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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I'm feeling kind of old today

Anyone who knows me understands that I am not into flashy, ostentatious gewgaws. But I do enjoy owning and using quality things.

I've never felt the need for a shiny new gold Patek Philippe or Rolex. I'm quite happy with my vintage stainless steel Swiss watches from lesser known companies like Enicar, Lanco and Mulco.

The same goes for writing instruments. While some people like flashy fountain pens from Mont Blanc and other high-end manufacturers, I'm perfectly happy with my simple black vintage (1930s) Sheaffer.


There is no question that my choices in watches and pens are to some extent ornamental. Otherwise, I would be wearing a Swatch and writing with a ball point Bic. But I don't care what others might think of these little vanities. They are meant to catch only my own eye... and they do that many times per day (not to mention making my heart go pitter pat).

Since most people only want to know what time it is, I have never had to lend out my watch. But it sometimes happens that someone sitting near me in a meeting needs to borrow a pen for a moment... putting me in an awkward position.

If the person asking to borrow a writing instrument is my age (or older), and has presumably had experience with a fountain pen, I generally hand it over without a thought.

But many of the younger crowd remain blissfully unaware that between the age of feather quills and the invention of the ballpoint pen, writing instruments underwent a long golden age of craftsmanship and innovation.

I can't tell you how many times I've had to stop some Generation Xer from trying to rip off the screw-on cap of my Sheaffer, or worse; from trying to scratch out a few words with the 14k gold nib stabbed upside down onto the paper.

This morning it happened again.

I was sitting in a meeting next to a pretty young thing who has made fewer trips around the sun than most of my neckties, when her ballpoint ran out of ink and she started searching her pockets and purse for a replacement.

Having come up empty, I could see her scanning her neighbors and those across the table for a likely donor. Since I was speaking and presenting the PowerPoint deck on the screen, I was busy with the computer mouse ... and not writing.

Without even asking, she reached into my shirt pocket, removed my beloved Sheaffer and began tugging at the cap. I stopped talking briefly and set aside the mouse long enough to pantomime a twisting motion.

She finally freed the cap and looked in wonder at the shiny gold nib. I could tell from her expression that she'd never encountered one before, but I couldn't really stop what I was doing to give her a tutorial. All I could do was observe her out of the corner of my eye as she made a few fruitless passes on the paper with the nib at right angles to the paper.

Again, I put aside the mouse and made a leaning gesture with my hand to try to get her to tilt the pen over at a more oblique angle... but this concept seemed to elude her.

After she'd torn a couple of jagged holes in the paper I finally stopped my presentation, gently grabbed her hand, and with my other hand, removed my pen from her infant-like grasp.

She seemed startled by my intervention and blurted out, "I thought religious men aren't allowed to touch women!"

I quietly responded, "That's only if the touch is intended to be romantic in nature. I can assure you, after seeing you try to use my pen like a Neanderthal, I couldn't possibly feel less romantic towards you!"

And with that, I put my pen gently back into my shirt pocket and went back to my presentation.

I'm feeling kind of old today.

Posted by David Bogner on November 17, 2010 | Permalink


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I had heard that the worst thing for a fountain pen is let anyone else use it. Everyone holds a pen slightly differently and the nib of a fine pen will adjust itself to your hand. If someone else uses your pen they will be bending the nib ever-so-slightly out of shape -- even if they know how to use it.

I personally don't use a fountain pen these days... but I do write with a turkey quill.


Posted by: wogo | Nov 17, 2010 2:54:02 PM

She was concerned about religious men touching women... but she reached into your shirt pocket and took out your pen? Wow.

Posted by: Rahel | Nov 17, 2010 3:49:14 PM

I've owned several Mont Blancs... but, cosmetics aside, none of them came close in writing comfort and quality to the cheap Sheaffer fountain pens I used to use in grade school. With those, the biggest decision you had to make was what color ink cartridge to stick in. Blue? Permanent blue-black? Black?

In college, I used an Osmiroid lever-fill fountain pen with a chisel nib. OK, the chisel nib was a bit affected, but it was still way more interesting than a (yech) ball point. Then I switched to a set of Staedtler-Mars engineering pens... the kind that drew a precise 0.1 mm line. I could write Hamlet on a single grain of rice with one of those babies.

I gave up on fountain pens because I used to fly a lot. An airtight cap is essential if you're going to fly with a fountain pen in your pocket. Don't ask me how I know this.

Posted by: Elisson | Nov 17, 2010 5:06:38 PM

She certainly shouldn't have gone into your pocket, and you were in your rights to stop your presentation for a moment and tell her: "hands off."

The only pens I lend out are simple ballpoint, because any pen with a special tip can easily be ruined.

When I run local elections, I've almost come to blows with neighbors who grab my pen. I have to mark down everyone who comes in on the master list or the elections can be declared null and void. It's worse than rude to take a pen without asking.

Posted by: Batya | Nov 17, 2010 6:01:28 PM

Some people think that the rules apply to others. They do whatever they want without any consideration as to whether it is appropriate.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 17, 2010 6:31:07 PM

That's a good one story!
Until a few years ago, I used a fountain pen. I honestly can't remember why I switched to this, other than it is quite convenient and as smooth as a fountain pen.

Posted by: Ilana-Davitata | Nov 17, 2010 7:35:23 PM

I thought you were old when I read the word "gewgaw".

Posted by: psychotoddler | Nov 17, 2010 7:37:28 PM

"I thought religious men aren't allowed to touch women!"

Amazing. Do I understand that phrase correctly to mean "I can do whatever I want to you, and you can't touch me?"

Posted by: Rich | Nov 17, 2010 8:05:20 PM

Ah. Reminds me of the time Eli, soon to be 17, asked me (in regard to rotary phones.."How DO those things work, anyway"? (And I wonder how many of your Gentle Readers, Trep, are now asking..."What the heck is a rotary phone??)

Posted by: Marsha | Nov 17, 2010 8:18:25 PM

That woman had chutzpah reaching into your pocket. She got what she deserved from you. Can you say sexual harassment????!!!

Marsha -- my 10 yr old was recently at an antique store with me and saw a rotary phone and couldn't believe people had to use it at one time and then asked how old i was when i got a cell phone! My answer of 39 was not what she expected as she is wanting one REALLY badly now!

Posted by: Val | Nov 17, 2010 8:48:19 PM

I still use fountain pens, by the way. Not that it's really material.

Dude, you should've tried to convince her that it was a proper kosher mehadrin min hamehadrin orthodox enscribing instrument. She would've believed you.

Posted by: At The back of the Hill | Nov 18, 2010 12:11:21 AM

I always say, 'You can't start on The Sarah Connor Chronicles series before watching Terminator 2, because it was released in the early 90's hence considered old school.' :-)

Posted by: Rami | Nov 18, 2010 1:09:05 AM

When I want to impress, I still use a 40 year old Osmiroid with a B3 straight (is that chisel in American English?) nib. For virtually everything else I use a Mont Blanc mechanical pencil. It's perfect for Sudoku and other puzzles as it erases easily, is extremely smooth, and was an unexpected, but extremely welcome, birthday present some years ago, from my wonderful daughter.

I never let anybody use my Osmiroid, and if they use the Mont Blanc, it mustn't be removed from my presence :).

Why do so many non-religious people confuse frum with zealot?

Posted by: chairwoman | Nov 18, 2010 4:10:04 AM

I feel your pain, but you had to protect the nib even if if made you feel old. Why am I not surprised that you use a fountain pen. I have a Shaeffer and Waterman that both need some attention. In the mean time I discovered a (attention Ilana-Davita) Pilot fountain pen that produces a beautiful fine line without the usual scratchiness. It is supposedly disposable and costs $2.75. However, thanks to the magic of the internet and a pair of needle nose pliers it is refillable.

BTW Elisson I like the Staedtler-Mars, but I used a Rapidograph for drafting.

Posted by: lrg | Nov 18, 2010 5:03:49 AM

Forget rotary phones. In a few years, some of your readers will be asking, "What's a pen?"

Posted by: Ari | Nov 18, 2010 5:27:02 AM

I love love love my Waterman. Didn't buy it, it was a gift to my husband from a colleague, and he wasn't interested in using it himself. He was also given a Mont Blanc by a student, but it's one of the really big masculine ones and it just doesn't fit in my hand as nicely. I have a 15-or-so year old Sheaffer as well, but it's too skinny. The Waterman is just perfect. I'm one of the only people I know who actually writes letters any more, with a pen on paper. I like the way it slows down my thought process. Oh, and either black or blue-black ink. Plain blue is just too chipper for me most of the time. As for the pen-grabber, may her fingertips be permanently ink-stained!

Posted by: bratschegirl | Nov 18, 2010 8:52:31 AM

wogo... Long term, you are correct. A nib does develop wear according to the way it is used. But one use by a strange hand isn't going to make much difference. We're talking about 14k gold, not a wax crayon.

Rahel... I wish I had a dollar for every time I've been cursed in traffic by someone, and when I say the exact same thing back to them they say something like "some religious person you are!". whatever.

Elisson... When I fly I use the retractable nib Namiki fountain pen. With a ball-point-like click of a button, the nib retracts into a sealed chamber.

Batya... In my experience, women (not just secular women) take far more liberties with personal space and physical contact, than men.

Jack ... see my response above to Batya.

Ilana-Davitata ... If it is smooth and disposable you are looking for. Several companies now make throw away pens with nibs.

psychotoddler ... Look old man, I've been hosting your adult children in my home... so watch who you're calling old! :-)

Rich... Pretty much.

Marsha ... Or ask any kid why the TV remote is called a 'clicker'. It's been a few decades since they made any sound at all. :-)

Val ... DOn't look at me. I only recently found out that harass is one word. [ducking and running]

At The back of the Hill ... Not in this country. The secular all think they know more about halacha than the religious.

Rami... And yet...

chairwoman ... More to the point, why do so many secular people confuse frum with 'door mat'?

lrg... I picked up a few of those Pilot pens for my daughter when we were in the US.

Ari ... In a few years? When was the last time you got an honest-to-goodness hand-written letter in the mail?

bratschegirl... I use either blue-black or take some plain black and mix in a little purple.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 18, 2010 12:27:05 PM

According to the sofer who taught me, any pen with liquid ink- even the Pilot linked to here, but certainly yours- is good for writing a Sefer Torah. (The ink should be black, of course.)

Posted by: Nachum | Nov 18, 2010 1:25:39 PM

I actually used those kind of pens in France a few years back. I loved how much easier it was to have more beautiful penmanship with it.

Posted by: Rivkah (Nemoy) Miller | Nov 18, 2010 4:53:55 PM

I am amazed she lived. I'm ... somewhat younger than you are, and I remember as a high school teacher both students and fellow teachers being deeply offended when they weren't allowed to borrow my fountain pen.

Cries of "Snob!" and especially "Racist!" abounded.

But when they can't even use a pencil without breaking the point ... (and that pencil isn't one they provided but one stolen off my desk ...)

Posted by: Eowyn | Nov 18, 2010 11:08:27 PM

I am amazed: your preferred pen is the same as the one presently in my shirt pocket. It was my grandfather (a.h.)'s bar mitzvah pen--given to me 23 years ago when I became bar mitzvah. Pop-pop got his pen in 1926 and is has been in regular use since then.

(Now filled with Noodler's Ink, not Shaeffer Skrip, but we all have our preferences.)

Many thanks for seeing another well-loved old Sheaffer.

Posted by: Michael | Nov 23, 2010 8:18:40 PM

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