Thursday, June 21, 2012

Big Red

 Checking his email he read the note from the seller saying that the he had sent the package even though the payment had not yet been received. 

It was a gentleman’s agreement, and in this case one gentleman allowed as how his wife was away on trip to visit family back east it might be convenient if the package arrived in her absence. The purchase was not a secret in any way, but less explaining is always required when less is known. The other gentleman understood this implicitly and shipped the package.

It had been shipped using a new ‘click and track’ feature of the USPS.  With one click of the mouse he could easily see where the package was in real time. In less than  a day it had cleared a central sort facility over 750 miles away, and had arrived in another central sort facility less than 70 miles away.  At this rate it was likely that the package would arrive at the rural post office sometime Wednesday.

He ‘clicked and tracked’ again mid-morning Wednesday and saw that the package had indeed arrived at the rural post office earlier that morning and within an hour it was marked as ‘out for delivery’.  In his case there was no home delivery.  He would need to get to the post office before it closed to pick up the package.   

He drove the 35 miles from the city out into the country with no stops along the way.  The post office officially closes at 5:00pm Monday through Friday. If the postmistress was still there after 5:00 she would often open the delivery door to give a package, but she did not make a habit of staying late. 

She was just going out to take the flag down as he pulled into the dusty parking lot.  It had been muddy day before yesterday.  He opened his box, sorted through the bills and class B mail and found the package notice. As she returned with the flag in a bundle they exchanged pleasantries, “Do you have a package for me?” he asked. She stopped, thought for a moment and replied; “No, I don’t think so.”  He waived the salmon colored card.  She hesitated, her brow furrowed for a moment  as she stared at the card and then almost blurted out, “Oh yes, it came in on the early truck!”  She turned and padded outof site to the back of the small cinder block building, past rows and banks of post office boxes. She was talking as she receded into the depths, almost as if she thought he were right there beside her, step for step.

He’s deaf.   He hides it pretty well, but the audiologist had said ‘profoundly deaf’ in the left ear, ‘just’ severe hearing loss in the right. He could hear the sound of her voice but could no more make words of it then if they were standing next to pit row at the Indy 500.

Presently she returned with the small white and blue priority mail “if it fits it ships” box that all buyers and sellers are accustomed to. These little boxes can easily hold 5 or more items depending upon how safely they are packed. He exchanged the card and a signature for the box. They bid each other a good evening and he drove the last few bumpy miles home. 

Once home, he carefully opened the box with the cheap, imported, hook billed knife (hand made in Pakistan) he kept in the desk just for this purpose.  Careful not to damage the contents, but careful also not to damage the box. This one was not damaged in transit and could be used again if needed.  He only needed to cut two or three short strips of packing tape to open the end of the box.  He removed several wads of crumpled newspaper and withdrew a six inch length of white PVC plumbing pipe, one inch in diameter.  Both ends were closed with a mess of clear plastic packing tape.  He cut away the tape on one end, removed a small wad of tissue inside the pipe and withdrew a small cylender which was wrapped tightly with strips of more tissues.

Unrolling the tissues the contents were now unveiled; A bright orange pen.  But not a Bic or a fat marker, it appeared to be an old fountain pen.

The seller had listed this on his website as Pen 2672; A Parker Duofold Senior, ‘Lucky Curve” in red ‘Permanite’.  This pen was listed as a 1926 vintage with the raised gold filled cap band.  It was a ‘user grade’ pen, with a twist. This pen sported a stiff gold nib which had been retipped to a broad stub.  Parker made untold numbers of these pens, and though this one was unremarkable in its features, the combination of pen and nib together was different from the norm.  This pen might possibly make a very nice daily writer for the buyer. 

Writers, pen collectors, and dealers; the right handers of the world tend to value pens with fine but flexible nibs.  Nibs that can be pulled across an expanse of fine paper to produce beautiful flowing script with varying line widths.

The buyer, being a left handed over writer can make no use of these beautiful, delicate pieces of functional art.  The lefty over writer does not draw or pull his pen across the page, he pushes it. Where most of the right hander’s strokes, both verticals and horizontals are pull strokes, for the lefty, they are push strokes.  For him, writing with a fine or extra fine flexible nib is no more effective or enjoyable than trying to write with a sewing needle.

He uncapped the pen and examined the shiny gold nib under the bright light of the halogen desk lamp:


Noticing a few drops of wet blue ink on the nib, he wiped it clean with a tissue.  The Nib looked very clean, no cracks, scratches, or discolorations.  On a whim, he laid the nib to a piece of graph paper he had on the desk and began to nudge the nib across the paper.  The stiff little nib glided, haltingly at first but then more smoothly like a warm iron on the frozen surface of a January lake as he adjusted the angle and reduced the pressure (pushers always push too hard!)  He inked lazy, linked figure 8’s.  The pen went through it’s paces like a skater doing compulsory exercises.  He wrote a few ‘Quick brown foxes..’.  Only occasionally did the nib catch or dig.    With the lightest pressure it produced a nuanced, wet line, not skipping or pudding.  Wet, ‘juicy’ as the pen geeks say but not too too wet. 

He recapped the pen and examined it closely, and very slowly. No visible scratches on the barrel, the imprint was faint but still completely readable:


He removed the black blind cap at the end of the pen body to reveal the brass button fill plunger. The black knurled flat top on the cap had a brown patina but displayed no chips or scratches.  The clip was in decent condition; and held tight to the cap.  The imprint on the clip was all readable, “PARKER” down the clip, and PAT S 6-16 in tiny letters above.  The clip ball was brassed to the base metal below the gold plating.  The gold plated cap ring, standing proud of the cap material showed micro scratches but nowhere was the gold plating worn through. 

Looking closer in the bright light he saw one small ding on the edge of the cap.  Just below and to the right of the clip ball he saw the tell tale sign of a crack in the cap lip.  He unscrewed the cap and, gently posting it on the pen barrel the crack spread ever so slightly showing that for now it did not extend beyond the cap ring. This had not been mentioned in the pens description but it had been identified as a bit rough cosmetically.  He would just have to remember never to post the cap when using this pen.

And he would use it.  He wrote the pen dry of its residual washable blue ink, then refilled it with Pelikan 4001 Violett ink.  An ink generally considered to be ‘safe’ for use in all pens.  He began to write.  

Five pages later he stopped to give his hand a rest. In those five pages he had begun to zero in on the ‘sweet spot with this nib;  That position which combines the best vertical angle, the correct rotation of the stub nibs tines, and the ‘just right’ pressure that allowed the pen to slide across the paper as if his hand was hurrying to keep up. 

Later when he disposed of the packing materials away, he noticed a small folded note card inside the box.  It was a hand written note dated two days prior in which the seller expressed his thanks for the purchase of the pen and his hope that the pen would be a good writer for him.  The seller too is a lefty over writer.  It was a flowing breezy script, written with a fine to medium nib fountain pen in a beautiful teal green ink.  He would have to contact the seller to let him know the pen had arrived in good order, but he would also have to find out what that ink was, and any known history on the nib modification.  The pen had already proven to be an excellent writer .  He was sure he would be using it regularly in the coming months, and possibly beyond, this was a great match for him.

As he was coming to the end of page 9 [NINE PAGES – HAND WRITTEN] he thought about all the places this pen must have seen, and all the hands it must have guided across all those pages. If a writer writes a million words in a life time, how many words must this little pen have spawned in it’s 86 years on the job?  It had survived the great depression, a world war, a recovery, more wars, the typewriter, the teletype, the mimeograph, the fax, the ball point pen and the computer  From the Postal Service to Wi Fi.  Now, after 86 years it was still pumping out ink, transforming brain waves, nerve impulses, and muscle twitches into a trail of fountain pen poop stretching across the repurposed remnants of dead tree carcasses that, if found 86 years hence would still be recognized as communication.  The email between the seller and the buyer might be long gone to cyber space, but if this paper happened to get caught in the back of a desk drawer, or an old repurposed cigar box, a story might be told and a search might be launched for a Big Red Pen.

This old pen is older than me, older than this beat up and mostly forgotten old logging town.  This pen was it in its 20’s when my parents made their last big mistake.  I hope in my remaining years this beautiful Big Red Pen coaxes a few more brain waves from me, and lays them to good use on a bright white piece of paper.  And more, I hope the next and subsequent owners get as much pleasure from their relationship with Big Red as I plan to[10 PAGES IN NOW!] 

When you come across something this old that still works so beautifully, you realize that you really don’t own it; You are just the caretaker for a time, and you hope that it gets passed on to someone who has enough respect for it that he, or she, will see that it gets passed on in good shape to the next caretaker in the line.


1926 Parker Duofold LUCKY CURVE
Custom Modified BB stub Nib
Pelikan 4001 Violett ink

Oakville, WA. - June, 2012

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