No More Pencils…and Erasers?

I remember my schoolboy “daze” when classes let out for the summer. We would jump for joy and scream, “No more pencils … no more books.” You may recall the rest. No sense in repeating it unless you want to offend the teaching class.

The other day I paid a visit to my favorite stationary store to replenish my supplies. I do that every so often. I picked up a dozen pencils, some erasers, envelopes, sticky pads and labels.

I approached the counter and asked the clerk if he would be kind enough to sharpen my pencils. The answer I received made me drop my teeth.

“I’m terribly sorry,” said the cashier. “We do not have a sharpener in this house. Who uses pencils these days?”

“Well, I still do,” I retorted. “And obviously, so do others, or why carry the item.”

I noticed a healthy supply on the shelves and had my pick of two varieties. I chose the more prominent brand—a Number 2 grade which gives me just the right lead intensity. My counterman then offered another solution, not that I couldn’t have sharpened them myself.

“We sell sharpeners for a quarter if you’d like to buy one.”

“No thanks,” I hastened. “I have it covered at home. “Just wanted to save a little time, that’s all.”

I do have an electric sharpener that was my mom’s. I inherited the object after her demise. She always used pencils and had enough to open her own stationary store, complemented by dozens of pens, some with ink cartridges dried out.

And since I carry ball point pens, I still have use for an ink eraser, especially when I err making out a greeting card. An ordinary eraser does not quite hack it.

As you can tell, I’m a big fan of pencils and people who sell them. I always made it a point to patronize the mercenaries selling pencils in Boston. They would stick out a cap for a handout and pass me a pencil in return. Now, all they want is the money.

I was always a fan of mechanical pencils—or lead pencils as they were called. My dad’s confectionary store sold them and I’d have an unlimited supply.

Carrying one in my “pencil box” or pocket gave me a sense of power. They came in assorted colors. I preferred red. My writing instrument had a secret compartment for lead sticks and even an additional eraser when the other ran its course.

For my 13th birthday, I received a matching pen and pencil set for high school. It was elegant when I held on to it. Problem was, I’d lose them. People borrowed them and never returned them. I’d misplace them and they would mysteriously disappear.

So back I’d go to dad’s cache inside the store. He never objected. A pencil contributed to my brainpower.

I was always proud of my penmanship, unlike others who tend to be illegible. My doctor is one of those. You can’t make out his handwriting unless you majored in hen-scratching. We were actually graded in penmanship. Proud to say, I always received a good mark.

Even with the advent of computers and technology, I’ve adhered to pencils and ballpoint pens. Ten years ago, a dear friend of mine gifted me a fountain pen. It came personalized with my name in gold lettering. It was a Montblanc—a quality name in ink devices.

We won’t get into value but suffice it to say, this was chic. I didn’t know what to do with it at first. I mean, who uses fountain pens? Probably the same people who continue with pencils.

I picked up some ink cartridges and purchased a blotter. After rolling off the cap, I proceeded to exercise my sudden thrust of nobility. I can only say I became an instant man of character.

Nothing in my forefinger felt as graceful as this pen. From then on, I found every excuse to stroke it. The “fine” tip gave me such a perfect line. And those who asked to borrow my ballpoint also asked to try my pen. With the younger generation, it was like an abacus.

People often ask me about the best hobbyist I ever interviewed. Well, one that especially comes to mind was a woman in my city who collected pencils. Seriously. She had all kinds in her collection—fat ones, lean ones, short and tall. Many contained company logos.

The only pencil she didn’t own was one with an eraser at both ends. Did they even make one?  After writing my story and including that as a punch line, she hit the jackpot with them. People responded with alacrity.


Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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