Pens, Pencils, People – From Pretentious Pretenders To Poetry

Herb’s Blog, Herbdate 22895 – 1001

Greetings Graphophobes and Graphophiles, Herbophobes and Herbophiles,

Here’s the haps:

I used to stick an apology in this part of an entry for not updating, with promises to do better and be more consistent, and I do feel bad when I don’t post on a regular basis, but as many of us know, there are some things that take too long to explain (and, shockingly, some things are more important than even the internet – *gasp*) so I will just get on with it. To be fair to myself, however, I have had this post in my drafts folder since June and it has had 38 revisions, so I have done some work on it.

When you work in retail, you see a wide variety of people. In the place where I currently work, we cater to business people, teachers, and anyone else who uses office supplies. When I worked in the big blue box and its big brother there was a wider variety of people as customers but one thing is true, no matter what, people are people and customer service always has the potential to be a real challenge. Customers, like any grouping of people you can name or make up, are all unique individuals just like everybody else. If you work retail for a long period of time, you will meet incredibly nice, down-to-earth people, incredibly rude people, people with a chip on their shoulder, and people who are worse than rude; condescending and pretentious. This last type of customer always gets under my skin. You know, just because you have a lot of money or have gone to this or that school or have this or that job doesn’t make you better than me. Or wiser or even smarter.

Now, please don’t misunderstand, I really do enjoy working retail. I like helping people find specific items or solving problems, I even like to wait on some of “those” customers. The call comes over the walkie, “Oh no. That (insert curse word and expletive of choice here. I try not to talk like that) guy is back.”
“I’ll wait on him.”
After the transaction is done, “How can you stand that guy? He’s such a…”
“Oh, I can’t stand him any more than you can but I only have to put up with him and be nice to him for ten minutes or so at the most. Can you imagine having to live with him?” Laughter and derisive remarks and theories about his ancestors ensue. Sometimes it’s better if I wait on some of those cantankerous ones because, right, wrong, or indifferent, more often than not they don’t treat the “old guy” the way they would a young girl. I don’t mean any slight to any coworkers because they are usually more competent than I am in a lot of ways, it’s just the way people’s minds work. It often happens that when someone says to me, “Is there a manager I can talk to?”, I wind up taking them to the very person they were treating so poorly.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I really love pens and have a small but nice collection of them. Most of mine I paid under one hundred dollars and never over one hundred fifty. I do have one, a Visconti Van Gogh Rollerball, that was a gift that is worth around $250.00 which I enjoy equally with my fountain pens. So, when a guy came into the store with a $450 Mont Blanc I had to control the drool a little bit.

I have never owned or even written with a $450 pen and I was excited to show him some refills for it.
“What‽‽‽ I’m not paying twenty-eight dollars for no pen refill! Ain’t you got any cheaper ones?”
“Well, there’s two in the package sir, and these are genuine Mont Blanc refills. That’s a nice pen…”
“I only need one. It’s my wife’s pen. She won’t know the difference.”
Having learned one of the main mantras of retail sales, Bite Your Tongue, many years ago, I sent him home with a two-dollar generic refill he was going to cut off and make fit somehow. The whole incident got me thinking, though.

People Are A Lot Like Pens and Pencils

The world is full of poseurs, posers, pretenders, and just plain old jerks. It doesn’t usually take very long to know them, either. They are a four hundred dollar pen with a two-buck refill. But you know, conversely, I began to wonder, could it be that other types exist? The Dollar Tree (which should be called the Dollar and a Quarter Tree now) sells a line of pens with the likely name of “Inc.” This cracks me up every time I think about carrying an Inc. pen. I have met a lot of Inc. pens with Mont Blanc refills in them as well. It doesn’t take long to figure them out, either.

Honestly, though, I don’t think everyone falls into either one extreme or the other. If you have ever been in the U.S. Military, especially the Army for sure, or worked for the U.S. Federal Government you are likely to recognize this guy:

The workhorse of pens – Skilcraft

A good old Skilcraft, Government Issue, One Each. Manufactured by National Industries for the Blind since 1968 these basic pens have filled the specifications of a sixteen-page document written by the U.S. Government Procurement Office. The infographic below shows the highlights of what makes this plain and simple pen so formidable:

When I think of this pen in comparison to people, I think of guys like my dad, working in a factory all his life and mowing lawns after he retired. My first couple of bosses Keith Heinz and Ray Schuster and men of their generation (a similar one to my dad’s) who were forthright and above board in all their dealings. I am frequently cynical and skeptical about people nowadays but yet, truth be told, there are still a lot of good, sturdy people around. My friends are like this including a large number of my internet friends and there are often many acquaintances that I see like this as well.

Well, there are some exceptions. Sometimes the best pen for the job is a pencil. I had the idea to give pencils the same attention as pens but realized I did not know a lot about pencils and couldn’t put the same kind of “oomph” behind them. An interesting claim I came across was that a standard number two pencil can make a line thirty-five miles long and write forty-five thousand words. The claim is only half true, however. To test the word count a guy named Keith Eldred assembled a team of twenty-six volunteers in 2007 to copy out the book To Kill a Mockingbird. When they got done they had copied out one hundred thousand three hundred eighty-eight words. This is pretty impressive. Now at the end of it all the pencil was only an inch and a half long and they had taped a plastic spoon to it so they could hold it to write with, but still… I can remember sharpening pencils down to the nubbins like that in school for no real reason but I would write with it like that.

But can a standard number two pencil make a line thirty-five miles long? While perhaps I may not be a full-blown arithmophobe, I am averse to mathematics in general. Not my strong strong suit by any stretch of the imagination but I knew the answer lay in math. So, I discovered a post by a math guy on a site called Plus.Maths. Rob Eastaway at the site explains very clearly how you could likely only get a mile out of a pencil, maybe two if you really worked at it.

So, thank you all for visiting. I appreciate you whether you are a pen, pencil, crayon, or even permanent marker.

And I realize not everybody will understand how meaningful this last one is but some of us remember…


    • I clicked the link attached to your Gravatar and was taken to a site that offers “rebranding” services. The two testimonials on the page were from Lexcorp and Wayne Enterprises, both fictional creations of DC Comics.

      I think you can come up with a better scam than that.

  1. Love this. I remember the years when I was going in-home mental health services, one parent was a principal who didn’t have a clue about order in the home. I remember going to a meeting at the school with another parent I was working with and the principal had criticized her parenting. The principal was the same type of parent.

    • lol. I don’t know why that doesn’t surprise me. Well, she had a mote or piece of dust or something in her eye and he was trying to help her.

  2. I’m a pen guy, too, but the most expensive pen I own is actually a promotional pen from the Monte Cristo cigar company. It is a Inc. pen with a Mont Blanc refill, too.

    I like rollerballs for some reason. I also like the Pentel G2 rollerball refill. I have found a pen that uses that refill and is inexpensive so I have purchased many of them. Check out for the Grafton pens. Love ’em and I am not even a push button kinda guy.

    I’m not a pencil guy, either, but since you want to use pencil on your woodworking, I started using a Pica brand lead holder and they are awesome. They appear to be unbreakable.

    As far as dealing with “those” people, I am the only person in my company that can handle them effectively because I have the ideology that all work pays the same at my company and I am only there for a paycheck! If I can grease the squeaky wheel, so to speak, we might be able to develop another satisfied client and “those” people, when satisfied, become the most incredible advertisements you’ll ever have.

    • That Grafton at looks really great. The Pentel G2 does write nice also.
      And you are right, “Those” customers do become walking advertisements. That’s what I mean about only having to deal with them for a limited time, you get paid and go home. A lot of times there are reasons people are like that, too and a little friendliness can go a long way.
      I really appreciate your stopping by. I check your blog once a year to see if you’ve updated, lol. Actually I open it more frequently than that…

  3. I read somewhere about the NASA working for several months to come up with a pen that could write in zero-gravity, as most pens depend on gravity to fuel the point. Several months and a couple million dollars later, the NASA engineers had their pen to send with our astronauts to the ISS. There the Russian cosmonauts lauded the engineering marvel of the Americans’ pens . . . then proceeded to make their entries into their logs with their very inexpensive indelible PENCILS! 😄

  4. That last cartoon was great!. Been there, done that!
    Your post reminds me of the observation that people who can still write and read cursive have a valuable skill in that it is quickly becoming something that approximates a secret code!

  5. Thank you for sharing a post about pens. You really touched a very superstitious topic. Since many businessmen around here are so superstitious about pens that they had to buy a Swiss or German brand of pen called Monte Blanc, which costs an arm and a leg to buy. Even those people who don’t turn on air-conditioning during the summer would buy it for good luck since they think using this chic pen to sign something will bring them luck….

  6. As always, this was interesting. Working with the public definitely can be a challenge at times. I worked at the Calgary Tower for 5 years and then with the Calgary Public Library for another 5, so I have had the experience. I think, for the most part, you run into a lot of Bic Stick pens.

    • Interesting thought. Bic Sticks had gone through my mind and I lost track while I was writing and forgot about them. Very interesting comparison as I think on it.

  7. This is a great post Herb. Iddi twenty years in retail electronics and I nevercompared people to pens. Personally I was always a pen thief, and never knew it. I was always finding new pens in my pocket that I had no idea where they came from. Consequently I never paid a lot for a pen knowing i would lose and it would get replased with something else. 🤣😎🙃

  8. Oh my goodness would I have to bite my tongue if someone had a $450 pen and wouldn’t buy its proper refills! I’m cringing and I am nowhere near the incident.

    You’re right about people. I think, actually, this analogy will help me with understanding them.

  9. I loved this. I used to keep a Cross pen in my shirt pocket but then started using a Schafer cartridge fountain pen. Somewhere along the line I recall decent cartridges becoming hard to get and I converted to disposables.

    My go-to these days is the Pentel EnerGel – I love the way they write and how they feel in the hand.

    • The Energel is a sweet writing experience and not stupidly priced, either. I found a Shaeffer White Dot fountain pen at a thrift store some time ago and it has really been a hard worker.
      I have been gifted a couple of Crosses over the years and they’re okay but I can’t say I love them.

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