Quest for Pen: Pressing the ‘Easy’ Button

February 11th, 2009  |  Published in etc

The search for a pen goes on.

Yesterday I got an early start so I could get over to Staples and reconnoiter the pen selection there. I went straight to the specialty section, which is where all the “marker pens” are kept in a little enclave where their assorted heterodoxies can’t further undermine the crumbling hegemony of the ballpoint dominion or trouble the rudely vital ecosystem formed around gel.

I picked up a pack of Paper Mate Flair medium points, perhaps a little guiltily. I’ve always thought of Flairs as a pen you gave to people who might come to harm if entrusted with something that had metal parts, or that a sixth grade girl might use to write her name in balloon-like 3D letters along with shooting stars, or next to some boy’s name with a stylishly conjoined “TLA.”

Because they were on sale for less than $2, I also grabbed a box of Pilot Razor Points. They’re billed as “marker pens” but have all the miserable friction of a ballpoint combined with a line that would cause one to suspect the scribe had been recently subjected to leeching or therapeutic blood-letting. I’m getting my comments on the Razor out of the way because I didn’t expect much and even anticipated pawning them off on Ben, who will probably have the tips snapped off of all 12 within a week. I’ve got a computer to sell, as well, so if I encounter a particularly egregious chiseler when I make the sale I may throw the box in as some sort of ironic “earlybird bonus” just to get even or put the buyer ill at ease as he or she leaves.

My eyes lit up when I noticed Sharpie had an entry in the marker pen market called, prosaically enough, the Sharpie Pen. It was billed as “fine,” which excited me a little because the Sharpie marker that caused me to become so restless is advertised as “ultra fine.” It also said there would be “no bleed through” and that it was “smear resistant” (with much smaller lettering qualifying that with the words “when dry.”)

I got the pens home and flipped open a new page to start the day’s list. I was most excited about the Sharpie Pen, but it proved disappointing. Sharpie grades markers and pens on separate curves, so the “fine” Sharpie Pen is actually more fine than the “Ultra Fine” Sharpie Marker. As much as I wish it were not so, that makes perfect sense to me. I’ve been charged with purchasing or acquiring office supplies in the past, and I can see how a bleary-eyed office manager or clerical worker in the sort of organization that does not think of markers as anything besides fat, smelly El-Markos would want there to be two grading standards for pen fineness.

The Flair won the day’s competition. It’s a little blacker than the Sharpie Ultra Fine Point marker, a bit more fine (somewhere between the two Sharpies), and adequately skritchy without biting into the paper. The one problem with Flairs seems to be the way they gas out after a line or two, requiring a brief recharge period. It pays to keep two or three on hand.

I also went looking for a cache of pens I knew to be in the bottom of some drawer in my office. I found the collection after sticking my finger on a pokey bit of wire I did not remember throwing in there with them and unearthed:

  • A Bic Z4 0.7mm black ballpoint with gel ink. Nice. As dark as the Flair, about as bold, smooth but with adequate skritch.

  • A Uniball Deluxe Micro: Nostalgia! My old commander at Fort Bragg used to have me get these for her. Writing a few sentences with this one caused me to stop and think back on our occasional conversations about office supplies. The smooth, understated contours of the pen looked much more sophisticated than the standard issue Skilcraft refillable ballpoint, marking her as a young Signal Corps technocrat on the rise. The unfortunately loud branding on the cap might have seemed like a feature to her: too understated and the pen might have been viewed as affectatious.

  • A Paper Mate Liquid Expresso Xtra Fine Point: Skritchy. Too fine … but if it’s representative of the far end of Expresso fineness, it might be worth finding a medium.

  • A blue Pilot Precise v5 Extra Fine: A V7 in black might be kind of nice.

  • A Zebra F301BP – a black ballpoint. Not so bad … I can see why Zebras have their adherents. None of the overbite of cheap ballpoints

  • A Paper Mate PhD with an ink barrel reading “Lubri-Glide”: I like the big, fat barrel but it suffers from the same weakness that marks most ballpoints.

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