On Receiving a Pen
I have no idea how old I was when I was given a pen for a present. Birthday present, I think it was. I know it was before high school, because I remember flashing back to it when I first wore a suit, and several times thereafter. I think it was my grandmother who gave me the pen – a Cross Pen, if I remember correctly (I refuse to Google this to confirm) in its own hinged, satin-lined case. It was like being given my mortality, a miniature coffin with the dreams of my adolescence laid neatly to rest therein.
I don’t remember how old I was, but holy crap do I remember opening that gift. Unwrapping it, testing the weight, being confronted with a formal looking case (maybe like an eyeglasses case, but I don’t wear glasses, so wtf?). Upon opening the case, I find a… pen. It had a navy blue body and gold accents. No fruity scrollwork or decoration, mind you, just good honest hard-working faintly etched stripes in the metal, and a non-descript blue body. It was metal, it was loaded with blue ink, and it symbolized everything I came to hate in myself and others.
Understand – this was the same grandmother who later on told her acquaintances (don’t believe she had friends) that I was an engineer at Ford, when in fact I was an apprentice mechanic, and not even a terribly good one. I worked under a man named Jim, who was a good, solid dude who treated my dumb ass remarkably well. My co-workers were a huge guy named Lloyd who was nicknamed Sasquatch and a shifty-eyed short guy named Carl, who I later discovered I had gone to middle school with on the other side of the country. I even vaguely remembered him – he was my sister’s age, and my one real memory of him was watching him watch his friend Bobby play the Hendrix version of “The Star Spangled Banner” outdoors at a school talent show. Carl had a fucking hardass mullet at the time and was wearing worn high-tops and acid washed jeans. He was a classic junior-high stoner, who scrubbed his nails religiously after work each day so he could try to pass himself off as a lawyer when picking up women at the bar and assured all of us in the garages at Ford that he was still wicked pissah on guitar.
They were all better mechanics than me. And I was sure as fuck no engineer. But none of that bothered me anywhere near as much as the implications of that pen.
I remember at first being disappointed when I saw the pen, and then starting to recoil from it. I understood, even then, that this was the first step toward a future that I wasn’t looking for, but one that was being laid out before me. I was supposed to use my brain and not my hands. I was supposed to blend in and climb the social ladder, but I wasn’t supposed to enjoy it. I was supposed to outgrow my dreams and tastes, but particularly my values. I was supposed to sell out.
I’m not saying that I’m any great rebel, cuz I’m not. I’m no better than anyone else, but I try to make decisions that I’m proud of. The things that I’ve become proud of would have seemed very alien to that version of me that was looking at that pen back then, but they have roots that go back to that time and before. I’ve compromised on a great many things since that day, but I’ve made those decisions as consciously as I can, given them thought, and said no to a lot of things that I’m proud to have not become part of.
I’m writing this while sitting in my clothing shop. We’ve been open for two and a half hours, and I’ve made just over $50 in sales. If I was a different person, maybe the kind of person who would have happily taken the pen, I wouldn’t be here, and this shop wouldn’t be here. We would never have opened this kind of business if we’d listened to the advice we received when we were planning it. We were informed that the only reason to open a business was to make money. We rejected that then, and I reject it still. The business is here, and so am I. I’m proud of this shop, and our dedication to it, for all the wrong reasons. Drop by when you get a chance and waste some of your life with us, you might just find something redeeming about it.