During my vacation, I decided to go to a fountain pen show up in Columbus. I didn’t even know there was such a thing, much less one that was close enough to me to consider driving. So – me and the wife bundled into the car and drive three hours with money burning a hole in my pocket. I found out some interesting things during my trip:
- Rest stops are determined by the smallest bladder.
- They’re not apparently speed limits, but suggestions.
- Everything tastes better at 80 mph, except boxed apple pies. Those things are nasty at any speed.
- Drink enough Monster energy drinks and you’ll achieve Bullet-Time.
I got to the pen show (no tickets!) and spend a few minutes trying to find a way inside, I stumbled up to the reception table and put down my ten dollars. I was not prepared for what would happen next.
There were so many tables! Not just fountain pens! Bottles of ink by the score! Notebooks! Sealing wax and other paraphernalia! My mere $700 was not enough! I walked around in a bit of a daze. Not only were there so many tables – I expected ten or fifteen, but there were at least thirty in the ball room and seven right outside. There were small time companies there, individual collectors selling and buying.
There were so many people! It was a little crowded as far as I was concerned. Again, I had small notions, but each aisle was crowded to the point where I had to excuse myself in passing in between two people. I was shocked that there were other people that were as excited about fountain pens as I am. Nancy kept pace with me as I looked around.
The first person I talked to had this gorgeous pen that looked like it was crafted from a single block of rose quartz. It was love at first sight. It had a very fine nib – the only kind I like to use. This is no mere shopping list pen. This is an instrument to put down my deepest thoughts. This is the crowning piece in my collection.
“How much is it?”
“Six hundred dollars.”
I’ll find others.
I moved on. I found so many wonderful pieces, but I came here with a shopping list:
- Pilot Vanishing Point in Very Fine: the novelty of this pen is that the tip retracts. Don’t look at the price. Numbers mean nothing against quality.
- A bottle of shimmering black ink: I’ve got a sample of it at home, and I liked it. I was hoping to find a bottle here and add it to the second pen I was going to buy.
- Second pen: because buying one pen is absolutely ludicrous. Very fine nib and must look good.
- Notebook: because I don’t have a problem, Nancy.
- Holder for said pens: I can’t leave them out to the elements, can I?
The second person I asked about the Vanishing Point, sent me down to the right table: Crazy Al’s Pen Emporium. I am not making up this name. His table stretched down the length of the ball room. Stacks upon stacks of pens and pen boxes fought for my attention. Inks in every color conceived by the eye of man (except shimmering black) were arranged in neat rows.
I would have swooned, but Nancy has said repeatedly she will not catch me.
I approached the man in the red t-shirt. He looked up at me and held out his hand. I figured that this was the aforementioned Crazy Al, but he didn’t accuse the cats of stealing his thoughts, or try to explain how the lizard people really run things, so I think he was more Decently Medicated Al. I shook his hand and he asked how he could help.
“I’m looking for a Vanishing Point in a very fine nib. Do you have one?”
“Sure.” He picked up a box with a blue and chrome pen inside and handed it to me. My heart fluttered. The body matched a bottle of blue ink I had a home, waiting to be used. This was a match made in Heaven.
“$140 and you get a free notebook.”
I don’t know what Nancy thinks when I shell out this kind of money for a pen. She’s more of a ‘whatever works’. I have standards.
I count out the money and hand it to him with the glee of a four-year-old getting a present for Christmas. I get the box and the notebook of my choice (the yellow Rhodia) in a very nice bag. I saw the notebooks and made a beeline for them. They have the one notebook maker that I love and in the style and color I like. I drop more money and stuff the book in my bag. I’m getting the stuff on my list one after the other. Nancy comes up to me and shows me a plastic bag with a ballpoint pen. She shows me the Pilot erasable ink pen. It’s not my style, so I let her have it. I am still focused on getting pen number two and a carrying case.
As I walk down the aisles, I’m struck by the different types of people here. It’s not just old white guys. There are women, young men walking along with me. They’re pouring over ink bottles and asking about particular pens. I’m just poking along when I see the sparkles.
I must know more.
I make my way to the table at the end. Behind it is a nervous looking man in glasses and a light grey t-shirt. On the table in front of him are sparkly pens in white, purple, green and grey. They all call to me. I must heed them.
The guy begins his spiel about the pens (“made from Venetian glass.”) and the pen holder he’s selling with them. I kind of listen to him just to be polite, but the majority of my attention is on the pens. They wink, tease and whisper to me. I pick one up and turn it over in my hands. Yes, my little one – I will save you.
“How much for this one and do you have and extra fine nib?”
“Sure.” He takes it out of my hand and starts to put on the tip. “You want a carrying case for $30?”
Shut up and take my money. All $250. All that I’m missing now is the ink and a nicer carrying case. With a troubling amount of endorphins bubbling in my head, I head down the aisles to look for the last two things on my mental list.
I wonder what Nancy things of all this. I just dropped half a house payment on two pens. I’m hoping it’s along the lines of ‘it’s his money’ or at the very least ‘at least it isn’t drugs’. Although I think drugs would be cheaper at this point.
I come to another long table where there is ink, pens and pen cases. I start looking through the inks. I came down here for shimmering black, but so far, I’ve come up distressingly empty. Nancy sidles up next to me and asks what I’m looking for.
“Shimmering black ink.” I see a nice orange, but it’s not what I want right now.
Nancy – being the wonderfully efficient wife – corners one of the guys behind the table and whips out the old country charm. “Do you have any shimmering black ink?” This is what I love about her. She’s so out there, willing to talk to people where I am not. The guys look from one to another and tell her that they think they have any shimmering black, but if they did it would be in this try here.
As I walk over to the try, my eye is caught by this wonderful little case. Holds two pens, but all I really need is a case for the Vanishing Point pen and another with the color du jour. I pick it up and turn it over in my hands. It looks nice. Something I can put in my pocket. “How much for this?”
“$120, but I can let it go for $100.”
Yikes. You see, Nancy’s birthday was only a few days away and I hadn’t gotten her a gift yet. If I got this case and a bottle of ink, then I would have less than $100 to get a gift, card and cake. I’m not concerned about the card and cake, but I need to nail the gift. Okay – new plan. Look for a cheaper case and call it a day.
“Sugar, I see some ink over there. I’m gonna got see if they got yours.” She is delightfully tenacious. I wander behind her and look at a pile of leather cases. I pick up one that looks like it could hold three pens and fit in my pocket. I open it up.
It’s someone’s eyeglasses. Whoops. I put it back down and hope no one saw me. I might just go back and see about that other case. It looked nice and felt good. If I got it, I would have enough to get Nancy a nice gift and a decent cake and card. Instead of running over and taking the case, I decide to walk around a little bit more.
Nancy is still darting from table to table like a hyper-focused hummingbird while I mosey about and look at the inks on display. They’re nice, and there are a couple of shades of read that look good, but I’ve got four bottles at home.
I continue to walk down the aisles, looking at the leather cases and getting prices. Looks like I’m going to be spending about hundred either way. I might go back and get the first one. It looked nice.
“Sugar, I think I found someone who might have the ink you’re looking for.” Nancy gently grabs my arm and guides me to a table. Two ladies are behind the table, sipping on cans of soda. One of them looks up at us and hurriedly slips her mask back up. In Columbus, the mask mandates are still in effect.
“Hi,” I smile and remind myself that it’s all right to talk to people. “I was wondering if you had any shimmering black ink?”
They look at each other and shake their heads. “Have you tried that table?” She points down the aisle. “Or have you tried Crazy Al?”
“I did both of them, ma’am. Came up empty.” I may not really like talking to people, but I will be polite as the situation requires.
“I’m so sorry, sir.” The other one says to me. I just shrug and thank them for their time.
“I’m going to go get the case I saw earlier. Weaving through the crowds (I swear there are more people here than when I first came in), I make it back to the table. With one hand, I fish for my wallet and with the other, I grab the case. “I’ve decided to get this case.”
True to his word, he let it go for $100. Practically out of money, I relax a little bit. I didn’t get everything on my list, but the ink was a long shot anyways. I turn to my ever-present wife and say, “Let’s just look around a little bit.” With no pressure of cash on me, I can walk about and just scope things out. One guy was selling a glass and wood chess set. Someone else was selling wax sealers and supplies (I should have held out!). Ink wells, books about antique pens and more supplies. One guy had just a pile of old pens he was selling for parts. I should have brought my broken pen here and see if I could find the part I needed. Next time.
Coasting down from the post-shopping high, we both realized it was time to go. On the way out, Nancy stumbled onto a ball point pen on the ground. It looked good, like it was taken out of the package and set on the ground as a sacrifice. Nancy smiled and put it in her pocket. That’s my wife in a nutshell: refuge for the lost, neglected and forsaken.
The trip back was uneventful – with Nancy telling me that security would not be patient with us running amok through the empty King’s Island park (“I know how to operate the rides, though.” “No.”) and running through the tolls (“Kentucky – we get you coming and going.”).
Sorry if this post was longer or more boring than usual, but once I got going, it seemed I had to throw everything in. Just a reminder: my latest novel Valentina’s Feast is in Amazon and all other digital platforms, so give it a gander.
I promise next week will be shorter. Thanks for hanging in there.