Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pencils+Sharpeners= Weapons

I prefer good quality Number 2 hexagonal pencils, school bus yellow with pink erasers. Some people prefer mechanical pencils. Not me. I find them distracting. If I push too hard the graphite breaks. I write softly, never achieving satisfactory contact with the paper. The graphite length is either too long or too short so I'm constantly making adjustments. I repeatedly click it out too far then push it down on the page to make it shorter. It breaks. I'm not partial to the click-y noise from the mechanism as you dispense the graphite. It makes me anxious that I'm going through it too fast and should write less. Back in the 1980s there were "mechanical" pencils that contained a stack of individual leads about a quarter inch long secured into a plastic node. The nodes nested together inside the hollow plastic body of the pencil. As the node became too short you would remove it from the bottom of the pencil, push it into an opening at the top forcing a new lead out the bottom. Apparently these were called Pop-a-Point-Pencils. Logical. I didn't like these either. What kid is going to wait until the whole lead is used up? As soon as it's no longer sharp you swap it out for a fresh pointy one. You just end up with a tube of 9 or 10 dull but usable pencils tips. How is that a good thing?

Non-mechanical pencils need sharpening. This is part of their mystery and appeal. I was visiting my family in Buffalo over the weekend and we had an impromptu discussion about pencil sharpener preferences as part of a larger philosophical discussion regarding office supply lust (Swingline Staplers are especially desirable to certain folks). Some people were in favor of electric pencil sharpeners for their speed and the way you could make them eat the pencil down to a stub in no time flat. Others preferred the standard schoolhouse wall-mounted variety for it's durability and nostalgia, I presume. No one had any love for the kind that suction cups itself to the table top. Pieces of crap. The more Rambo or back country in the group reminded us that pencils can be sharpened with a knife. This always results in a tough looking pencil tip and the potential for stories to scare little kids.
"Hey lady, how'd ya lose that finger?"
"Oh, this?" Holds up stumpy index finger. "That was my pencil sharpening accident of 'aught seven."

My favorite pencil sharpener style? The portable, pocket sized, razor blade type that collects the shavings in the plastic housing. I love how it feels as you spin the pencil around making continuous contact with the razor blade. I love the predictable "schrick, schrick, schrick" sound that eventually disappears as the tip of the pencil reaches perfection and spins past the razor unscathed.

But you must exercise care and caution when utilizing tools such as these. Non-mechanical pencils make potent weapons. Where the mechanical variety is prone to surrender easily, the regular variety tends to leave behind some pain before it's will is broken. I have a tattoo of sorts just below my right knee cap from a run in with an unruly pencil pirate. I know there are other's out there with similar tattoos. I figure we must be the Choosen Ones.

People don't really think about pencils much anymore.

As my Dad says, "It'll take more than a pencil to make you right."


  1. I loved pop-a-point crayons. Lots of variety. Compact and efficient.

  2. I'll take this opportunity to officially apologize for your "tatoo". Sorry kiddo...

  3. mechs can leave tatoos too. my friend left our drafting exam bleeding through a cookie cutter hole in his thumb... tried to get the lead out, but forgot to flip the pencil around after erasing.
    schrick, schrick