As a secretary (oh, wait, administrative assistant, sorry) my life revolves around two items: the simple yellow legal pads I end up carrying everywhere, and pens.
I used to take pens for granted. Some worked, some didn’t. Some were comfortable to hold, some less so, but did it really matter? I only used them to endorse checks or scrawl a reminder to myself on a post-it. One could always find a pen, and then promptly forget about it.
Now, though, now, my friends? I weep for the pens that I have callously tossed aside. How many beautiful pens have I squandered by leaving them in the bank, or worse, the depths of my car? How many miraculous, fantastical pens have I lost out of sheer apathy? If I had a time machine, I would jump to each point in my personal history when I have left a pen lying somewhere or given a pen away, and hit myself in the mouth. I am that serious about pens.
And why not? Pens are important! In an office like mine, we don’t have boxes and boxes of elegant ballpoints just waiting in the desk drawers. We don’t have a supply closet where I can open the doors and bask in the gentle glow of post-its and staples. No, we do this shit underground. We get our pens from cheesy vendors and fawning escrow companies that want our business. We get mountains of crappy free pens from every Sally Saleswoman who comes through the office. She throws them around like confetti at a fucking parade, and smiles as though she is raining a heavenly bounty upon us all. Her free pens are ambrosia. They’re gold nuggets. They are malt liquor being daintily drizzled on the happy hobo behind 7/11. We should all be so grateful for those pens.
But you guys, those pens are the worst.
Out of the 200 pens that these companies shower on us every day, maybe 100 of them work sometimes. Of those 100, maybe 50 work most of the time, and of those fifty, I will be endlessly lucky if one writes smoothly every time I pick it up. It is a rare thing, to find a pen that produces a lovely fluid line on command. I’m talking pens that you don’t have to do the little scribbly scratch paper thing. You don’t lose the first half of the first word and have to retrace it over the indentations in the paper. It’s just INK.
When I find one of these pens, I guard it like nobody’s business, because everyone wants it. When I see people casually strolling into my office looking for something to write with, I quickly stash my pen under my desk and start writing with a highlighter. “Oh, me?” I say. “Ain’t got no pens. I haven’t seen a pen in years. What’s a pen?” When I leave for lunch, I hide my pen in some crack or crevice between filing cabinets. I tape it under my keyboard. If I could, I would tape it to my person all Die Hard style so that nobody could get to it, and when the Boss Lady says, “Take a note of this,” I’d rip it off and write with a self-assured flourish. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfuckers.
I know you’re reading this and thinking that I sound a little extreme. Taping pens under keyboards? Rubbish, you say, and then you eat another crumpet and remove your monacle, as it is getting steamed up by all the high emotions. You don’t understand how it is out here. It’s dog-eat-dog. Everyone is aware of the pen situation. I have more than once hidden my pen in a completely ludicrous location, say, in the back of a drawer behind the First Aid Kit, and come back to find it gone. People look for these things. When the office knows that somebody’s got a good pen, everyone comes looking for it and they will tear your office apart until they find it. It’s like The One Ring or something. I’m all Golluming my pen until somebody comes sniffing for it to fill a higher purpose. What’s that? You have an Affiliated Business Disclosure that needs signing? You have a Buyer’s Counter Offer that needs a John Hancock? Screw off. This pen is mine. My own. My precioussssss. Take my pen and I’ll pin you down and shove pennies up your nose until you shit dollar bills, and that’s before I lose my temper.
Saying it out loud, it does sound like a lot of drama over so small a thing, but don’t underestimate the value of a pen. When you have that pen, no matter what, something is going right. You might have made the same huge mistake for the second time, or pissed off somebody you really should not have pissed off, but things will be okay. You have something to fall back on. You know that something is going to go exactly how you expect it to, and that is a comfort that I’d pay money for. Even if you spend your lunch break crying in the company bathroom and the bulk of your afternoon screaming muffled epithets into your hands, you’ll know that as soon as you sit down to move on with your day, at least you’ll have a pen that writes.
And that’s something worth defending.