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Excuse me, can I ‘borrow’ a pen or pencil?

29 Mar

We have all been in this situation once or twice (or 2o0 times) in our lives.  We are trapped on a pen-less and pencil-less island and it’s the day of an interview, a big meeting with the board, or a huge exam.  We turn to our neighbor, our classmate, our fellow intern with that deer-in-the-headlights look in our eye.  “Can I borrow a pen or pencil? I owe you one!”  That huge meeting passes us by, that scantron has long been turned in, yet the free writing utensil has somehow found its way onto our desks and into our backpacks.  Don’t try and tell me it hasn’t happened to you.   

The veteran borrower (or one particular about his writing tools–but not particular enough to remember to bring one along) scans the horizon quickly.  Hmm… looks like there are a few BICs in a cup on the secretary’s desk… I know Molly always has a spare wooden pencil on exam days…

First, let’s go over what sort of selection we are looking at exactly.  You need to take your head out of the inky clouds if you think your boss is going to just lend you his vintage Cross desk pen he got as a Christmas gift four years ago (even if everyone knows he doesn’t ever use the thing).  In reality, we are usually looking at something like this:

The infamous assortment of rejects. They were probably 'borrowed' to begin with.

Ballpoints are a go-to pen for lending out to people.  They commonly come in packs of 144 and cost less per unit than tissue paper.  You would be hard-pressed to find yourself in an office or classroom without somebody offering to lend you a ballpoint.  Lets break down some of the most common giveaways/throwaways.

I love the smell of ballpoint ink in the morning. Smells like...desperation.

Cheap Japanese ballpoints, such as Pilot EasyTouch pens, are a huge score.  Apparently in Japan, cheap is not a code word for horrendous.  Go after these whenever possible.  I worked with a lefty intern who always had a box of Uni Jetstreams in his drawer because he would get ink on his hands otherwise.  The next step down is a BIC.  The BIC Crystal was an easy office favorite but I see less and less of these beauties as time goes by.  BIC Pro’s are pretty common but people get greedy with them because they have the word “pro” in them (that must mean it’s good right?).  The most common BIC is the roundstick and nobody is heartbroken to have one taken off their hands.  Beyond that you have branded ballpoints such as hotel or corporation pens.  These are a HUGE hit or miss, but if they are in the reject pile you should assume the ladder.  Avoid staples stick pens like the plague.  They leak, they skip, and they go dry really fast.  Only opt for a knock-off BIC stick as a last ditch method.

The ballpoints should have most of us covered, but there are times that call for an emergency pencil.  For example, scantrons require a #2 so many are faced with a pencil dilema (or lack thereof).  Let me break it down.

You can't deny that this all looks somewhat familiar.

BIC crystal mechanical pencils are everywhere.  People seem to get crates of them at a time.  A tried-and-true performer in the clutch but be careful not to put too much pressure on the tip–the lead will slip back into its sleeve under stress.  PaperMate Sharpwriters have a classic look and that old-school twist mechanism at the tip to feed out the lead.  Unfortunately, the lead is so cushioned (the word that got smudged in my written review) that the pen is extremely difficult to use properly.  There is a laughable amount of play between the clutch and the lead, allowing you to literary push the lead down and use the tension to launch the whole pencil off of your desk.  Staples’ BIC ripoff is awful.  The lead feeds out in huge quantities per click, the lead is brittle and breaks frequently, and the system allows more slip than any mechanical pencil should ever allow.  There are always good ol’ Ticonderoga wood-cased pencils or something similar, but remember: these need constant sharpening!  The situation can turn from OK to frantic in a split second when you realize that your pencil tip is just a stump of ceder and unusable without sharpening.  Unless you have sharperners handy (and if you are getting to this point I’m going to go ahead and say you don’t), opt for a mechanical when possible.

I threw that sharpie on there last because I know they are very easy to find around the office for signing boxes and other odd-jobs.  Sharpies are good for many things but general writing on crappy office-supply paper is not one of them.  On the Staples brand 50 cent notepad (used for reality’s sake), I was already bleeding through three layers of paper with an ultra-fine!  Imagine what a broad would do to this poor chinese-made paper.  It might just reach through the whole pad.

So there you have it, the official papericide guide to ‘borrowing’ pens and pencils.  Let’s hear about your borrowing or lending experiences in the comments section!

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