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Archive for February, 2010

The Wall.

Posted by Dirck on 26 February, 2010

I overdramatize, of course. Using one pen all week long is in no way like running a marathon. For a start, unlike Phidippides, I’m not even close to dropping dead of the strain.

It has been an interesting if slightly pointless exercise. Pointless in that it’s probably harder for me than someone just approaching the buying of a proper pen for the first time because I’ve got this huge heap of other pens calling out to be used.

There is also the underlying, let’s say “psychopathy” for honesty’s sake, that leads to me having a great pile of pens in the first place. If the experiment was, say, a week without any booze (yike!) spent in a house with a well stocked bar, it’s not going to be such a trial for Mormon granny as for someone like Winston Churchill or Charles Bukowski. When it comes to pens, I’m rather more in the latter camp, and the monkey on my back is screaming.

What I learn out of this experiment is somewhat shallow. I have sufficient strength of character to resist the lure of all those other pens (which, the preceding paragraph notwithstanding, is rather like saying I am unmoved by the gravitational influence of Saturn– big deal). I also learn that the ink capacity of a piston-filled pen is as vast as reputed; if I read the ink windows correctly, I still have about half a tank left.

The main thing I learn is that I can inflate a figurative molehill quite nicely, which puts me right along side most other people posting recreationally on the internet. I have made a lot of fuss about this “grand experiment” for the past week. I will continue my efforts to enhance the reputation and mystique of fountain pens despite an awareness that it’s not going to cure any diseases (although I can suggest Carpal Tunnel Syndrome will respond them) nor abolish any war nor famine. But they enhance life in a humble way, and humble enhancements are the best sort.

Today’s pen, crossing the finish line: Lamy 2000
Today’s apparently inexhaustible ink: Pelikan 4001 blue-black

…and an afterword which springs from looking at searches which have brought people to this screed: To get the hood off a Parker “51”, bring a pot of water up to 160F (go buy a candy thermometer, they’re not expensive), remove it from the heat, and hold the pen in it point down and with the clutch ring fully submerged (well under on a Vac, JUST under on an Aero). Hold it thus for about five minutes, then take it out and try unscrewing it. If it doesn’t unscrew, take a large dose of patience and repeat the whole processes as often as it takes. This is more difficult on an Aerometric filler because there’s less to grip and you may end up undoing the filler cover in the process, but if you’re working with a Vacumatic filler you’ll need a special tool for the other end so getting the hood of is the least of your problems.

Dismantled Vacumatic Picture
Dismantled Aerometric Picture

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In Stylo Vanitas

Posted by Dirck on 25 February, 2010

Oh, dear, he thinks he remembers Latin. Time for his pill…

That’s better. Yesterday’s gnawing upon of the vintage bone has left me with what I can only describe as a psychic itch. The tiny regret attached to choosing this pen as the pen for the week has grown to occupy far too much of my imagination, to the point I can hardly face the next… let’s say forty hours. That is a different regret entirely from having decided on this experiment in the first place, which was never tiny and is fighting with this newcomer for attention.

The regret lies in the plainness of today’s pen. It’s not pretty. It was never meant to be, of course, being a Bauhaus-school distillation of functional pen-ness and as far as function goes it’s a corker. It’s very plain indeed.

I am not what one would call a peacock. I dress well, in this slovenly modern context, but not flamboyantly. I have, however, arrogated to myself the role of fountain pen proselytizer. When I write, I want whoever sees me to notice what I’m writing with. Ideally, they’ll do a low-power spit-take, bug their eyes out like a cartoon, and cry something along the lines of, “Jumpin’ catfish! That guy’s usin’ a fountain pen!” but I’ll accept lesser demonstrations. The Lamy doesn’t get this sort of response.

Vintage pens can be very flamboyant. Even the black Vacumatic I regularly roll out has a huge slab of gold hanging off the front and an interesting clip. They came in some very arresting colours, and the shapes can be very much outside the modern idiom and thus rivetting. I could have been keeping my mind off the repetition and making my usual (and admittedly somewhat futile) effort to bring more people into mannenhitsu-do. I don’t know what possessed me to choose the landing strut off a stealth fighter when I could have had a confection in my pocket all week.

Ah, well. Next week I’ll go mad, and be the very Beau Brummel of pens.

Today’s unmarked pen: still the Lamy 2000.
Today’s ink for making marks: toujour Pelikan 4001 blue-black.

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Back in the day.

Posted by Dirck on 24 February, 2010

In yesterday’s musing, I think I hit on the central reason why people in the heyday of the fountain pen would stick to one. This monostylopathy was recognized by the makers, too– catalogues of the time spoke to the retailers about how a pen was a partner for a lifetime, that someone who felt they hadn’t had the time to make the decision properly were apt to make it elsewhere, even offering veiled comparisons of pen-buying to the wedding state. In the modern ball-point context, it’s a little baffling, although one notes that there are still rite-of-passage moments like graduation which one feels are appropriate to buy a pen over, and which one hopes the recipient won’t just toss in a drawer or pawn.

But dragging the narrative back on track, why is it that a single pen was considered the norm just over a half-century ago? Apart from a public that hadn’t been indoctrinated quite as completely in the importance of mass consumption (I’ve been reading Adbusters, and I tend to grow a little strident- I’ll try to contain myself), a pen was not a cheap thing to buy.

I’ll take as my example, a couple of middling-high end pens, the sort of thing that a guy who was feeling good about life might aim for: the Sheaffer Statesman and the base-model Parker 51.  Both cost around $10.00 when they hit the market (I don’t have my catalogues at hand– it may have been as much as $12.50).

Big deal, we think at this point on the inflationary curve, but that represented about a day’s pay for an average joe. For a modern person, it’s the same sort of expense as going out and getting one of the relatively good Canon ink-jet printers. You don’t jump into it without a little bit of thought, and yet Average Joe 1945 had this advantage– he knew that if he bought that thing, he could live the rest of his life never having to buy again. Just imagine if the printer you bought five years ago were never faced with running out of compatible cartridges nor being proven incapable of sufficient resolution nor subject to software mismatch– you’d probably be inclined to hang onto it a good long time, and you’d probably give a good long think to whether that was the model you wanted on your desk for the next thirty years or so.

I do not suggest that modern pens are necessarily inexpensive.  This week’s pen, which I chose because it’s very similar in performance to the era I’m considering (and because I wanted to give a modern pen a chance in this setting) costs a little less than a day’s pay for Joe Modern Average.  There are some that purport to be for regular use that cost five or six times that much, and while it was possible in the 1940s to buy a $100.00 pen, it is now possible to buy a $10,000 pen without looking too hard, and if you get serious about spending ridiculous piles of cash there’s even more expensive ones to be found. However, if you aren’t someone who is simply baffled as to how to apply this month’s trust fund largesse, if you are indeed a non-wealthy person, you can get a (marginally, nominally) functional writing instrument for very little money indeed. You’ll expect to throw it out, but you can get it.

I also don’t mean that there weren’t cheap pens in the old days.  A half-dollar pen, or even a Dollar Pen, have never been outside the reach of all but the most impecunious, but in ye olden tymes there was still a sense of it being meant to last. Spend a dollar on a pen now, or even $7.50, and there is an air of if not an outright insistence upon disposibility, whereas the cheap pens of ages past suggested to their owners, “I’m not a good pen, but I’ll stand by you as long as you need me to.”

Today’s committed pen: Lamy 2000
Today’s permanent ink: Pelikan 4001 blue-black

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When I was a kid….

Posted by Dirck on 23 February, 2010

I have convinced myself to stick with the experimental single-pen for the week (this is a bit of a lie, as I’ve a desk set I ever use at The Regular Job, but they’ve not counted before this so why start now?).

The last time I was a nonstylistic person was a very long time ago. Way back in grade school, in fact, a year or two before Star Wars was unleashed on the world, and it may even be three years before that; I can’t quite remember whether I started using it between the abominable teachers in my first school, or whether I was already in the grip of the second one.

I will say I had only one pen for about five years, although this is also a bit of obfuscation. It was one pen in the sense that I always replaced the one I invariably lost over the summer, not uncommonly over Christmas and Easter breaks, and sometimes in the course of a weekend, with the very same model, the noble and cheap Sheaffer cartridge pen. I was the same pen so far as the principles of mass production would allow, and I wasn’t sufficiently aware of the properties of pens to notice the subtle differences between them.

The funny thing is, I initially chose that pen because the vanes on the feed made me think it was a newly-minted pen of the exciting future. There were similar motifs in The Jetsons and Rocket Robin Hood, after all, and a kid who sees something for the first time tends to think of it as a new discovery. My interest in space exploration led me to embrace a century-old technology.

Part of the reason I was a one-penner was I didn’t have a clue that other fountain pens existed. When in high school I stumbled upon an Osmiroid, I snapped it up. By 1985 I had several pens, but despite the fact they came from more elevated settings than a hook at the local drug store, none quite matched the performance of the Sheaffer (some were exquisitely disappointing, in fact), and I kept coming back to it.

So, through reflection upon this experiment if not the direct experience of it, I learn a reason for someone clinging to one single pen– it failed to be a crummy as other pens they can afford. This isn’t exactly a positive message, but it’s a valid result.

Today’s ongoing pen: Lamy 2000
Today’s returning ink: Pelikan 4001 blue-black

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Posted by Dirck on 22 February, 2010

Last night I finally decided to give up on the last hold-out of the group of pens mentioned in last Wednesday’s entry. A low-end Waterman, the section gave every appearance of having been glued into the barrel. It had resisted soaking, heating, cooling, cursing, tugging, twisting, and prolonged angry staring. Since I’ve been monkeying around with this load of pens about a month longer than my own sense of propriety allows, I decided that it was better to get the pens on home with one more to add to the “Beyond My Abilities” subset (which includes for context one with several cracks running about half-way up the cap, and one missing the majority of the starboard half of the point).

I prepared to write the proof of function letter which I enclose with any pen I’ve worked on, which coincidentally allows me to enjoy writing with the pens once more. The working ones inked up, some of my letterhead brought forth, and I look at the hold-out once more before proceeding.

“Well, one more try.”

…and out pops the section. Three cheers and a tiger for me!

Apart from not feeling like a failure, I avoid a terrible mistake. I was going to write to the client and say that while I hadn’t resacked the pen, the sac was functional, and it might be used with caution. This extraction shows a sac that is still flexible… in some places. It would probably allow as many as five more fills before coming apart. “With caution” does not, by my own interior rules, really let me off the hook for that sort of thing.

This rewarded persistence is suggesting to me that I might engage in a little experiment of sticking to one thing that I’ve been contemplating for a while. I have been wondering about the experience (long since forgotten) of using but a single pen. Maybe I’ll choose one and go with it for one week. Last night I prepared today’s pen with this in view, but I find I’m sliding away from the idea a little. Like any addict, I’m loath to give up my fix, and I don’t need to be any more boring than I already am.

Today’s pen: Lamy 2000
Today’s ink: Pelikan 4001 blue-black

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That’s what I’m talking about….

Posted by Dirck on 19 February, 2010

Yesterday’s entry had a more or less curmudgeonly grumble about the loss of decent, honest, cheap pens. Today’s pen is a stirling example of the issue.

Compared to yesterday’s pen, it is very much like an update of the concept. The feed is not just heavily vaned, but gives way to what is essentially a collector in the section, which should give it better ink management– a much more modern piece of hardware.

This morning, I had to take it right apart to molest the point, as the flow was dry to the point of being largely non-existent. This is how I know what’s going on inside the section. “Is it dirty? Clogged?” No. It was just a matter of the slit on the point being too narrow to allow the passage of ink. The sort of thing that once upon a time was caught by quality control before it annoyed the end user.

Of course, I’m the guy who bought it for cheap from the end user. I understand what motivated the sale. Not everyone who buys a pen knows how to dismantle it to adjust its function, any more than everyone who buys a car is up for changing the spark plugs.

Today’s slightly disappointing pen: Parker Frontier
Today’s entirely satisfactory ink: Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun

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Going ahead and looking backward.

Posted by Dirck on 18 February, 2010

A two-part post today, which should lead to a perfect balance, a nullity even, of rage and joy.

This morning on the drive to The Regular Job, I was listening to the news on CBC 1. One of the stories was about a murder trial getting underway in which the accused has essentially confessed and led the police to the locations of all sorts of evidence, which led to this speculative sentence (not verbatim, but close enough for current purposes):

“Observers wonder what the defence’s strategy might now be, going ahead.”

Bless him, the chap speaking the line actually paused at that comma, apparently uncomfortable with it. Let’s try it again, doing away with the last two words, shall we?

“Observers wonder what the defence’s strategy might now be.”

Well, how about that. A perfectly good, meaningful and 98% fat-free sentence. I will admit that I occasionally lard my writing, but I try to do so with an eye to either art or whimsy. This particular two-word tumour is cropping up an awful lot lately, and I’m getting mighty sick of it.

I am also one of those dinosaurs who prefers to use “impact” to mean “delivery of a physical blow”, rather than as a synonym for “affect” in the emotional sense. “Impacting” and “impactful” are anathema, too. It’s a noun, gang. I will allow “impacted” if followed by “wisdom tooth”.

On to the happy. Today, happiness comes in the form of nostalgia generated by today’s pen. It’s an older model of the kind of pen that got me started on the whole mannenhistu-do lifestyle, decades before I invented the word to describe it. Using it today, I realize how I was drawn into the belief that a fountain pen is a vastly superior mode of making marks on paper to most others. It’s a willing pen, and yet is was dirt cheap in its heyday. To an impressionable child, it’s an easy gateway to becoming a signature-flourishing roue.

Because nostalgia always has an undercurrent of bitterness, I am brought to wonder why this sort of pen isn’t still made. Apart from far Eastern makers, who are still making pens that combine function and cheap, it seems that the willingness to entice the kids into becoming a fountain pen user (who ideally has a notion that the brand they started on is the best ever) has vanished.

I’ll blame lumpen bottom-lining on the part of Board of Executive members in charge of the grasping conglomerates that now hold most of the major pen-makers in their tentacles, and to whom what is made doesn’t really matter so long as profits remain large. This crowd also gets paid such vast sums that it probably doesn’t occur to them that a $25 pen is not an impulse buy the way a $1 pen was in 1975.

…and now I’m in danger of turning the balance back to rage. Time to uncap the pen, doodle some childhood figures, and grasp this particular line of joy that runs back from this grey future to the shiny past.

Today’s merry pen: Sheaffer Skripsert
Today’s jolly ink: Lamy blue

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Prove it.

Posted by Dirck on 17 February, 2010

I should not want yesterday’s posting to indicate that last week was end to end dolor here. Indeed, despite the timing, my wife and I had a perfectly nice Valentine’s day, finally getting around to seeing Paranormal Activity (which is a corker, if you understand that “Horror” and “Horrible” are separate concepts). My son attended his first gymnastics class, which given the age range could as well have been Centripedal Bumble-Puppy or a slightly understocked barrel of monkeys.

I also, as indicated yesterday, made some headway on the pen front. I find now that this headway is in itself a source of mild frustration. Success is it’s own penalty, as I’ll explain.

The remaining pens belong to one client, who sent me a great pile (I believe it was one of those semi-mythical garage sale finds) in various stages of disability. He’d described them, and sent pictures, I’d sent back prognosis which in some cases was, “Call a mortician.” However, since a box with many pens in it costs no more to send than a box of several, we agreed that it wouldn’t hurt for me to have them in hand and see if in person they were less alarming.

I surprised myself with a couple of them. Shortly before the recent hiatus, I mentioned a Parker “51” that I was working on, which someone had done over rather rudely. It’s now working as it should. There was also a rather nice interbellum Waterman with a grimly sprung point… which, after looking at it, I decided I couldn’t do much MORE damage to by trying to reshape. This is not an easy thing to accomplish, and certainly not something I advertise as being capable of. But… well, why not try?

Low expectations are usually my saviour. In this case, they have oppressed me. I took an item of abstract art and returned it to the functional form of a pen point. If I had thought I could do it, I would have also been capable of the simple act of foresight which would allow me to prove I have done it. This little pile of text is merely yarning. I could easily declare I handed it to my neighbour, a Sasquatch, who cured it with his pyramid, as the internet is full of true stories like that.

If only I had taken a “before” picture.

Today’s purported pen: Eversharp Ten Thousand Word Pen
Today’s sketchy ink: Herbin’s Vert Empire

…and as I wrap this up, I realize I may actually have a before picture, taken by the pen’s owner, in my untidied email account. Wouldn’t that be jolly?

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What I Didn’t on My Vacation.

Posted by Dirck on 16 February, 2010

The plan for this past week off was to accomplish some household chores that my wife and I have been letting slide due to distraction from my Regular Job and our son. Having gotten atop this small but uncomfortably waxing pile, I could then without any parent/spouse-shame apply my energies to abolishing some overdue pen repairs.

I mentioned some time ago that having expectations is a bad idea, right?

As the week developed, some of the more life-threatening household items were put to rest (or, in the case of the kitchen sink, forced into a fighting retreat, having lost the beach-head). Most of the pens that needed attention, being other people’s pens, are now done, although a couple of resisters are still holding out.

For a change, what got in the way of my efforts at maximizing my home-body efficiency was not simple inborn indolence. I spent a lot of time that I should have been mopping, cleaning, and otherwise getting the house ready to face the Year of the Tiger with a sick cat in my arms.

He was in my arms for a couple of reasons. He wasn’t walking so well, and had rather given up on eating. Holding him seemed to make him less worried about the former, while allowing us to address the latter by dribbling cat-specific milk-replacement into him with a syringe.

This problem began a little before the vacation, and we had thought it was probably a stroke given some of the earlier symptoms (and an utter lack of anything being wrong in his sub-head organs, revealed by some rather expensive blood analysis). Last Sunday, though, we found him sprawled in the kitchen, unable to work out how to get enough traction on the lineoleum to stand. The vet’s final opinion, given on Wednesday just ahead of the merciful injection, was a brain tumour.

The latter part of the week saw me consoling my wife frequently and taking my son out for boys’ adventures so she could weep in a privy manner. It turns out I’m a better Buddhist than I thought, as I seem to have leapt straight through the so-called Stages of Grieving to acceptance, with only a little bit of blubbering in the vet’s office.

I don’t want to minimize any of these non-chore, non-pen activities, because I think keeping one’s spouse from going mad with grief is somewhat more important than cleaning mirrors. But this is a place where I want to keep the tone light.

Still, only two pens left to be repaired, several already on their way home, and a family still well lashed together (albeit slightly smaller). We may call this productive.

Ryoga Maru 1999-2010

Today’s pen: Hero 285
Today’s ink: Lamy blue-black

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Posted by Dirck on 5 February, 2010

The word to describe the next week here on the web-log. I have the upcoming week off, and given the lunch-hour-filling nature of this effort, I may find myself more profitably engaged at home.

Just a quick note on the pen front– I committed a smear today. I usually avoid this sort of thing through care and attention, as I am well aware of both drying time and the wetness of my desk pen. It was not on anything important, and I was actually a little pleased to put into circulation some of the most obvious sort of evidence of fountain pen use.

Today’s pen: Lamy Vista (casual day at The Regular Job)
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Bleu Nuit (this week’s theme, as it turns out– sensible, non-flamboyant ink colours)

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