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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Keeping Memories Sharp After All These Years

So there I was. Walking just past the C Train exit on Clinton Av, when suddenly a vehicle from long ago and far away began to jut out from the intersection of Gates & Clinton in front of me. It wasn't an X-winged Fighter but something just as unlikely, it was this:
Mike's Sharpening Truck - 5
My first thought was to look for the swirling vortex of time that must have torn open and deposited this truck from the past into the present. Then I heard it: The ping and echo of a worn old bell, not unlike the school fire alarm or boxing match from 1957. And I thought, "it can't be" but it was...

Okay, enough of my cryptic crap; the answer to "what is it?":

It's a Sharpening truck.

Most everyone in New York is familiar with the Ice Cream Truck, in the west and slowly migrating to the east people know of the Taco Truck...

...but how many of you remember (or have even heard of) the Sharpening Truck?

And it does just that, in the truck is equipment for sharpening blades, specifically scissors, and household knives, but if I remember correctly more outlandish items like garden tools and cleavers were made more deadly as well.

I can't help but wanna fire off one-liners about a service that sharpens New Yorker's crime inflicting weapons (a few thoughts and snide jokes are beginning to solidify around the idea as I type) but the overwhelming thought that came to me was sweet nostalgia.

The first time I recall hearing the bell was in the 70's I had to be really little, but I could distinguish that the bell I was hearing from our house on Prospect wasn't the ice cream man's jolly carnival quality bell, there was something different, manual, casual and weighty to the sound I heard. It was like the incidental ring that follows accidental contact between blunt tools and heavy metal.

When asked, my grandmother explained that the Sharpening Truck did as it's name suggested. She continued, saying that the truck had been around as long as she had been in Brooklyn, (in the 50's) but that it didn't come around as much anymore so she didn't keep her items waiting for it, like she once had. As if to punctuate this thought she glanced quickly at her sewing table and wondered out loud if he scissors couldn't be a little sharper. The bell clanged again in response, and my grandmother shrugged saying it's too far away now.

Except there it was, in the present, in front of me.


And with that I met Mike.

For reasons that escape me, the truck stopped midway on Clinton btwn Gates and Green.

I went to the door of the green truck and asked,"are you Mike?", (not assuming that the name of the door belonged to the driver of the truck) and with that funny assurance that only a Brooklyn lifer can utter, he replied, "Um Mike!" his definitive jovial tone suggesting the unspoken, "who else would be driving this truck with Mike painted on the door I ask you?")

So we talked.

Mike's Sharpening Truck - 2

The truck has been in his family for years. He takes it out from time to time, he told me. I believe he said it belonged to his dad but I don't quite remember if that's right (Part of me was concerned with the fact that I was essentially standing on the yellow median in the middle of the street, so my interview skills were suffering) I asked if he still sharpens things. He turned and pointed behind the driver's seat to the truck's equipment, which he said still works.

Mike's Sharpening Truck - 3
(The machinery used to sharpen various things)

Mike seemed bemused by my interest and I can't blame him, he was at home in the truck and I was standing in the street, at that moment I was the odd man out.

Which led me to explain that I hadn't seen the truck in years, and we talked a little about Brooklyn and the things you don't see any more. I mentioned this blog, and that it's reason for being was because of that element of unseen Brooklyn, history and the like. I mentioned wanting to let people know whats out there, and Mike responded quickly, "yeh, its a new generation out here... they don't know shit about this."

And with that Mike became my favorite dude of the day.
Mike's Sharpening Truck - 4
(The Man himself: Mike of the Sharpening Truck)

I almost missed this encounter.

At first glance of the truck, I reenacted my grandmother and thought how much it had driven in the time I spotted it and sorted my thoughts. It was too far away. Then I remembered my camera. I took a photo. The truck was nowhere near as impressive in the photo as it had been in my mind. Then I remembered this blog, (yeh I forget sometimes) that I needed to record my encounter with the Sharpening Truck and I took off running.

Honestly I felt a little dumb. I'm literally chasing the past, I thought, but then it occurred to me that no, it's not the past. Everything that is with us today, no matter how old or far flung it's point of origin, is the present. And it is at very least relevant by existing. So I ran faster. I decided the truck has made it from the world of radio, milkmen and other things cast in memory to the this very moment today. And in that moment I knew the least I could do is keep up with it, and reflect its present reality for a few more to see.


  1. a knife sharpener would make a great character in a postman-always-rings-twice type 1950s noir..

  2. OMG! I remember my mom calling me in the house to get her knives for sharpening when we heard that bell. Supposedly he did the best job. Great blast from the past!

    Oh yeah, visit my blog fellow Brooklyn born person. I think we are both on the same page.
    The Pige


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