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The Pen Drawer

December 29, 2006

I have a new annual tradition. I took a pen from my pen drawer and found that it didn’t write, so I culled my pen drawer. I decided that it would be a good idea to undertake this exercise annually, as even unused pens exhibit unpredictable useful lives at inconvenient times.

Now, you might think I am utterly out of ideas, or spend too much time alone with the Cat, but this is not the case; I simply find things interesting that most people initially would not–like culling my pen drawer.

I do not collect pens. I don’t collect anything, but I have more than I need of some things. I have more teapots than friends who drink tea, and more teacups than friends. I have five pairs of cat socks, but this is not entirely my fault; once some people see you wearing cat socks, they assume that you love cat socks, and they give you cat socks. It doesn’t matter that you have a drawer full of cat socks. It’s the same with teacups. But pens I admit to acquiring more pro-actively.

Of the 101 pens in my pen drawer, I discarded 31 because they no longer worked; 70 still work and I kept them. I also have 10 wooden pencils, sharp and ready to write, and four mechanical pencils, with lead. I think my husband’s favorite thing to tell people about me is that I do our taxes with a pencil and send a smudge-proof Xerox copy to the IRS.

I bought none of the 101 pens in the drawer. Only one, a Pelikan fountain pen, was bought for me as a gift. All the others represent individual members of that vast set of objects in the world known as free pens.

Except for the fountain pen, most of the working pens were very cheaply made. For some reason, it is the nicer ones that tend to die in the nib prematurely. The nicest of the dead free pens was, I’m sorry to say, from Western Reformed Seminary. It has a red light that comes on when clicked, but it doesn’t write: all light, no write. The functional pens came from a variety of sources, and it was fun, even sentimental, going through them.

I have a habit of picking up free pens wherever they are proffered. I also have pens that came in the mail with my name or my husband’s, from hopeful promoters who anticipated that we might order hundreds of pens. I have pens from hotels at which I have attended conferences over the last 20 years; a clutch of erasable pens with which I took the Bar exam in 1994; pens from hairdressers over the years, like Gigi. Gigi and her two partners were in business together almost 30 years when they lost their lease to a strip-mall developer, and they wound up going separate ways. I have pens from banks that no longer exist. I have pens from guys who repaired my car, installed our air conditioning system, even one from Harrah’s, although I’ve never been there. Many pens outlast the advertiser whose name is imprinted on the barrel. Issuing pens with your name on them is no guarantee of immortality.

The Bar Association used to host an Expo for hopeful vendors. One vendor gave away tote bags, and I always took one of those to haul my free pens, post-it notes, staplers, mugs, and like trove. The best pens from that lot are from Birnie’s Notaries. Another prime source of pens is my doctor, who gets the pens from pharmaceutical reps. Some of the worst drugs have their names on some of the best pens.

One pen has some fascinating information printed on it: King County Soils issued a free pen with a transparent Lucite cylinder in which some dirt is sealed. The barrel informs those who acquire these memorable pens that there is life in dirt, 4 billion lives in a teaspoon of dirt, to be exact.

The irony of having 70 working pens is that I don’t use them. This, of course, is why they still work. Almost everything I used to do with a pen I now do with the computer, except our taxes, which, of course, I do with a pencil. I still scrawl things on paper to remember them or have them where I will see them without opening my computer.

And so, I have decided on a collateral resolution. I will no longer pick up a free pen just because it is there for the taking. I will not pick up one more pen until every last nib in the pen drawer is dry. But I expect there might be some extenuating circumstances that hinder my resolve.


McBrooke said…
Guess I’ll have to take back the souvenir pen I bought you from The Black Buggy – our local Amish restaurant. :)Kidding, of course. But the Black Buggy is a chain now.
Greetings from Indiana!
8:16 AM  
Rachel said…
I tend to be a fountain pen person myself, and find that writing letters is so much more difficult without one. I have to find a place up here where I can get more ink. I, of course, traverse in the cheap fountain pen venue…:-)
8:53 AM  
Mike Pitzler said…
Diane has one that’s also a laser pointer.
9:16 AM  
Mrs. B said…
The Cat loves those.
9:20 AM  
heidi said…
I loved this post. I’m keeping it.
8:30 AM  

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