My Pens

While the plumber waited for his check, I began the long and laborious search for a pen.

It should not have been a problem because I have at least a million of them.

I have three large coffee mugs on my desk and each one sprouts a wild bloom of pens. My junk drawer is layered with writing implements and in the living room, pens lay scattered like twigs across the end tables.

Yet – not one works.

Every time I reach for a pen, I go through the same ritual of scratching through half an inch of notepaper in the vain attempt to find one that is willing to leave a mark.

I am not sure why I bother – because neither I nor anyone else can read my handwriting.  It is horrible.

Still, people demand that I use pen and paper.

My wife insists that I make a list before going to the grocery store.

“Write it down or you will forget,” she says.

“But I can’t read my handwriting,” I tell her.

She brushes me off. “It makes no difference,” she says, “if you write down ten items, at least you’ll come back with ten.”

It is hard to argue with that logic.

Yet under that same theory, it really does not matter if the pen works only sporadically. Ten lines of partial scribble are still ten lines.

My boss was much the same way.

“Uh, Greg,” he once told me, “the director mentioned that you don’t take notes during her meetings. It is very upsetting.”

“So what do you want me to do?” I asked.

“Don’t upset her.”

So I brought a pen and a notepad to our next meeting and dutifully scribbled for three hours.  The director was impressed.  In the hall after the meeting, she asked to see my notes.

I showed them to her.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, “shorthand.”

I nodded in agreement.

Then she looked concerned. “I was so busy taking notes,” she confessed, “that I entirely missed the point the agency head was making about our strategies.”

I furrowed my brow and studied the first page – then flipping to the next, I ran my finger along the margin. “He said we must realign our strategies with our core competencies,” I told her.

It sounded like something he would say.

“Thank you,” she said, recording the point in her day-planner. “By the way,” she added, “would you like to take the minutes of our next meeting?”

“I’ll make a note of it,” I said.

When I told my boss about this, he demoted me from System Architect to Software Engineer to ensure that I never attended another management meeting. When I told my colleagues about this, they too managed to get themselves demoted.

Our productivity exploded.

Everyone was pleased.

Everyone that is, except our director who lamented the lack of input from the architects. When she resolved to do something about it, I retired and my stream of office supplies dried up.

Now after years of retirement, not one of my pens work.

When I explained this to the plumber, he looked at me like I was an idiot.

“I take VISA,” he said, clipping a card reader onto his smart phone.

Author: Almost Iowa

www.almostiowa.com

52 thoughts on “My Pens”

  1. Ha! I’m clearly not the first one to have this thought, but we really need to get rid of the whole “needle-in-a-haystack” analogy. It’s (almost) as outdated as handwriting notes during meetings. Instead, it should be finding-a-working-pen-in the drawer-full-of-dead-pens. But then again…who uses pens anymore?

  2. HAHAHA! Join the club. I knew I’d enjoy this post as soon as I read the title. Well, I’ve decided to take a break away from Facebook and blogging to deal with my clutter, including pens. Yes, I keep them in mugs too. Why do pens seem to multiply more than other stuff?

    1. I read you post on decluttering. I’ve made a note of it and if you don’t emerge from the clutter by June, I will contract the relevant authorities. 🙂 I don’t know why pens proliferate the way they do, maybe it is just their way of telling us that we need to write more.

  3. Shame on you. You call yourself a writer and you can’t find a pen. How do you think you’re going to write down that brilliant idea you get in the middle of the night? Where would Fitzgerald be without his pen? Where would Hemingway be without his pen? I am very disappointed with you, Greg.

    1. Oh, you must be a System Architect too! 🙂 🙂

      Twenty years ago, I was sent to “a major Midwestern University” to install a system I developed for the Minneapolis Police. I thought it would take less than half a day, instead I was sucked into a series of management meeting where the number of participants grew like bacteria in a Petri dish. In despair I suggested that we divide into a governing group and a working group. I would be the working group. After four hours of work, I install the system and fled back to the safety of the police.

      Several years later, my lieutenant received an email from the governing group….worried about the lack of progress of the working group. They had been meeting the whole time.

  4. What a smart way to get out of management meetings, which in my opinion, rank right up there as one of the ten biggest wastes of time in the entire world! As for the pens, we have the same problem. Despite the fact that each time I find a pen that doesn’t work I actually throw it away. Yet whenever I need one, I find myself stuck with a drawer full of pens that don’t work. I think they breed, like rabbits.

    1. Government management meetings are the worst. I remember sitting through a four hour meeting with thirty other people and calculating how much the meeting was costing the taxpayers…. You don’t want to know.

      I disagree that pens breed like rabbits. It is rabbits who breed like pens.

  5. I just spent some time cleaning off my desk and tested every pen. I now have a sizable pile of pens that work. However, they have been sitting in the kitchen for a week, because for some reason or another I cannot remember where they belong

    1. I have tried testing my pens during my twice a decade task of clearing and cleaning my desk. It never works. Like all important things, pens only fail when called upon to perform, not when tested. 🙂

      Hope all is going well with you.

  6. I have those same three mugs, but since I don’t have access to the checkbook, I don’t have to worry. I chaired a committee for one year at work, which required preparing the minutes. That task hasn’t circled back to me since. These days, I doodle during meetings. If I speak, people are kind of ok. If I start to draw while I’m speaking, I know they will bring the meeting to a quick end.

    1. Oh, I am never allowed access to the whole checkbook – only one blank check at a time and only for special events like plumbers. When I am issued the check, she holds it back until I promise not to mess it up with the wrong Pay To The Order Of or amount. I am occasionally allowed to get the date radically wrong, because after all, we live in a small town where everyone knows me and is willing to cut me some slack.

    1. Let’s just say that some of us non-linear thinkers and our dictations are harder to understand than our handwriting.

      Mark, you are a father. You have already been demoted. 🙂

  7. Ha! I “loan” pens and pencils to my students every day. And never get any back. Never. I accuse them of having yard sales on the weekends and only selling my writing utensils. The killer for me with the card reader was at my grandson’s All County Music Concert. You know how they have tables set up with t-shirts, key chains etc with the school logos or funny music-oriented signs, ties, etc? Usually the PTA does those and are happy with small bills or correct change. This year we put aside a few things and my husband got out his wallet and a couple of $20’s . The lady said “Um….we don’t really do cash. Do you have a credit card?” And into her smart phone with the card reader went my husband’s credit card. At a school concert. Who’d a thunk it?

    1. I am thinking of following Shoreacres example (see below) and buying a quality fountain pen. It would be too valuable to misplace and if the ink dries on the nib, you can clean it.

      I have gotten an old ball point pen to work by heating the tip with a match. It works about half the time.

      1. I tried the fountain pen while working. I had five black splotch pockets in five white shirts. Seems every time I took a flight the pressurization would force the ink into my shirt. I finally figured it out. I saw one of those shirts in the rag bag the other day. I still have the pen but it still scares me. (it is German made)

  8. Great story and so relatable. I try to sort my pen blossoms about once a year – if I remember. This woman who used to get penmanship certificates is now in the “what is that word supposed to be?” category. I blame all the hours spent typing poorly. I must admit that as bad as my handwriting has become, it’s still better than my typing.

  9. I decorate my desk with bouquets of pens in mugs. They look good and never need watering. But, like yours, the pens don’t write. Even a pen that wrote fine yesterday will stop writing as soon add it enters the bouquet.

  10. But… oh, never mind. I not only remember deckel-edged stationery, I use it from time to time, and it deserves a good pen. Part of our problem with all those pens and pencils that collect is that they’re considered of little or no worth. I still have the “grownup” ink fountain pen I received for high school graduation. The new cartridge style pens were around, but a real, fillable pen still was considered a worthy gift, and silver or gold Parker pen and mechanical pencil sets once were the most requested gift item in the country.

    That pen was so valuable, I knew where it was at all times. When forced to use a ballpoint pen, it was a little like having to put up with fast food for supper instead of mama’s pot roast. You could do it, but you weren’t necessarily happy about it.

    1. Back in grade school, the nuns would not allow us to use ball point pens. They claimed that ball points allowed you to write too fast and the resistance of the fountain pens gave the writer better control. Something can be said for this. Considering also that the pens the fountain pen replaced required the writer to dip the pen in ink after each sentence, allowing a moment to consider what to write next.

      Great point about the value of abundant and low cost…

  11. We call the cat food “Fushies” because that was my hubby’s best guess when he tried to interpret my handwriting on the grocery list.
    And now my week can begin. Another fine post, thank you!

  12. I think the days of signatures are going away. I can barely read my writing either anymore unless I really try. It seems it takes too long when I can type so much faster. The way of the times…

    1. The worst are those signature pads at the store. Most of the time the screen hardly works and it is difficult to gain traction with the electronic pens. If I ever had to contest a signature, I could claim a dog wrote it.

      1. Well mine is impossible to read, always has been. Middle of the night, ‘great thoughts’ are the worst. I pen said thought, wake up next day (generally and/or hopefully) and cannot read a bloody word!

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