I have always wanted to be a fountain pen user, and I do sometimes manage to pull off a morning’s writing session with one of the lovely fountain pens my husband has gifted me over the years. But mostly, boringly, I write with a pencil. For some reason, I can’t leave mistakes well enough alone, and I must erase, and the crossing out of ink gets on my nerves.
So pencil it is.
I’ve been reading Mary Norris’ lovely “Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen” and in it, she describes pencil luxury at The New Yorker:
In the old days at the The New Yorker, when your pencil point got dull, you just tossed it aside and picked up a new one. There was an office boy who around in the morning with a trey of freshly sharpened wooden pencils. And they were nice long ones–no stubs. The boy held out his tray of pencils, and you scooped up a quiver of them. It sounds like something out of a dream! Even then I think I knew that the office boy and his tray of pencils would go the way of the ivory-billed woodpecker.
ciiiiiii! A handful of long, sharp pencils. Heaven.
My pencil sharpener, alas, has died, and I am sad. This pencil sharpener was obtained in September 2000, at the Office Depot on Wilshire. I remember it because when I joined UCLA as a graduate student, they tucked me into an office that I shared with Marty Wachs’ notes and archival material from the first Red Line subway controversies, and I chirpily said to my advisors that they ought to equip our little grad school offices with a pencil sharpener. This was my first lesson in “you’re not a respected consultant anymore, who can demand such lavish things as pencil sharpeners, but a lowly graduate student, who will wind up digging into your own not-very-well-renumerated pocket for such fancies.” I was met with rolling eyes, like somehow, the professors who lived in beautiful homes in Westwood and West LA would become destitute if, out of their grant money, they yielded to such a lavish request. “Who uses pencils anymore?” One graduate student asked, making light of my quest.
So I got on a bus and went to the Office Depot and bought the cheapest one I could find, a little Panasonic Auto-Stop, shown here.
This little fellow was not a particularly good pencil sharpener. It and I often had vivid disagreements about when, precisely, it should stop sharpening. If you slothfully forgot to remove the shavings, and they accumulated past a certain height in the little see-through holder, you would have wrest the holder out, scattering shavings and graphite everywhere. Those moments were particularly trying.
Insubordinate soldier though he was, my little pencil sharpener saw me through my dissertation, 31 papers, 7 op-eds, and a little less than half a book. Fifteen years later–where does the time go–he’s left me. It’s been coming for a few months. His little motor could only muster a weak “wuh huh” at the end, and today I decided to call it.
And I am sad. Goodbye, friend.