One of the first American phrases my barely English speaking grandmother taught me when I was five years old, a new immigrant from the Soviet Union, was, “In America, you get what you pay for.”
I’ve seen this come true many times in my three and a half decades in this country, from the smallest purchases to luxurious ones.
I love pens; my sister knows my obsession with them. I like fluid ink ones, which spread the ink effortlessly, like rollerball pens, gel ink pens, and even old-fashioned fountain pens. I love inks in every color (except black which bores me) but I don’t like a ball point.
A few months ago my sister surprised me with a card in the mail along with a “Seven Year Pen.” For just $8.95 (plus tax!), the pen was advertised as Eco-Friendly, Swiss-Made, 7-Year Ink Supply, Lots of Fun. The graphic was red-flagged hearts, arrow and bull’s eye on a white and red pen. I applaud the graphic design on all of their pens (mustache, fox, snail mail) I noted they sell replacement cartridges for only $1.99, which means I could extend this pen for another 7 years?! [By contrast, a typical gel pen, if used every day would only last about 5 weeks.]
“How are you liking your pen?” she asked me after a few weeks has gone by.
“It was the only pen I brought with me on my vacation,” I say proudly and secretly remember how I wished for another pen, one which wasn’t a ball point pen. One which wasn’t a rough black, as I described it. It scratches the paper rather than slides on it. It’s like ice skating on a choppy rink which is in desperate need of a Zamboni.
“It’s OK,” I admit shyly. It’s cute looking on the outside and I appreciate the hearts detail (DUH) but it writes like a shitty overworked Bic ballpoint.
“Well I got one for myself too,” she admits, “And it sucks!”
I’m so glad she says this because I’ve been thinking it sucked the whole time. It was simply a plain ball point with nothing special about it other than the sentiment (which is huge and I’m not discounting it!). I wanted continuous velvety strokes on paper but instead, it felt ordinary; like a free bank pen.
A friend of mine recently lent me a pen and her instrument stopped me in my tracks. This was an admirable tool, something you could dissect into parts like the nib, the feed, the barrel and a cap made up of a finial, insert, center band, and lip! Its weight in my hand was palpable and the pen was cold like marble. The lacquered black exterior immediately told me this was a quality product and I instantly validated it by noting the famous white snowflake logo of a Mont Blanc.
I never geeked out on pens enough to understand the difference between a 5mm or a 7mm but I know a good pen when I feel one and even though I don’t draw well, I doodle compulsively and write a few words here and there.