Sep 30, 2008

Death Of An Old Soldier

A strange thing happened today at the office.

Not that most every day doesn't bring something strange, but today something strange and somewhat extraordinary happened. I ran out of ink.

I use a fountain pen, if you recall. I try to use one exclusively, but I'm often forced to make corrections and notes on nurse's paperwork in red pen. I usually use a Bic Stik pen for these corrections, and in the past four years there I've gone through dozens of red Bic Stiks, each one from the time it's brand new out of the box to the time it's dried up and ends in the trash.

I'm still using the same fountain pen, though.

I bought my first 'real' fountain pen at Office Depot when I worked there years ago. I'd used fountain pens before, all through college actually but those were always cheap models, plastic throwaways, or were nicer pens handed down to me from my adopted syster who collected and discarded them with some regularity.

When I bought that fountain pen there it was the first time I'd ever actually bought a GOOD fountain pen. I think I spent about $30 on it, which was a fortune to me, especially for a pen, but I love fountain pens and as a salesman I wrote daily and often, so I thought it would be a good fit, and I was right. I also swore I'd never let a customer use it when I first clipped it in my shirt pocket. Most people simply don't know how to use a fountain pen anymore, and offering them one made them feel foolish, and that's not what a salesman wants to do to his client, so I never offered. Until one day when I had nothing handy and a customer needed a pen. I asked "Do you know how to use a fountain pen?" When they replied in the affirmative I offered them my black and gold Waterman Phileas. They wrote and promptly dropped it, nib-first, on the concrete floor.


My second Phileas fountain pen, this one blue and gold, was purchased along with it's matching ball point. Both rode in my shirt pocket, but only one was offered to customers.

When I bought that blue and gold fountain pen I also made a new step--instead of using the plastic cartridges of ink I splurged and spent four and a half dollars, or the price of two boxes of Bic Stiks on a squat glass bottle of Parker Quink. I figured I'd go ahead and use the cunning little twist-operated filling system, which entailed me taking the back of the pen off, holding it nib-first in the swirling darkness of the bottle's mouth and twisting the back of the piston's length, which creates suction and draws ink up into the reservoir.

After the first fill I put the heavy glass bottle back in it's black cardboard box, stuffed the receipt in so it couldn't be said that I stole it, and went on about my employment.

I left that job eventually and ended up at my current one, still using the same fountain pen, still carrying around the same bottle of Parker Quink, still filling the reservoir whenever it got low. I started to think that the little bottle that held maybe all of two fluid ounces would never empty.

Until today.

My bottle is finally so empty that I can no longer draw ink out of it. I filled my pen this morning, September 30th of 2008, and realised that today was the last fill I'd be able to make out of this bottle. Oh, there's perhaps half a reservoir full in there still, but the part of the nib that draws the ink in doesn't submerge anymore, so it's like sucking on a straw in the bottom of a glass, only without the annoying noise. It's finally time to buy a new bottle.

If you haven't already, look at the receipt. That's the original receipt that I stuck in the box when I bought the bottle brand new at Office Depot. It's dated September 18th. 2003.

I have used up and thrown away probably three dozen red Bic Stik pens in the last four years, but it's taken me five years almost to the day of writing sales drafts, signing invoices, signing cards, writing down phone numbers, making notes on my desk calendar (you can see I'm an incorrigible note-taker) and doing all the little things that require ink to use that bottle up. I've left behind me a many miles-long black ribbon of ink, all drawn from a little thick glass bottle that ran down an assembly line in a factory half a decade ago. I have to wonder if anyone thought, as the lines of bottles rolled their way down the assembly process that one of those bottles just might not be stuffed into the back of a drawer and forgotten but actually used, quite literally down to it's dregs?

I know I would have. :)


Gordo said...

My 6th grade teacher was a bit of an anachronism: he taught latin, he paid to hire a bus to take the class to the public library regularly, he bought the entire class fountain pens and required their use. Ballpoints were not permitted in Mr. Turcotte's class. Ever.

I kept that Platignum pen on into high school when the spring-steel filler mechanism finally quit. I didn't replace it until 15 years later: I plunked $30 down at Staples on a Cross pen and I love it. It uses cartridges, and I haven't located the "proper" pen to replace it with. It needs to feel right in my hand and the closest I've gotten was a Mont Blanc that a doctor allowed me to fondle once. Wow.

EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW! I just looked at Staples website and they sell a (shudder) disposable fountain pen!

Mix said...

I've got a beautiful fountain pen my sister gave me for Christmas one year...I also have a pen - although not a fountain pen - purchased in Canterbury (across from the Cathedral!...swoon) last year. It's a proper, old-skool pen, where one has to continually dip it into ink, for there is no well to fill and no cartridge at all. Sadly, I have yet to master that bit of writing fun, but it's sitting there patiently for me. Perhaps I should figure out a way to affix some sort of plume to it?? =)

Daisy said...

I have a bottle of black, that I think dates from the 50s. (It came to my house after my grandfather's decease) Perhaps I should send it along to you...

meno said...

Ah, poor bottle, we hardly knew ye.

This was surprisingly fascinating. I might need to get me a fountain pen.

Mona Buonanotte said...

How romantic! And what wonderful words and phrases must have flowed from that ink!

Maggie said...

Irrelephant, you make everything sound so rich and comforting at the same time. And of course, you're always getting me to add things like fountain pens to my wish lists.

I still need your address by the way (not sir).