Tool Kit For Life
Via Jason T. Sparks, Our Man in Nashville
I’m not a huge fan of the phrase lifehacks. It bothers me because it speaks to a trend in which we think of any good idea in practice as a hack, as if our entire lives were merely part of a computer. I don’t relish the thought of framing all of our reality as digital. Is that because I’m a slow learner where tech is concerned, because I do not know how to code and all the rest of it? Is it because I have always been a grouchy old bastard at heart and I never like anything new?
Yes. To both.
That said, it is obviously best to be prepared for life, and for whatever it may throw at you. My grandfather, Edgar T. Sparks, was such a man—you mentioned a problem around him, he knew a solution, he knew a resource, he knew a guy. Also, he conducted his world (from the time I knew him, at any rate) from a recliner in his den, next to which was his trusty cigar box.
Shortly after my grandpa died, I opened that cigar box. It didn’t contain cigars; it had contained them, and as such, had an aroma so pungent that it could have been weaponized. What it did contain was various and sundry stuff—ballpoint pens, lighters, knives, phone numbers written on small bits of paper. I was amazed. I was seeing how Grandpa was able to manage his world from his chair—stuff he needed was always at his side.
In the years since, I have tried to keep a similar cigar box—sometimes a literal cigar box, next to my own recliner, sometimes (usually) a briefcase or backpack that I carry with me everywhere I go. I have compiled a list here of the 42 things I’d ideally have in my cigar box (or carry in a backpack; all 42 would not fit in a cigar box, but most would)—the things that, as far as I’m concerned, will prepare you for whatever you encounter. This list is, I suppose, my major lifehack. I share it in the hope that you’ll find it useful.
THE CONTENTS OF YOUR IDEAL CIGAR BOX/BACKPACK:
- One (1) Swisschamp Swiss Army knife. You’re familiar, no doubt, with Victorinox and their line of cutlery issued to the Army of a neutral country. The Swisschamp is the big one, with 33 functions including a magnifying glass, a corkscrew, pliers, et cetera. You could well-nigh build a house with one of these.
Oh, about the brand—I am not normally a brand snob, but when it comes to tools that will help you survive, I rather insist on the top of the line.
- One (1) Zippo lighter. Because the Zippo is one of the few consumer products in world history to offer a genuine lifetime guarantee. Because a flame is light and heat and, you know, will burn stuff. Because they’re rather badass. Because his brothers always said he was the funniest—no, wait.
- One (1) hand-cranked portable radio. The almighty internet can fail, and is dependent on electricity. So is radio, I hear you say—yes, but radio (especially shortwave) is still a medium dominated by survivalist prepper nerds, as opposed to every single other medium, where they are but one facet of the audience. As such, there are radios that don’t need a battery or an outlet, as a crank powers them. The more bands your radio supports, the better—I mean, you don’t want to miss Bill Pullman’s speech, do you?
- One (1) Faraday flashlight. Named for the physicist, these are flashlights that don’t require batteries. I feel like the appeal of this one is self-explanatory.
- One (1) headlamp. Because (1) sometimes you need to be able to see and have both hands free (2) you’ll look damned studly in one.
- One (1) blue pen
- One (1) black pen
- One (1) red pen
- One (1) green pen
If you take your living seriously, you take a lot of notes. You write down as much as you possibly can. Four colors of ink makes it easier to break down main ideas, supporting details, steps, and results, for instance.
- One (1) mechanical pencil. Because a No. 2 pencil eventually gets soft and you have those fat lines. Eurgh.
- One (1) container of refill leads.
- Four (4) highlighters, var. colours. Because if you take your living seriously, you read a lot; this is not dissimilar from the pens above.
- One (1) box, Diamond Red Top safety matches. Because, again, light/heat/burning stuff, and you want to conserve the fluid in item 2.
- One (1) compass. I personally prefer the ball compass, simpy because I have no idea how to use the other kind.
- One (1) pair scissors. Because sometimes you have to cut stuff.
- One (1) ball, sisal twine. Because sometimes you have to tie stuff up, or tie stuff to other stuff.
- One (1) label-less pill bottle filled with toothpicks
- One (1) label-less pill bottle filled with rubber bands
- One (1) label-less pill bottle filled with paper clips
These three items I suggest because with them, you can engineer just about anything you might need.
- One (1) 5-subject college-ruled 8 ½ x 11” notebook
- One (1) 5 x 7” notebook
These are…to write your life plans in.
- One (1) Ace unbreakable comb
- One (1) travel (compact) toothbrush
- One (1) container dental floss
- One (1) set nail clippers, preferably with metal file/nail cleaner on
- One (1) deck of playing cards
- Two (2) dice (at least; can be more if you prefer)
Cards and dice, beyond giving you a way to pass the time, can help with decision-making and selection. I prefer to buy my cards at Dollar Tree, as they sell decks of cards that have been used in live play on casino floors, which I think infuses them with extra romance/mojo/etc.
- One (1) rubber high-bounce ball. Because you may have to hit something at a great distance. Also, if you have it with you and become a POW, you can emulate Steve McQueen.
- One (1) sewing kit (the kind high-end hotels often have)
- One (1) harmonica (learn to play first). Because you may find yourself compelled to busk for money, and everyone loves a song-and-dance man.
- One (1) pocket-size Gideon Bible. New Testament, Pslams, Proverbs, and the national anthems of most English-speaking countries. Because spiritual guidance and, if necessary, a source for secret code.
- One (1) copy of the book Pocket Refby Thomas J Glover. Never heard of it? Wikipedia describes it as containing “references, tables, and instructional guides on such varied subjects as automotive repair; carpentry and construction; chemistry and physics; computers; physical, chemical, and mathematical constants; electronics; money and measurement conversions; advanced first aid; glue, solvents, paints, and finishes; hardware; mine, mill, and aggregate; plumbing; zip codes; rope, cable, and knots; steel and metals; surveying and mapping; and more.” According to Wired, the book “refutes the notion that the best way to portably access a world of information is through a touchscreen…Glover has packed gigabytes of analog data into a book that’s less than an inch thick and small enough to fit into your front shirt pocket.” I got my copy at a True Value hardware store that (1) smelled of oil and stale cigarettes (2) had two resident cats (3) had staffers who had jail tats, but knew their merde (4) was finally killed this past year by the big-box stores.
- One (1) copy of Hoyle’s Rules of Games.
- One (1) copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
- One (1) road map for the state you live in.
- One (1) US road atlas.
- One (1) world atlas.
- One (1) first-aid kit.
That, unless I think of something else, ought to do it. Feel free to assemble the lot and let me know how you do.
Ed Note: In light of the times, please add some hand sanitizer and a face mask into your cigar box!