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Peterson: Scribe desperately seeking new pen

My favorite pen is letting me down, and I am going to have to find another one to replace it.

I’ve been through this before, having to find a new pen, and I don’t look forward to it.

For the past several years, I have been using the same ballpoint pen. The casing is silver, the ink is black, delivered to the paper with a fine-point tip measuring 0.7 mm. It’s the “extra smooth ink system.” And rather than throw the pen out when it runs out of ink, I can buy refills, which I can find at just one store.

I used to be able to find refills at a couple of stores, but now I’m limited to an office supply store. That should have tipped me off.

For years, the pen was wonderful, writing fluidly across the paper and fitting my hand perfectly. But then, several months ago, the pen started skipping places on the paper. I’d be writing along, when suddenly the ink would stop flowing for a half inch or an inch, and no matter how hard I pushed, no ink would come out.

At first, I thought the ink well was running dry, but a quick check proved that to be false. There was plenty of ink. Then, I thought it was a defective refill. I could understand how that could happen in the manufacturing process. A one-in-a-million type of thing. When I bought a new package of refills, I wouldn’t have the problem.

And quite possibly there was something wrong with the paper. Maybe it got stained with something. Maybe I touched the paper, and the oils in my skin made a stain that repelled the ink. So, I had to resort to a backup pen to fill in the spots that my favorite pen refused to render ink. It was inconvenient, but not terribly so. All I had to do was finish off this refill and wait for the new one, and I would be back in business.

Of course, it’s operator error, I told myself. I’ve never had a pen break down like this before. I must be doing something wrong. That’s what corporate America wants you to think.

My theory about the oils in my skin interfering with the delivery of the ink to the paper proved to be false. I made a point not to touch the paper, not quite resorting to wearing latex gloves, but close. I handled paper by the edges, making sure I didn’t smudge anything. I felt like a detective trying not to compromise evidence. I felt like I was in an episode of “CSI: New York.” And I was the criminal, not the vic.

But I could write on and on, and everything would be OK for days at a time. Then the ink would stop flowing. And I would press down so hard that a dribble might appear, but it was pointless. So I’d grab my backup pen for a while before returning to my favored pen, giving it a break.

The other night was the breaking point. I was at a meeting and I had a pad of paper, and the ink stopped flowing every other word across the whole sheet of paper. It was embarrassing.

Now, I can’t rely on the pen at all. I never know when the ink will stop flowing.

Now, I have to go to the store to search the pen display for the next-best pen.

The trouble is, I’ve been through this act before. I’m going to have to settle for second best since the best pen for me has decided to stop working properly. I’m tempted to try the uni-ball Roller, “designed to give writing exceptional fluidity,” the Gel, “unique, vibrant ink gives words the ultimate impact,” or the Jetstream, “engineered to keep up with even the fastest flow of ideas.”

It’s been years since I have used the uni-ball, and maybe it’s time to give it a second chance. But the uni-ball didn’t dry instantly on the paper, creating smudges and smears if I wasn’t careful, and my hands are big and clumsy. 

I could always settle for the inexpensive Bic pen with the clear shaft and caps that match the color of the ink. That is nostalgic, bringing back memories of the first 19-cent ballpoint pen in the late 1960s. 

Pilot has a fine array of pens, and I was smitten by them for years, but something happened. I think I wanted a pen that I could buy refills for, cutting down on landfill waste. And that’s when Zebra entered the picture.

So many choices, so many potential dead ends. All I want is a pen that fits my hand well and delivers ink, I have come to find out, on demand. That’s not asking so much, is it? For me, it is buyer beware. I’m not sure what I’m getting into until after I’ve made the buy. I’m the vic.

• 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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