Paying attention to pens

I have an attachment to fountain pens. I love the smoothness of the ink and the responsiveness of the nibs. My writing isn’t particularly pretty, but it just feels better when I use a fountain pen. Even cooler is that when you use one particular fountain pen for a while, the nib ‘learns’ your writing style and it’s almost as if it’s tailor-made for your hand. *sigh*

My mother, Norma, never understood this. She was fond of telling me that in her time, they were excited and pleased to be able to use a ballpoint pen and throw out their old fountain pens. “They were so messy and you never knew when they’d decide to leak in your pocket or all over your books. I can’t believe that you don’t get tired of having ink all over your fingers,” she’d grouse, shaking her head in perplexity. “We sure did.”

I’m a weirdo.  I admit that. I’ve used many different types of fountain pens, but my favorite is my Waterman, which I’ve had since about 1997. At that time I thought I wanted a Mountblanc Meisterstück, and worked toward accumulating usage points on my cell phone in order to ‘earn’ one (yes, that was so long ago that my cell phone carrier had to encourage its customers to use their cell phones by offering points). Oh joy, oh wonderful day that my cell phone statement finally reflected 20,000 points! I could finally send in for my certificate entitling me to a “free” Mountblanc Meisterstück!

Let’s don’t talk about how I probably paid five times more in cell phone bills than if I’d just gone out and BOUGHT a Meisterstück. I know it was foolish, but at the time it seemed like a good deal.

I still remember standing at the display counter in the store, fogging up the glass in front of the Montblanc pens. (I don’t recall which store it was, but it might have been a Service Merchandise. C’mon, that was quite a while ago!) I got the attention of the salesdude, who opened the display case and produced first a little padded (purple velvet) palette like one you’d use for examining a piece of jewelry, and on that he placed the beautiful black resin and gold pen of my dreams.

I just looked at it for a few seconds, admiring the plain, clean lines of the pen, and the 18-karat nib inlaid with rhodium, and the friendly, rounded little starburst at the top of the cap representing the snow-capped peak of Mont Blanc.  Then I wiped my sweaty paws on my jeans, picked it up, and…

…it was disappointingly light in my hand. It felt insubstantial, inconsequential, somehow. I told the salesdude and he agreed that it felt very light. He pulled a Waterman fountain pen from the case, and handed it to me, saying that if I liked something heavier that this might suit me better.  I was in love. Substantial and elegant and perfectly balanced, and the nib was so smooth it almost felt like writing with a sable paint brush loaded with oil paint–except much more accurate.

Kept that pen with me for a few years, until I lost it somewhere in 2001.  I thought it might have fallen out of my purse, or maybe I had left it somewhere. I was petrified that it had dropped between the seat and the console of one of the cars we had long-since traded in. I tore all the cars apart, dumped all my purses out, and repeatedly searched the same places it might have been. Finally, after making several big messes and finding nothing, I gave up. I was very sad, but hoped someone who appreciated the Waterman was using it and enjoying its feel.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2006. Rick was living in an apartment in Oak Ridge, TN near his new job, and I was trying to sell our house in Saline, MI. He had come home for the weekend, and we were packing up the truck with lots of housekeeping stuff:  Tables and lamps, laundry hampers and baskets, lots of things that took up a lot of room. I had moved the electric passenger-side seat all the way forward to jam something else into the back seat of the truck (which is probably the first time that seat had ever been that far forward in the entire time we’d owned that truck), and just happened to spy black and gold and “Waterman” in the seat rail on the floor.

I was overwhelmed with joy. Rick thought I’d struck gold, and was disappointed when he saw it was just a pen. I took it in the house and dismantled it, discarded the long-dried cartridge and soaked the nib in warm water and dish soap. Being a packrat, I still had the cartridges and inductor from the pen, even though I’d thought the damned thing was lost long ago. Dried everything off and carefully reassembled it, and experienced utter writing bliss. Almost better than a lottery ticket. I’ve been using it ever since.

Just recently I’ve been going through boxes of ‘stuff’ that I’ve kept.  Some of the ‘stuff’ is from as far back as high school. I found three more fountain pens, two Scheaffer and one Parker, none very expensive, but all loaded with sentimentality. I also found their cartridges, so I carried them all upstairs, consolidated my cartridge supply of all three types of fountain pens into one box in my desk, and set them all up. Now I had broad-nib Shaffers with which to write in peacock blue and lavender and grey inks, my sleek (plastic) Parker with which to write in black, and my lovely Waterman for blue-black ink. :::grinning::: I have the most elegant grocery lists in town!

The Waterman is my most-frequently-used pen, and just this morning it wasn’t working well with the inductor, which was filled incidentally with blue-black Montblanc ink. I wondered yet again whether the brand of ink not matching the brand of pen had anything to do with the pen’s poor performance.  I removed the inductor, emptied and rinsed it and decided to use a pre-loaded, disposable Waterman cartridge instead.

I grabbed one from the communal box in my desk drawer, noting that there were three others like it, and tried to install it. Hmph. Not fitting. What’s going on? Seems like it’s too tight to go all the way into the nib…tried dropping the cartridge into the barrel of the pen and screwing the nib in on top of it. After a little bit of effort, it finally clicked into place, but it still felt tight and wrong.

Began writing and was disappointed to see the ink looked washed out and…wrong.  More grey than blue-black. Finally opened the pen and actually LOOKED at the cartridge I’d installed–which was a black Parker fountain pen cartridge. They’re very similar in size and shape to the Waterman cartridges, just a little longer and a little more tapered from front to back. No wonder it didn’t fit into the Waterman well. Went back to the communal cartridge box and found one more Waterman cartridge. I’ll need to buy more.

I’m a moron. Luckily I didn’t break anything by forcing the Parker cartridge into the Waterman pen, which would have been bitterly disappointing. If I’d just been paying attention, it would never have happened. Must be more careful…

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