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Peterson: You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone

My pen turned up missing a while ago, which is a traumatic experience for someone who is wed to his pen.

It was gone for nearly a week, and I was left to using poor substitutes, not the silvery sleek Zebra F-701 with its 0.7 mm fine-point tip, the “extra smooth ink system.”

And I have a mug full of pens, more than any one person should have. If fact, I really should weed them out because if I yank one out – and yank is the proper word – I practically need to hammer it back in. But I am an inveterate collector; I can’t pass up a free pen.

Now, I’m not a pen thief, which is akin to being a horse thief in the 1800s. If I borrow a pen, I make sure I return it, rather than walk off with it.

I have purchased some of the pens in hopes that it would fit my hand just right. But most of them come from conferences and trade shows where businesses and nonprofits give away pens with their names printed on the side, not that I’ve ever used a pen to find a telephone number. They’re hard to alphabetize.

These pens aren’t terribly expensive; I’m guessing way less than a dollar each. The Internet continues to be a fantastic place. I searched for pens, just typing in “pe” and it came up with 941,000 results for “pens with logo.” I could order what looks like a fine pen with my name on it and an inscription, “Hey, that’s mine!” or “Return to owner!” on it. And I could get a hundred of them for $75. Or less. 

A hundred pens probably would last me the rest of my life, unless I set up a booth at a trade fair to promote myself, which seems like a bit much, especially since I like to keep to myself. I don’t have anything to sell. I leave that to brother Dave or sister Judy; they’re into sales.

I’ve had my Zebra F-701 for a couple of years. It’s a ballpoint pen, and you can buy ink refills for it, although they are becoming harder to find. I can blow through a refill in about six weeks, and two refills come per pack. But only one store carries them – an office supply store – and I’m afraid they are going to stop stocking them.

Most pens you buy are disposable after one use, which adds a tiny bit to landfills. Maybe the idea behind disposable pens is that people will lose them or have them stolen by pathological pen thieves, and people will need to replace them frequently. I’m guessing the people of the United States go through millions of pens a month, losing a lot of them one way or another.

People like me hang on to their pens. We are conscious about where they are at all times and hypervigilant about them when they are lent to someone.

My pen is in my shirt pocket or my right pants pocket, if my shirt doesn’t have a pocket. After work or at the end of the day, I put it on the dresser next to my wallet and pocket calendar. Whenever I leave the house, I try to have my pen with me just in case I need to use it.

So, you can imagine my consternation when my Zebra F-701 turned up missing.

I was left to using pens from my jar of freebies. None of them fit my pocket right. The F-701 slips right in without you noticing it. These other pens were too fat or they had rubber grips that prevented them from sliding into my pocket.

And none of them were fine-point. Their tips were the thick 1.0 mm variety, and they don’t write small like the fine-points, and I need to write small in the little squares of my pocket calendar.

My good wife found my pen in the wash. I apparently did not clip it to my shirt pocket, and I didn’t notice it when I took my shirt off and tossed it down the laundry chute.

It went through the wash, and it hasn’t worked the same since. The ink is spotty at times, and the clicker that retracts the tip inside the cartridge is balky. But I just had an idea: A squirt of WD-40, the all-purpose lubricant. Problem solved, amazingly enough. Why didn’t I think of that sooner? Duh.

The ink flow continues to be something of a problem, and WD-40 isn’t going to solve it, and I’m not about to give up on a nearly full refill at $3.49 a pair, as hard to find as they are.

But losing my pen for nearly a week was lesson enough. I wasn’t treating my pen with the respect it deserves. I was being loose with it. And now that it’s back, I’m going to guard it like never before because while I’ve found the refills at one last store, the pen itself is not being sold. This needs to last a lifetime. Till death do us part.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

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