Saturday, December 8, 2012


My friend asked for ink. The clerk at Staples shrugged. You mean ink toner? Cartridges?

The Ink Age is gone. You know, that stuff fountain pens use to run out of, the blue-black substance that would leak all over our hands and shirt pockets.

Raise you hand if you have the same mental picture I have of a hexagonal glass bottle of ink. The name Waterman comes to mind….then Schaffer.  The aforementioned bottle turns out to be Waterman’s ink.  I just looked it up. They still sell it online. In my day fountain pens were part of the back-to-school package. Today they have fallen into the same category as ink eradicator and blotters.

Ink is one of those lost things that vanished the way invisible ink vanished. In 1949 when someone invented an ink that dried instantly Papermate pens were the next best thing. Fountain pens became another collectible and ink bottles, that item which an enormous stationary super store can’t find room for.

Now I am back in the third or fourth grade. I’m sitting at my desk with an inkwell at the far corner. We wrote with a long stylus with a nib at the end which had to be dipped. This was a spelling test. The word was genuine, a tough one which threw me. I spelled it with a j then I pictured it from the window of Brenner’s Hair Salon which advertised, Genuine Permanent Waves. I needed to change my answer but alterations were not allowed. My life down the forbidden path was launched. I managed to drop a glob of ink over my wrong answer and re-wroie it correctly.

Returning to the scene of my crime I ask myself why that nefarious act has stayed with me over seventy years. Bad boy that I was I’m not sorry for it. I own it, my shadow side, the god of mischief took up residence, compensation for too much obedience, testing the margins, early subversion against the rules. There was an element of resourcefulness if not creativity in my misdemeanor and none of it is possible with a ball point pen.

Ink that in the great ledger. I’ll take my chances that the principal and all the teachers in P.S. 99 are long gone and I won’t be left back to repeat Spelling class or worse, get an F in good citizenship or work habits. At least I didn’t run with scissors.    

Channeling my inner Huck Finn depended on that property of ink to spread its wings on the page. Pass me the Rorschach test and I’ll tell them what I really see. It's all, Inka dinka do, thanks to Jimmy Durante.

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