Hooked on Office
Supplies — not Dunder Mifflin
By Bill Fields
I realized I might have a problem last year during a business trip to South Korea. My hosts were showing me around a shopping mall outside Seoul, and after seeing an array of high-fashion boutiques and stores with the latest tech, I had one request: Take me to the pens and pencils.
I was on the hunt for Korean-made writing tools unavailable back home. The tour guides were helpful, my interpreter, Chris, touting a popular, inexpensive, smooth-writing ballpoint stick pen favored by many Korean students and office workers. In a few minutes, I was checking out of a variety store with a couple of packs of Monami 153s, blue ink with a 1.0 tip. The purchase wasn’t the highlight of a full week in a foreign land but, for an office-supply geek, flying home with those pens certainly was satisfying.
Not that I loiter in my local Staples — weekly visits aren’t over the top, are they? — but I’ve been smitten with stationery for a long time, even before I secured my first pencil case in a loose-leaf notebook with the audible cinching of the three rings.
When the Swingline “Tot,” a tiny version of a desk stapler, appeared in stores, I saved my allowance to buy one. It didn’t take long for me to pop one of the staples into the pad of my left thumb.
That didn’t scare me away from office supplies. Nor did a pencil accident. I was at the time too short and not possessing enough hop to touch the top of the doorframe leading into our dining room. I was only inches away from my goal and figured, correctly as it turned out, that I could touch it while holding a pencil. But I carried it eraser-up, and the point gouged my right palm. More than a half century later, that speck of lead remains just below my middle finger.
Who didn’t love the retractable, push-button splendor of a Bic Clic? The different Flair colors for drawing up football plays? The bold letters that Magic Markers could make on poster projects? When my mother purchased a gross of pencils for me through her bank job and we attached a sharpener to my bedroom wall, it felt better than the Tar Heels winning a big game.
As I got older and into journalism, pens and notebooks were a perk of the profession. I got $150 a week to intern one summer at the afternoon newspaper in Winston-Salem. Being able to procure supplies from an office closet — all you wanted — was a life I could get used to.
My notebook tastes grew more refined. In the 1990s, fellow golf writer Michael Bamberger and I discovered we shared an affinity for a certain model of Boorum & Pease notebook with 48 sewn-in pages. They were small enough to fit in your pocket but large enough for good note-taking and cost only a dollar or so. Michael and I each hoarded a stash, but they don’t make them anymore.
Even during this “Everyday Carry” era with lots of fancy notebooks on the market, I lament that cheap and functional B&P style isn’t available anymore — they’re as extinct as the many little stationery stores in New York City that used to sell them. The Japanese-made Muji brand has some good offerings, about as close as you can get to my old favorite.
I’ve splurged on nice pens from time to time in recent years — mostly rollerballs and ballpoints, having figured out I am not a person for fountain pens no matter how much I admire their beauty. Whether on a legal pad or in a quality journal, putting pen to paper is its own pleasure in this digital age.
Not long ago I retrieved an Aurora rollerball from my desk caddy, a pen I bought not long after I moved to New York decades ago. It’s not old enough to be “vintage” as classified by the collecting world, but using it sure takes me back. For now — this might be as fleeting as April snow — it’s my favorite. PS
Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.