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Stealing the ink

Marcy O’Brien

I am a pen thief.

I don’t really mean to be, but acquiring pens just sort of happens. I recently came to the conclusion that it’s part of a pattern that began in childhood – not of theft but of irresponsibility and the semi-comatose state that I have been living for lo these many decades.

You see my head is so jam-packed with rampant junk that I can’t concentrate on keeping track of the necessities of my everyday life. At this age those perpetual needs encompass pens, lipsticks, glasses, medicines, charge cards, checkbooks, cell phone and keys. Sometime in the recent past I promised myself I would get better about keeping track of these daily life requirements. (I just noticed I put lipstick second on the list). I hoped I could improve my pathetic track record because my late-in-life husband, Dear Richard, had trouble understanding my uncontrolled habits.

“How can anyone who is so organized about so many things be such a disaster with your own stuff? I really don’t understand.”

I looked at it from his perspective and thought, yup, he’s right.

As a kid, I lost everything. I lost pocket change, the only money I was entrusted with. I lost lunches, mittens, hats, pencils, pens, homework and boy, did I lose house keys. Since I was an only child entrusted to come and go by myself, the house key was critical. I didn’t misplace them somewhere in our apartment. I left the house with a key and somehow arrived home without one. My only way in was the landlady, the snitch, and I knew she would eventually tell my mom.

After facing my mother’s disappointment, then her annoyance, and finally her wrath, I decided never to confess again that I’d lost another house key. Mind you I never told myself not to lose another one. That was way beyond my capabilities. I just cut down on Milky Ways, saved my money and bought four house keys. I figured it was about a year’s stash. It was my first stab at planning ahead around my growing awareness.

Today I don’t lose my house and car keys, I misplace them. What is lost is mostly the time and the frustration involved in the hunt.

But with some of the other life basics, I do plan ahead – around my now-known disability. I buy lipsticks in pairs or trios, especially during sale times. That way I have the much-needed lipstick in the car, my purse, evening purse, raincoat pocket, jacket pocket, bathroom and kitchen. I guess lipstick for me is like a security blanket, my armor against the world. Like my American Express card, I “don’t leave home without it.”

Same thing with the newly required glasses. When I had my cataracts done last year, I groaned when the doc told me I’d only need glasses for reading. A contacts wearer for years, I knew I’d have to buy cheaters and stash them everywhere. So far I’ve broken three pair and lost about four – or maybe five. They are stashed in each room and the car, although I laughed when I found three pair on the nightstand, the end-of-day’s resting place. Fortunately, Sam’s and BJ’s sell cheaters in 4-packs. That must be proof that I’m not the only person with this disorder. I was beginning to think I had adult-onset ADHD. But reading through this article pretty well cinches that my attention deficit disorder has always been there . . . maybe a subject for another column.

You’re beginning to get the idea about my incompetence, but what, you ask, does that have to do with being a pen thief? Well since I write everything down in my desperate attempts at organization (this is why Richard was so convinced I was on top of things), I need pens.

There are always two or three pens in the bottom of my purse or so I thought. I recently changed purses and found fourteen. It seems that most pens I use in the outside world find their way into my purse. I don’t set out to steal them. It’s a totally unconscious act. But surveying the stash would make my banks proud. If the bank’s intent is to spread their logo in a massive ad campaign, they have reached me. I’m covered.

We keep good-sized pen cups on the kitchen counter, my desk, Richard’s desk, my nightstand, two on chair-side tables in the den and one just outside the bathroom. These pen cups, that have gradually grown in number, are now chock-a-block full of ballpoints from my daily wanderings.

If you take home a pen that is used to sign only one check or one permission slip, it lasts for many years afterwards. Therefore I have multiples from my dentist, many hotels, the hospital, the radio station, political campaigns, and theater supply companies from my old job. The largest pen cup beside my nest in the den also contains a few odd pencils, all with hard erasers, nail files, scissors, cuticle clippers, a magnifying glass and highlighters. A girl needs to be prepared.

At my old theater job, Dana used to follow me into my office and hold out her hand. She had one particular favorite pen, and it was NOT going to be added to my mindless collection. She knew me.

The annual national theater conferences presented the best pen supplies. In two days of professional classes, I would attend eight sessions. The paperweights on the stack of study outlines in the back of each classroom were open boxes of pens. Oh happy hunting ground! I was usually good and only took one per class. On the afternoon of the second day, I knew they meant us to have them as souvenirs, so I always helped them out. Of course each hotel room had two pens – restocked daily.

The pens are only as useful as the everyday lists they are needed to prepare. Therefore, small notepads from across the western hemisphere are stacked near our pen cups.

When I finish tweaking this column, I will find my to-do list for today and cross off “Write column” with this cute little pen from Hilton. Where did I leave that list? It was here just a minute ago. Oh, not again — someone must have stolen it.

Marcy O’Brien is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.

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