My pens are the fountain variety and they’re old, the nibs by now trained to my touch, a part of me.
A few are gold-tipped. Most of them come from Pearl Paint in the 1970s, the Canal Street store on the upper limits of the Lower East Side in Manhattan. Pearl Paint is one of my favorite stores in one of my favorite neighborhoods. In the 70s you could buy a really good pen on Canal for about twenty bucks, tops.
Call me superstitious, but I can’t write without my old pen friends even though I love the feel of a perfect keyboard and how fast the words fly through the ether and onto a virtual page.
Long before my fountain pens were around, I was writing stories. Well, printing stories, truth be told. The writing came later—in third grade. I remember writing a story about the radio in our car and how I loved listening to it on the way to school. That story featured the many radios in my life and how they were like people and which one had the voice I loved. As I write this today, I remember that radio, blue plastic with gold cloth over the speaker and ivory-colored keys. But Sister Carmelita was not a fan of radios or of children listening to them, so she gave me a poor grade on that story. I can remember the shock of it, staring at the paper, a bad mark on my soul. In retrospect it was the beginning of fear, I think, my free expression morphing into momentary hesitation, then circumspection, the enemy of truth. Better for the eyes to see and blab without Sister Carmelita and her muzzle waiting in the wings.
Back to my pens. That’s what they’re good for, writing without a muzzle, especially when I’m stuck.
Take Whiskey Parnell, for instance. She’s a character I’m getting to know. Or maybe she’s developing me, it’s hard to say. I couldn’t have written a thing into Scrivener today, if I hadn’t used my pens on Whiskey beforehand. After a solitary life, living exclusively inside my journal, today she’s outed herself, captured in the computer, raw but there.
Here’s a little of her, not even first draft stuff, she’s so rough:
Brighton Beach. Where I was born. Our apartment was on the top floor. The landlady, Mrs. Ovesky, wore a scarf and keened into her handkerchief while she rocked on the front porch of her three flat. Birds don’t sing in Brighton beach, but neighbors shout to one another and fat ladies sweat bullets. We’re the only Irish family in Brighton Beach, I think. Outliers. Looking from high-floors on bright days I can see white fluffy clouds and the Wonder Wheel whirling around like a promise while the subway cars sway from the platform. In memory I’m leaning out my window, my elbows pressed against the sill. I smell salted cod. I see an old man sitting on the boardwalk. He stops and points to me. I think he says,“Someday you’ll grow up and you’ll leave. They all do.” The gulls cry and play on the wind and attack loaded garbage bins. Beyond hot dogs and egg cream, Brighton Beach gave me something, a sense of being outside and looking in, the right, the duty to question, and a certain melancholy on the edges of my soul. Hey, I can get maudlin, that’s the Irish in me.
Photo: Pens and Notebook