Over dinner the other night a young actor friend mentioned to my wife and I that he was going camping next month. This was not earth shaking news because he is quite the outdoorsman and it is not unusual for him to disappear into the Adirondacks for a week or ten days only to emerge looking like a well-tanned, highly photogenic version of Jed Clampett.
“I’ll be going to Patagonia for two weeks,” he said.
“Ah, Patagonia,” I replied wisely. “That’s in Pennsylvania, isn’t it?”
“No,” he beamed. “South America.”
“South America?” I asked, slightly concerned. "Isn’t that mostly jungle?”
“Not Jungle,” he said patiently. “Rain Forest.”
“Sorry. I didn’t know there had been a name change.”
Later that night my wife suggested that we get him a going away present, and I was assigned the task of finding something appropriate.
Next day at lunchtime I walked over to a nearby, somewhat old fashioned sporting goods store and trudged up the three flights of stairs to the camping department. I was tempted to make base camp on the second floor and carry on to the summit in the morning, but I had to be back in the office by two.
I usually only go to the sporting goods store to look at baseball equipment and dream of unfulfilled glory, so the camping department was unexplored territory for me. Also my only experience with the jungle – I mean rain forest – came from watching Tarzan when I was a boy, so finding a suitable gift was going to be a challenge.
A leathery skinned old man was behind the counter. “Hello”, I said. “I have a friend who is going camping in Patagonia and I wanted to get a little Bon Voyage present. What do you suggest?” He stared at me for a long time, opened his mouth to speak once or twice, and then stared some more. Finally he said, “Bon Voyage for a trip to the jungle?”
“Rain forest, actually.”
Looking back I suppose it might be considered by some an odd thing to give a going away present to someone about to embark on an expedition into the darkest recesses of the terra incognita. I don’t suppose anyone gave Dr. Livingston a going away present. Or Lewis and Clark. I probably could have asked the clerk about that. He looked old enough to have known Lewis and Clark.
After a few more minutes of silence I remembered Tarzan swinging through the trees with a knife in his mouth. "How about a knife?" I asked.
"Yep, we got knives right over here," he said and steered me to a glass case filled with ominous looking cutlery.
Unsure how to proceed I asked, "Er, do you have anything that could be comfortably held in the mouth?"
"Well," he said, scratching his head, "you usually want to hold it in your hand..."
"Well, of course you'd need to hold it in your hand when you are using it," I said, trying to sound informed. "But what do you do with it when you are, um, you know," here I sort of muttered, "swinging through the trees."
"I reckon you could hold it in your mouth under those circumstances," he said, suppressing a chuckle. "But you might consider a sheath instead."
"Ah, the sheath. Of course. I'm sure that's how some would do it."
I ended up getting a nice hunting knife, which he rather disconcertingly kept referring to as "The Skinner", and a buckskin sheath beautifully decorated with genuine Native American beadwork.
Of course my wife made me take it back the next day and exchange it for some insect repellant and 6 rolls of Charmin-To-Go. But for the afternoon just knowing I had the ol' "Skinner" tucked away safely in my brief case made me feel just like Tarzan, King of the, um, Rain Forest.