasture.

Opinel Pocket Knife

Ok, this one is quite literally a tool so maybe I’m cheating a little including it in this list. But it falls under the umbrella of Every Day Carry so it’s fair game.

Somewhat to my wife’s chagrin, I have always been fascinated with knives. There is something primal about a good knife. Something comforting, too. What could go wrong if you have a knife with you? Lots, obviously, but don’t you just feel more prepared for, well, ANYTHING when you’re carrying a knife?

The first knife I owned came curtesy of a family friend. I was about 7 or 8 years old and an older couple who lived in the apartment upstairs would baby-sit me after school until my mother came home from work. They were lovely, caring people. The husband, Paul, was a gruff man and he would spend most of the time sitting at the kitchen table smoking cigarettes and drinking Schaefer beer. One day he asked me “What do you do when you get angry?” I didn’t know what he was getting at, so I kind of shrugged and said something vague about going to my room or something. Apparently that answer was satisfactory enough because he said sternly “OK. When you’re angry you NEVER reach for this.” And he took out a small nylon camouflage pouch with a button closure and a belt loop. Inside was a little folded pocket knife. It was a black, plastic-handled Buck. He showed me how to open it until it locks and then close it by releasing the mechanism on the back. He told me not to throw it blade-first into the dirt. He taught me how to cut away from myself.

That knife has always been special to me. Not only was it the first pocket knife I ever had, but, after many years, I understand what it was at the time. Paul would watch me every day come off the school bus and watch cartoons by myself in their living room. I was there because my mother had to work and my father wasn’t around. He thought that I needed some healthy male influence in my life. The knife was more than a gift. He wanted to help a little boy who was struggling.

I carried that knife for years. I collected more knives but that first one was always my favorite. As I got older, I determined I needed something a little sleeker, lighter, and more practical for every day carry (even though I still carry that original Buck in the pocket of my winter coat).

This Opinel is perfect for dads. I went with the classic “N. 08”. I have big hands and the round, 4.25” long handle sits comfortably in my palm. There are two things I love most about this knife.

One: It is light. The beechwood handle and carbon steel blade feel practically weightless in my pocket. I sometimes forget I am even carrying it. I love Buck knives, but they are heavy.

Two: The blade can lock in the out position (as many knives can), but it can also lock when it is closed. There is a twisting steel collar that rotates into place to keep the blade where it is. This is critically important when you have little kids. I don’t have to worry much if my sons accidentally get a hold of my knife, since I know they can’t open it and potentially hurt themselves. Peace of mind is a wonderful thing.

Unlocked
Locked

Lastly, I appreciate the look of the Opinel (as does MOMA). It’s old fashioned and doesn’t scream “TACTICAL!” the way many folding knives do nowadays. It’s not aggressive in that sense. It doesn’t look like a hunting knife or a survival knife. Consequently, I don’t feel uncomfortable taking it out in public to cut an apple or something.

Also, it’s $18.00! One-Eight. Unreal.

Hunter Wellington Boots

For the longest time I thought the only people who wore Hunter rain boots were 20-year-old girls at music festivals. Then I realized I needed a pair of waterproof boots I could slip on and off while walking the dog, since I was tired of my feet getting soaked in my boat shoes. As silly as it sounds, I didn’t know any other brand of rain boot so I picked up a pair of Hunter boots. I opted for the ones that have a thin layer of fleece lining for some extra insulation. I figured it couldn’t hurt even in the summer.

Wow, were these the right choice. There literally hasn’t been a day that has gone by that I haven’t worn them. They stand like two black sentinels by the front door. They are known in the house as “Daddy’s Boots” even though they aren’t the only boots I own. My son likes to fill them with toys as he does with everything that is ever-present in the house (cabinets, dog dish, bathroom sink).

I live in the Northeast and the conditions can be very wet and muddy, or cold and snowy. It was -17 degrees Fahrenheit driving my son to school the other day. I can comfortably wear these boots with just regular socks even on days like those if I am not outside for too long. If I am just popping out to walk the dog for a few minutes (she is a bulldog, she doesn’t like walking very far) then I am fine without socks. And in the summer the fleece lining keeps my feet from getting too sweaty and sticky.

Thick rubber boots. Why would you ever need to replace them?

Field Watch

Please disregard the Bulldog fur on my sleeve.

I have worn watches ever since I was in elementary school. The first one I can remember was a red Swatch with a T-Rex on the dial. I’d wear the hell out of that even now.

When I graduated high-school my sister gifted me a titanium sports watch which I wore until it finally breathed it last breath many years ago. But that was the watch that clued me into why I loved wearing watches so much. It went everywhere with me. It was light weight and waterproof. I hardly ever took it off.

Since we have been together my wife, ever the Brooklyn girl, has gifted me two lovely Bulova watches that I will treasure always. My favorite of the two is an automatic with a steel case and silver dial on a black leather strap. I wear it constantly and it’s my go-to watch when I am wearing a suit or a tux, but I realized I needed something I could wear to the beach or working out. I settled on a Timex Navi field watch.

Unlike my Bulova watches, I don’t love this watch per se. But again, it does exactly what I need it to do. I actually sleep with it on because we have kids who like to wake up in the middle of the night and I prefer to glance at my wrist rather than roll out of bed to look at my phone (I don’t own an alarm clock and I wouldn’t be able to see it at night without my glasses anyway).

Happily, this Timex doesn’t tick as loudly as another Timex I once owned. That thing was so loud my wife couldn’t be in the room with it. She said it was like the Tell-Tale Heart. But that little $25 watch was like T-1000. You just couldn’t kill it. My current Timex is even tougher, since it has a metal case instead of plastic.

I often hear that wrist watches are impractical and anachronistic since you can always just look at your phone. But I actually find it MORE inconvenient to rely on my phone for the time. In what universe is it easier to take off your glove, unbutton your coat, reach into your pocket, and push a little button than it is to simply glance at your wrist? And what happens when your phone’s battery runs out? Same goes for smart watches. I know these things have been rehashed a million times on the internet, but I just can’t see ever NOT wearing a watch.

Flannel-Lined Wool Zip Sweater

Just recently I thought to myself that I could really use some sort of wool overshirt. I was pumping gas and hadn’t put my coat on and it was pretty chilly. So I spent a few minutes online searching for a relatively inexpensive wool shirt and got somewhat frustrated that I would probably need to shell out at least $150. Darn, I thought.

What completely escaped me was that I already owned a similar garment. I also happen to be wearing it as I write this article. It’s a wool sweater with a zip front and a flannel lining from L.L. Bean. I wear it so much I forget I am wearing it. It was a gift from my wife a year and a half ago and I’m surprised it isn’t threadbare by now. It almost always gets layered under my coat. It’s the layer I strip down to when I am splitting wood or shoveling the deck. It’s what I toss on at the end of the night when my wife and I are drinking wine by the fire and listening to jazz on the radio.

It’s such a shame that it took me writing this article to fully appreciate this sweater. The densely woven wool shell combined with the soft flannel lining really keep out the wind. The collar is a mock neck which obviates the need for a scarf. It has two handwarmer pockets which are perfect for keys or spare KN95s. Also, the flannel lining extends down the sleeves which makes it very comfortable when wearing a t-shirt underneath. I find sometimes that overshirts or shirt-jacs have taffeta lining in the sleeves to make it easier to slide on over a base layer, but it tends to feel cold on the skin. Don’t have to worry about that with this sweater.

Since it’s from L.L. Bean I had to exchange the Large for a Medium, but that’s to be expected with L.L. Bean as everything of theirs runs large. Another plus is that the marled look of the tan yarns hides stains pretty well, which is good when around the kids.

Conclusion – Even though I write about clothes, I don’t believe in conspicuous consumption. I think we should appreciate the things we have more than lusting after the next new thing. Will that impulse purchase of something you already have five of really make you happy? Is it really that exciting? No, it isn’t. You know that. But what about that thing you’ve had for years? That thing you’re probably wearing right now. It lost its luster years ago. It isn’t flashy. But it forms part of the scaffolding of your life. I bet it even has some stories to tell. Take a minute to appreciate those things. You’ll find you don’t need as much new stuff as you think you do.

What are YOUR tools?

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