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Dear Bic Cristal Pen,
Who the ever-lovin' hell writes a letter to a pen?
It was a week or two ago. I was readying myself for a community garden meeting (I’m the prez, go figure), and I needed a notebook and pen. I plucked a notebook from a disorganized stack—easy enough, but then I quickly found myself rummaging through the ol’ desk drawer for you.
Wait … where are they … what? I thought I had two packages … oh, okay.
The sight of you lined up next to your identical twins in the torn plastic sheaf gave way to a subtle feeling I’ve been trying to nail down ever since—and then I did.
Let’s face it, Bic Cristal, you are an incredibly mundane object. You don’t light up. Or come in 72 colors. Are you some sexy metallic gel number? No, but you also don’t get those giant ink blobs all over a nine dollar birthday card. Unlike all those flashy markers and sticks and sharpies in the stationary aisle, Bic Cristal, you never let me down.
If you’ve been in the bottom of an old purse for countless years, I pull you out and *presto* you work. In the VW’s center console for weeks of freezing temperatures? No problem. Upside down or no cap? The ol’ Bicster works. You work and you work and you work.
You belong with a set of objects that is at once rare and common. I’d set you alongside a two-quart RevereWare saucepan, one of those old Ray-O-Vac flashlights and a Craftsman screwdriver—things that do their job from the day they roll off the line without any glitzy branding or fad features. Instead it’s Just. Plain. Competence.
Wiki says the 100 billionth Bic Cristal pen was sold in September 2006. I could probably dig around and find out how many more of your siblings have launched since then, but frankly, I’m trying to get my head around the 100 billion mark you passed 17 years ago. (And yes, I’m worried about all that plastic.)
Maybe these tumultuous days have given me new appreciation for things that just don’t let you down. The ground beneath me might be constantly shifting, but goddammit anyway, you are going to work precisely as I expect you to until the day you run out of ink.
Bic Cristal, I don’t take quiet reassurances for granted anymore.
When is a cheap plastic pen not a cheap plastic pen? As I considered your utilitarian construction and wondered if there was an essay inside your hexagonal tube, a memory dawned.
Back in the early aughts, I was an uber-local reporter for a half dozen years, covering city council in the sleepy burg of Broadview Heights and editing the magazine I wrote for, the Broadview Journal.
Whenever our local news cycle got spiky, it would garner the attention of the area’s last major daily newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, occasionally requiring one of their reporters to attend a City Council meeting. For a time, that was Damian Guevara. He’d sit alongside me and the other writers from small local publications—the ones that would happily run stories about a new hardware store opening, the community garden, or your kid’s third place finish on the balance beam at State. We were scrappy. Guevara, conversely, was a devastatingly handsome man about ten years my junior. He always looked fashionably understated, cool, and aloof.
Twenty years ago, the Plain Dealer still had quite a bit of juice. I always felt like Guevara was looking down on me and the others. We were locals; he was a PD metro reporter. Okay, fine, buddy, you’re Seinfeld, I’m Newman. So goes the story of my life.
One Monday night when the Broadview Heights City Council’s agenda included a particularly controversial discussion item regarding a landfill, Guevara sauntered in, settled in at the reporters’ table, and then turned to me and asked with feigned bonhomie, “Hey … uh … got a pen I could borrow?”
Naturally, I delighted in this request. Mr. Big Plain Dealer Reporter didn’t have a pen ferchrissake? A shit-eating grin spread across my face as I and handed him one of a half dozen Bic Cristals in my bag.
“Here you go, Damian,” I said with no small amount of sarcasm.
At the end of the meeting, he offered it back. “You go ahead and keep it,” I said, “in case you run into a scoop on the way home.” He took the jab with an amicable laugh, pocketed your cousin and went on his way.
For years, I loved telling that story about how a local no-namer like me had to save a hotshot reporter’s neck with a Bic pen.
On July 23, 2012, Damian Guevara took his own life in Malaga, Spain. He was 37.
You and yours have written trillions of words and will write countless more. I have written my share and have no idea when the sentences will end for good. However well-suited the two of us may be to the task of communicating, we would undoubtedly fail at offering any insight into this young man’s life other than to say I handed him a ballpoint pen 20 years ago.
We are at the end of the line—a line, Damien’s line.
Such are the connections forged amid the human condition: at once indelible & tentative, random & specific. So insert here, if you will, Bic Cristal, a moment of silence, the equivalent of empty space, and then say his name.
Now I shall slide you behind my ear and lay all of it to rest.
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