Wednesday, April 30, 2003

On Pens

Long have I quested for the perfect stationery--the perfect pen, the perfect pencil, the perfect paper. And Long have I gazed upon pens and pencils and notebooks in Wal-Mart, Target, Office Depot, and Dairy Queen (OK, I was really gazing at hot fudge brownie sundaes, but you get the idea). And many is the time I thought that my quest had ended, but alas, I was merely fooled by the mirage of stationery oasis, that abode of writing bliss that is ephemeral, all too ephemeral. A few examples will suffice.

There was the time that I discovered a disposable fountain pen from Pentel, called, strangely enough, the Fountain Pentel. What was exquisite about this pen was the flexible nib that conformed to my writing style in a way that no other pen has. So what went wrong? Even though Pentel lists the FP on its web site as a current model (and now there is even a refillable FP), I have yet to see it offered anywhere--online or in stores.

Many years later, I noticed the Phd line of pens and pencils from Sanford/Papermate. The Phds are big, chunky, handsome writing tools, and I was intrigued at first. Then I tried one. Didn't like the feel. However, I gave them a second chance when I developed tendonitis in my thumb, making writing painful. The advantage of the Phds is that you don't have to grip them hard, and being a heavy-handed writer, this helped ease my thumb pain. So I bought a Phd pen and mechanical pencil.

After I bought a PDA, I found a new version of the Phd, the Phd Multi-Function pen--a ball-point pen, mechanical pencil, and PDA stylus all-in-one. Although ball-point is not my favorite type of pen, the ink lasts a lot longer than gel ink. Gels produce a beautiful, bold line, but I can feel the ink disappearing, as if invisible gel vampires were sucking the ink out as I write. Fortunately, my Phd Multi writes a smooth line--or did produce a smooth line. The ink cartridge is now low enough that it glops rather than glides. So why not saunter over to Office Depot and gleefully buy some new refills?

Oh no, my friends, that's not how it works. Not anymore. For I have discovered a diabolical secret: pen companies would rather that you buy a new pen than refill an old one.

Yes, I know that most of you probably knew that already, but I only recently found that out when trying to refill my Phd Multi. None of the stores in my city carry such a refill, and they barely carry pen refills at all (the worst is Target). I went online, blithely expecting to be able to order my refills, but found out that even sites that list Phd Multi refills do not have them in stock and can't get them. One place has them, but wants a minimum order of $50. My mother dryly noted that I would die before using that many refills. Thanks mom.

It's no wonder that one of the most frequently asked questions on Papermate's web site has to do with refill availability. Papermate blames the problem on retailers, a lame excuse considering that Papermate has just as much vested interest in selling you a new pen as the retailer does. But more to the point, Papermate describes the Phd Multi as a refillable pen, a selling point considering that I don't want to shell out $8 for a new pen every time one runs out of ink. So why not make them as readily available as refills for mechanical pencils?

. . . .

This story has a happy ending. While browsing through my university bookstore, I came across a multi-function pen from Bic, called the Bic e3. Having given up the search for a refill for the Phd Multi, I decided to try one. The e3's plastic body isn't as solid as the Phd Multi, but it is much lighter. More importantly, the pen writes very smoothly, as does the pencil. Here's the kicker: the e3's pen cartridge fits the Phd Multi. Nonetheless, I've become so acclimated to the e3's lightweight body that I don't use my Phd Multi anymore.

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