“Do you have an extra pen?” my buddy Mike asked at a recent Master Gardener meeting.
“Do I have an extra pen?” I mumbled to myself. “I must have a dozen in the bottom of my purse.”
I quickly scooped up a handful and gave him one. I remember wondering why on earth he didn’t have a pen. Does he live on the moon? In all fairness, I decided, the answer has nothing to do with pens, and plenty to do with the fact that Mike doesn’t carry a purse.
Days later, I was neck-deep in papers, books, and clothes, de- cluttering my bedroom. Three and a half garbage bags of clothing went to Goodwill. At least four Trader Joe’s grocery bags packed with paper, magazines, and old seed catalogs went to recycling. A cardboard box stacked with books went to the AAUW Book Sale collection box—fitting, since most of the books came from the AAUW Book Sale in the first place and still have price stickers on them. In the dark recesses of my bedroom I even found two paper bags of year-old deadheaded poppies and calendulas I was drying for seed…
We have to take pleasure in the little things in life. I can now walk around my bed without stumbling on a pile of books or recipes, see the top of my dressers, and store my shoes and sweatshirts in the closet.
What amazed me, though, was the collection of pens I have amassed. My tin cup overfloweth, my red bucket spilleth over, and there are still more pens. I found an old Godiva chocolates box, labeled it “Pens,” and stashed it in the basement. It was a productive weekend’s work.
Monday started with an email from a friend in Kutztown: “I sent you a package wrapped in brown paper. I am a hoarder with certain things and as I go through a “de-hoarding” cycle, you could help me by being the repository of the objects of my hoarding. Feel free to just dump it in the garbage. I also have sticky fingers when it comes to these, although I suspect no one would call me a thief.”
Is there something in the Pennsylvania air that is causing us women of a certain age to shed our belongings in mid-summer?
The box arrived at the post office. When I opened it, I marveled at our parallel lives.
My return email: “…I took the cooler, rainy weekend to de-clutter my bedroom and found a kazillion pens. Gay pride week, I pick up a pen. At the dry cleaners, I pick up a pen. At the bank, I pick up two, just in case…Hoarders United.”
How did ballpoint pens become such a fixture in our society? Gone are the tobacco ads on the sides of barns—now we advertise on the backs of ballpoints.
Hungarian newspaper editor and inventor Laszlo Biro and his brother Gyorgy, a chemist, devised the modern ballpoint pen. The brothers filed for patents on their ballpoint pens in 1938, but, as Jews, were forced to flee Hungary during the Second World War. Six years later, they set up the Biro Pen factory in their adopted homeland of Argentina.
The whole point of the ballpoint pen is a tiny ball bearing at the tip that rotates when it is dragged across a sheet of paper, leaving a path of ink drawn from the pen’s reservoir. It’s a lot easer and more reliable than a fountain pen.
History is often filled with irony, and so it is with the ballpoint. During World War II, the British Royal Air Force was looking for a pen for its navigators that worked at high altitudes (fountain pens tended to leak). They found just what they needed in Argentina. The RAF bought 30,000 Biros.
About the same time, U.S. manufacturers jumped on the ballpoint pen phenomenon. Milton Reynolds brought some Biros from Argentina and his International Pen Co. began manufacturing its own version of the ballpoint pen. Introduced at Gimbels department store In New York City Oct. 29, 1945, it became the first modern ballpoint pen sold in the U.S. The Reynolds ballpoint was advertised in newspapers as a “fantastic, atomic era, miraculous pen.” Gimbels reportedly sold 30,000 that first week, with each pen priced at $12.50.
After the War, the Biro brothers sold their patent to Baron Marcel Bich, a Frenchman. He dropped the “h” in his name to create the cheap, mass-produced BIC. His company, founded in 1950, shipped BIC ballpoints to the American market in 1959, where they sold for 19 cents a pen. In 1965, the French government approved of the use of BICs in schools, and other countries followed suit. These days, in Belgium, my French-speaking, 3-year-old granddaughter Laís doesn’t ask for un stylo (a pen). No, she asks for un BIC (pronounced “beak”). Laurie Lynch
Penning An Autobiography: As I look at the assortment of pens and read their advertisements, I realize how much they reflect the ups and downs of life in the 21st century: Santander, Fit For Play, First Commonwealth, Roan’s Body Shop, Dan’s Camera, Associated Realty, Fosamax, Hartman, Hartman, Howe & Allerton, Centre LGBTQA Support Network, Financial Abundance, Student Bookstore, Animal Kingdom, Penn State Ag Sciences, Harraseeket Inn, H & R Block, Kellogg School of Management, VBSFCU, Rose Franklin’s Perennials, Ready, Set…Schlow!, Firestone Master Contractor, Nittany Bank, Centre Oral & Facial Surgery, Intercontinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco, Balfurd Dry Cleaner, Charles Krug, The Village at Ohesson, Hilton, This Way LLC., Homecoming 2000, Pathblazer, The Teaching Professor Conference, APSCUF, Council on Chemical Abuse, Fleetwood Bank, Computer Wizards, Kutztown University, PNC Bank, Toftrees, Renaissance Hotels, Holiday Inn, Mama’s Delight Pizzeria, Connections, Embassy Suites, Country Inns & Suites, East Penn Diner, Adams & Associates.
What to Do? Neither of us have time for a Support Group for the Pen Obsessed, so we started thinking about how to share our wealth, spread our abundance. A library? Senior Center? Perhaps. Then I read about a fellow named Ryan who traveled to Rwanda on a public health mission several years ago. While there, he realized ballpoint pens are the tools for educational success in the remote villages of Sub-Saharan Africa. He started an organization called Pens to People. The goal? Changing lives one pen at a time. I emailed Ryan. If I get a response, I’ll let you all know. If you have any other recycling ideas, please email me.
Written on Slate: Here and yonder, high and low, golden rod and sunflowers glow. –Robert Kelley Weeks