Boulder, CO is the home of the used--used books, gear, and bicycles. Even recycled inner tubes from old bicycle wheels (they make handy wallets, turns out). Climbing shoes are valued for the thick layer of chalk they accumulate, and nothing rides better than a bike constructed of refurbished parts. Some who knew me growing up may be surprised that I left my shiny career in New York City’s publishing industry for such rough-edged stomping grounds.
I have always been a lover of the new, the modern. Growing up in a wealthy New York City suburb, I “ooed” and “ahhed” as mansions with great mahogany doors and high, vaulted roofs passed by my mini-van window. I yearned to someday own the treasure beyond those wrought-iron security gates and freshly mowed acres of manicured bushes and mulched trees. Perfection lay in the polish of the untouched and unlived.
It was my little brother who changed all that.
A couple of years ago, I did laundry. This was no ordinary load of laundry. This load, also contained my brand new Swiss Army pocketknife. The knife was a shiny black, instead of red, (everyone has the red one) and contained every tool imaginable inside its pocket-sized frame—knife, screwdriver, corkscrew, bottle opener, nail file, scissors, you name it. It was special, it was mine, and it was brand new.
As I pulled my clothes from the dryer, the knife fell out of the back pocket of my still-warm jeans , a sad shadow of its former self. The shiny black coating had melted off in the wash, leaving the surface unpolished and dappled with strange patches where the coating had oozed imperfectly off the black plastic underneath. I was devastated.
I brought the ruined knife upstairs, where my brother sat reading Plato (no joke) by the fire. The look on my face was, I’m sure, unmistakable. Luke, one year younger, twice my size, and triple my wisdom. looked at me calmly with bespectacled eyes. “What happened?” he asked. Shamefully, I handed him the gruesome knife.
“It’s ruined,” I said, crossing my arms and staring vehemently at the crackling fire.
“What do you mean?”
“I put it through the wash by accident and now it’s ruined. Unless there’s some way to fix it? Do you think? Is there such thing as a Swiss Army store? Think they’d gimme a new one!?” I looked at him desperately, filled with false hope.
“A new one? Are you kidding me? I’d give anything for this knife!” I was confused… Clearly, the knife was busted, ugly to the extreme.
“Does it still work?” He asked, pulling out all its various gadgets one by one and examining them carefully.
“Well, yeah, I guess…”
“It’s a perfectly good knife, Jackie,” he explained. “And it looks way cooler now, like you’ve had it for ages and used it every day. It’s rugged!”
Rugged. That was it. The word that changed it all—the word that gave me permission to release my vanity in favor of authenticity—in favor of a life lived rather than a life desired. In other words, knives ain’t for lookin’ at. Thanks, Luke.
So it comes as no surprise that my sexy New York job, with all its prestige and promise of pulsing lights and celebrities, didn’t quite work out. Boulder, re-used, recycled, and re-purposed, is my new-old home.