In the Suburbs/Making a point about his pens
Whenever I offer my favorite pen, called The Retro Pen, to a client or colleague for a signature or notes, the reaction is always the same. "What a great pen," they say with longing in their eyes. "It's so solid and attractive looking. Where did you get it?"
"These days," I tell my pen admirers, "I can buy them right at Fairfield Stationers and the array of colors is very inviting. A former colleague of mine at the Fairfield Museum once borrowed the pen and told me that a solid, sophisticated looking pen definitely makes the man. I told her I thought that was "clothes make the man."
"That too," she said, chuckling. "But this pen is so different. It is definitely your trademark."
The best thing about this pen is that I can generally buy it for under $25. And I have -- more times than I'd like to admit. Unfortunately, my distinctive pens have a way of disappearing, and it's sometimes hours or days until I notice them missing. Mind you, I haven't been pick-pocketed or anything. Sometimes I just put the Retro down while I'm doing something else, and when I return, the pen is gone.
Another time, I used the pen during a long flight to California, and in my haste to get off the plane, I didn't notice that I'd left it on my seat. Of course, by the time I rushed to the back of the plane, the pen was gone. "My stupidity," I mumbled as I walked toward baggage claim fumbling through all my pockets and my brief case.
My saga with Retro pens, which come in these great boxes with pictures of the 1950s on them, began nearly 10 years ago. I was waiting for a good friend of mine in front of a Brazilian restaurant just above Fifth Avenue on west 46th Street in Manhattan and realized I had some time to kill.
I was looking for a place to browse for a half hour, and this pen store across the street caught my eye. I had always liked pens but had no idea the range and the price of these important business and pleasure tools. The store was like a Mecca of writing utensils, and I could have stayed in there for days.
I had no intention of buying a pen, especially at those prices, until I stumbled onto a counter display of these neat looking, short stubby pens, called Retro Pens. There were so many colors, I couldn't make up my mind. And I noticed that the fancier the model, the higher the price. But even at a higher price, the most expensive of these pens was still under $50.
When the sales associate approached, I had already made up my mind on a very unusual looking black paisley Retro, which was all of $25. "You made a great choice," Mr. Pen Man told me, waltzed away with my credit card and returned with the receipt and my new pen in this fancy looking turquoise box from the `50s. Inside was a turquoise tube with the pen and a nice black felt holder.
And so began my romance and addiction with mostly Retro pens and eventually with others. I received so many compliments on my black paisley pen, I returned to the pen store the next time I was in the city and purchased a forest green for $18 -- $7 less than the paisley.
A few months later, while we were having dinner with friends at their home, their son Neil stopped by and I learned that he makes pens from scratch. He just so happened to have his collection with him. It was endless, and each pen was more beautiful than the next. Within 10 minutes, I was writing Neil a check for one of his heavy wood pens. It was gorgeous and very solid and gave me as much writing pleasure as my Retros. I've never been sorry. Neil liked my Retro pens also.
Even though I've purchased a couple of more pens from Neil, including one for my wife, nothing can top my wonderful wood pen. Neil makes these from scratch and they're breathtaking.
The only pen I've purchased that has even come close to my wood one and the Retros was a very colorful pen made by a close friend in California. During my last visit, he gave me the pen and I still use and treasure it. And my colleague from the Museum has been absolutely right. Whenever I produce any of my collection of distinctive pens from my suit or sport jacket pocket, people can't take their eyes off the pen.
My high school students at Fairfield Warde and Roger Ludlowe, where I substitute, mostly refer to my Retro pens as "sweet." When I first started subbing, I was allowing the students to use my Retros for sign in. Bad mistake. And without laying blame anywhere, I would sometimes be distracted and have to leave the sign-in area. Another bad mistake. When I returned to my sign-in list, almost always, the pen was gone.
I would politely ask for the pen back, allowing that I knew how much everyone liked these pens, but I needed it back. I left things open ended, and asked if whoever might have accidentally picked up my pen would just leave it on the desk on the way out. That rarely happened.
Now, five pens later, I use cheap ball points and avoid being too colorful, even with those pens. Where my pens are concerned, some of these students are like moths drawn to light. They admire them, roll them around in their hands and look longingly.
On the very rare occasions when I pull out my Retro pen and a student admires it with doe eyes, I politely say, "It's called a Retro Pen and you can buy it at Fairfield Stationers for about $25. There are tons of colors. And for right now, just sign in."
My favorite pens remain my collection of Retros. I'm at three and holding right now, but I always keep my eyes open for something more dramatic. I guess we pen collectors are fickle that way, And I always make a point of wearing a nice suit or sport jacket when I carry my special pens. After all, pens really do make the man -- this man, at least.
Steven Gaynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.