Tuesday, May 10, 2005

My Big Fat American Pen Box

In elementary school, I remember the excitement of putting together supplies for the first day every year. Little pencil box; wooden ruler with a metal straightedge; new, pristine, smelly rubber Pink Pearl erasers; Elmer's school glue or mucilage (the latter was pretty much like snot in a rub-on bottle, so gross that nobody EVER used it); manual pencil sharpener; and plenty of colorful personalized pencils that I'd received the previous Christmas. For several years I had a flourescent-pink hard plastic pencil box with a sliding top that could have doubled as a ruler, but it was a rotten ruler so I stuck with the wooden one. It was quite a small pencil box compared to what most kids today lug around with them, but it was perfectly sufficient for its purpose. Big enough.

Many years pass . . . I grow up and even reach middle age . . .

Some years after becoming a technical editor, I started using purple pens for editing and pretty much all of my other hand writing. Purple helped distinguish my senior edits from other editors' preliminary marks on manuscripts. But I also found the color very pleasing. Ultimately, I quit using black, blue or red ink, and now everything I write is purple, whether I'm editing or not.

After holding onto a box of one dozen pens for a couple of years, I finally used up every last drop of ink. I felt a frisson of panic, withdrawal setting in. What if they didn't make my pens anymore? I went to several local office supply stores. Black, blue, red, and occasionally green. No purple, nowhere, no how. Realizing I might take an easier route, I searched the web for Pilot BP-S Fine purple stick (and click!) pens, and found them at . . . I think . . . Office Max. At this venue they were no longer available by the dozen, but at least I could get a stash of purple, so I ordered five stick style and five click style. Enough for a couple of years (if the kids didn't walk off with them). Bliss!

No more than two days later, my son was standing next to the porch door when a delivery person wrestled something to the porch and placed (not plunked) it down. "Mom!!! What the heck!!??" This is a typical daily thing for him to shout, and far too general to elicit more than the mildest response from me. "Mom, did you order like 50 books from Amazon, or what?"

This comment did pique curiosity, since I had certainly not ordered anything substantial recently. Outside the door was a huge cardboard box, big enough to accommodate a queen-size comforter. "What the heck" indeed; a wave of suspicion followed. A bomb? An abandoned animal? Return address was from a nearby town; they could have walked it here in a couple of hours or sent it by trained cockatoo instead of by UPS.

When I lifted the box, expecting to strain my back, it turned out to weigh about as much as three mice inflated with air. It was so light I nearly dropped it--kind of like when you expect a stair step to be there and you step up, but there's no stair and you trip over nothing.

I opened it to find--the equivalent weight of three mice inflated with air. In fact, the box appeared completely empty except for air-filled pouch packs. (I could recycle these to pad gift boxes for the next ten years!) I pulled out pack after pack without ever revealing anything other than an invoice. And then I realized this was . . . the PEN BOX. Sure enough, once the packs were out, ten pens rolled around independently of one another. Not even rubber-banded together.

People from places other than the United States often comment that we are an unconscious, hedonistic, spoiled society of plenty, and we do everything too big. We live large, we consume enormous portions of food, our houses are huge, our lawns hog unnecessary amounts of precious water, our giant "energy efficient" washers and dryers are shame machines promoting the same blatant waste as our SUVs, while we run around complaining about the price of oil and electricity.

But until this experience, the egregiously capacious pen boxes have been a well-hidden secret.
Which probably will not remain hidden for long.

[See actual pen-box photo below.]


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