Pen & Ink Box

At long last I finally completed my fountain pen & ink box hand made of the final stock of century-old oak moulding rescued from a soon-to-be-demolished Chicago mansion.

When you run your fingers along the warm and naturally aged finish you can almost sense the depth of its history; it adorned the library and parlor; it eavesdropped on conversations: the Wright Brothers, the Titanic, Women’s Suffrage, Mickey Mouse’s cartoon debut, the Great Depression, Amelia Earhart, WW II, Gandhi’s assassination, the polio vaccine, Elvis’s hips, President Kennedy’s assassination, Berlin Wall construction, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream”  speech, Vietnam, disco, Star Wars, the Rubik’s Cube, Mt. St. Helens, Oklahoma City, Columbine, Mandela’s release, and the Internet.



Its history now holds six bottles of ink; eight fountain pens (left to right: 1920’s Conklin black & pearl (USA); Sailor Mid-Size (Japan); Nakaya Long-Writer (Japan); Pelikan Souverain Tortoise (Germany); 1950’s rare Omas “Double-Nib” (Italy); Laban (Taiwan); 1950’s Brause (Germany).  Each pen possesses its own personal significance: some are rare, some are unique, some are common, and one was custom-made specifically to my specifications.

But most importantly they deliver my private sentiments or quick notes in a style long forgotten in this age of immediacy.  Writing with a fountain pen requires a certain degree of ceremony: Filling its reservoir, wiping off excess, capping the barrel, reflection, and then lowering the oblique-ground nib to paper and allowing your hand to slide across the paper like a figure skater alone on a frozen pond amidst a light snowfall.  There’s a resonance in your thoughts; there might be smears, or skips, but what unique and personal thought was ever free from blemishes.


It’s odd, this.

All my life I carried some kind of drive, as though the first-baseman-mitt-sized hands of a dad pushes a shy son to join the group; nudging, like the dog’s wet muzzle flips your hand like a pancake in order to be petted; knocked, like the brass-ring a toothless lion holds loosely between jaws, and which falls against a brass plate sounding more like the dinner bell than the formal announcement of a visitor.

This propulsion, like a jet plane, carried me to soaring heights where earth stretched like a night watchman and people, critical to life, shrunk so small so quickly that they hardly mattered.  Wouldn’t you think things of such importance could be seen from above?  Monuments can be seen; impact can be seen; destruction can be seen.  But people or their self-designations like importance or starvation or anger or bigotry or religion or anything, anything they’ve said or thought or threatened you can’t see.  You can see evidence, like ugly scars; at night lights dot the darkness like worn drapery holding back dawn, but some areas appear engulfed in flames, such a wide swath of light that I’d heard it told that the moon, once proud of its subtlety, is thinking of moving on, to Mars or Neptune maybe, a planet looking to adopt a real satellite, not some space junk.

The experts (who, self-admittedly, know very little about mood disorders, and even less about proper treatments) have identified this lack of oomph as a signature symptom of depression.  Ironically, the less oomph the more depressed.

Perhaps people have created a number of different systems all designed to manage oomph.  Clocks are oomph speedometers; birthday’s are oomph reminders; corner offices are oomph autobahn; retirement accounts are oomph cruise control.

Without oomph it would appear that I have no where to go and no reason to go there.  When you live with a mental illness you’re still in the same pool with everyone else.  It’s just that you’re knee-deep at the shallow end while everyone else with oomph keeps swimming back and forth and back and forth and will eventually join you here at the shallow end.  As they pass one or two might’ve noticed your inertia and may ask why you weren’t swimming, do you know how to swim, are you afraid to swim?

Oh no, I reply, I am oomphless; my brain doesn’t produce oomph; but in a world that places a high value on one’s degree of oomph, I think it’s better that I look like I have oomph because everyone that has it, is absolutely convinced that everyone has it, and those that aren’t using theirs are. . .

Are not oomphless.

Personal Assistant Career Application: Word Problems

So you’ve always wanted to be a personal assistant to the wealthy, the famous, the powerful!  Oh, the perks you tell yourself; the glamourthe benefits; the cocktail conversations!

To be a successful personal assistant you’ve got to produce, produce, produce anything asked of you, since you are an extension of them (but one they keep hidden like a blemish or disfigurement – which you’ll quickly discover).

But here’s an excerpt from a “PA Application” specifically asking how you would handle odd situations in order to avoid adding further stress to your boss’s life.  A PA is, after all, the gasket between their boss’s expectations and the reality which most of us endure.

In this section you will be presented with a series of actual situations which faced top-level Personal Assistants.  Please select TWO and in a brief essay,
describe how you would handle the situation.  Your answers will help us assess your creativity, dedication to service, and results orientation.  When you are finished, put down your pencil, remind yourself that every working day as a PA will resemble this test, oh, and you’re top salary will be $10/hour.

1.  Your charge, an adept 14-year old boy has recently been expunged from AOL and his mother (your boss) insists that the charge did nothing wrong, and insists that his privileges be reinstated immediately (including a formal letter of apology and one-month free service).  When you discuss the situation with the charge he insists he did nothing wrong.  You contact AOL as the family representative and discover 2 issues: A) The charge was kicked-off because he was downloading reels of porn videos; B) Only the Mrs. could reinstate the account (given it was her account).

2.  Your boss owns 3 dogs, all of which move to Fisher’s Island for the winter via the family jet (as was explained to you during your interview).

Dog 1:    Silky Terrier (size: Toy: 7″ tall x 9″ long (excluding tongue), 5 pounds),
and is a constant traveling companion via a shoulder-bag carry-on.

Dog 2 & Dog 3:     Bullmastiff (size: Gargantuan: 27″ tall, 135 pounds),
guards country property in neighboring state; aloof; maintain a distance.

You are summoned into your boss’s office and told that the next weekend is when the “pets” should travel to Fisher Island.  Wonderful, you’re thinking, strolling across the tarmac, the toy terrier in a Louis Vuitton doggie bag, and the 2 Mastiff’s flanking you on both sides.  You climb the small stairs into the Bombardier Global Express and make yourself comfortable while attended to by handsome staff.  “The Gary hanger?” you ask.

“Gary?  Oh no. . .impossible; we’re taking that to Valencia for the Ryder’s Cup. . .”  Well, you think, should I ask about the Citation or the Astra (normally on a 24-hour hold for Nanna); “Waukegan then, the Astra or. . .”  She stops you with a flip of the hand; “I thought you’d figure it out, but I guess have to spell it out. . .O-H-A-R-E.”  “Commercial?” I gasp.  “American.  And the Mastiff’s are in the country so you’ll have to get them there, then drive them to the vet for papers or something. . . American has cargo limits of which I’m certain you’re apprised. . .”   Now what?

3.  As powerful as she is in corporate America, she’s able to master only one recipe: spaghetti.  And she uses only one brand and only one size of the very specific brand: Decca No. 12 (not No. 11 or No. 13).  She plans on making New Year’s Day dinner for 25 Fisher Island friends and expects Decca No. 12 to be amply stocked when she opens the pantry door.

It’s December 29 at 3:30 pm when you discover that no grocery store of any size or affiliation in the state of Florida carries Decca No. 12.  You call the family’s local grocer here who will immediately send a case to Fisher Island.  On December 31 at 1:30 pm Immelda calls from Fisher Island inquiring about the spaghetti; she assures you that it hasn’t arrived and the Mrs. will not want to start the New Year (furthermore, hasn’t ever started a New Year without Decca No. 12 since 1968) without the ingredient which assures culinary success!  What do you tell Immelda?  What do you do next?

Good luck and we’ll score your test and post the results!