Monday, October 04, 2010

These are a few of my Favorite Things

We surround ourselves with the detritus of our lives and culture, like the byproducts of those that have gone before us. Sometimes these byproducts are amazingly high-level, cerebral, complex and abstract; things of the mind and spirit, things that are bigger than ourselves. We are appreciative, humbled even. But often, in the solitude of our individual lives, it is the little objects, like humble servants, that we surround ourselves with that mean so much. I know, this sounds shallow, somewhat, as if people, and allegiance to principles, should matter first and foremost. But it is by these simple implements that we make do, that help us get by, each and every day, that take little or no credit or appreciation, yet in which we take such simple pleasure; joy, even. So I paused, today, to consider some of these few simple objects, just a few of my favorite things.

We start with this Citizen Eco-Drive, solar powered analog watch. I haven't worn watches of any kind for years, being regularly equipped with a cell phone or nearby a screen of some kind that announces the time, incessantly, as if to remind me that, while at work or play, I must keep track of the passage of each moment, like it's my civic (or higher) duty. But off work, on my own time, when I try not to pay too much attention to screens and phones and whatnot, I like the company of this humble time-keeping device. Lacking disposable batteries (its internal battery is kept charged via a solar panel on its dial) it's always reliable, and looks elegantly mechanical; timeless, even.

A close friend of mine had owned this HP-21 calculator for decades, starting back sometime in the late 1970s, while in school. He finally "upgraded" to one of those fancy graphing calculators, accompanied by instruction manuals much larger than the calculator itself, and so handed this off to me. Its internal battery was dead, and of a design not originally designed to be fixed (you had to purchase a new battery pack from HP, which are no longer being manufactured). So, I took the plastic battery pack apart and replaced the two AA-sized NiCad batteries, restoring the red-LED displayed calculator to new life. It uses the RPN (Reverse Polish Notation) method of number entry, which I enjoy using. It's no fancy graphing computer, but it still crunches numbers reliably.

I don't use this Scripto mechanical pencil for writing; in fact, I haven't had it for very long. But the reason it's one of my favorites (I prefer Pentel 0.7mm mechanical pencils, thank you very much) is because this translucent, plastic-barreled pencil was the very same kind my Grandmother used to work her crossword puzzles with. I can still picture the bright, New Mexico afternoon sun, streaming in through her lace curtains, illuminating as if from inside the plastic barrel of her pencil, and the way the pencilled letters would almost, but not quite, scratch through the flimsy newsprinted puzzle, and the hard, smudgy eraser markings left after an errant puzzle entry. This one's a momento from childhood, but still a favorite.

I bought my very own HP-11C scientific calculator in the mid-1980s, which I've used extensively, and have only had to replace the batteries once. I was once told by an engineer that the keys on the HP calculators were designed to "last a lifetime." I'm not sure about that, but they are every bit as good, after more than 25 years of use, as they were when new.

Parker ballpoint pen. A great ballpoint cartridge (smooth writing, tons of ink) in a simple metal and plastic housing that's ultra-reliable. My Dad always used one of these, carried it in his shirt pocket. I can still see his carefully printed letters and numbers as he wrote out checks and balanced his checkbook. Lots of memories here, in a very practical and elegantly styled package. I don't often do lots of writing with ballpoints, but when I do, I reach for the Parker.

When my personal writing style gravitated toward mechanical pencils and fountain pens, I needed something to carry them in. Wandering through a favorite thrift shop, I happened across this Lanvin Studio eyeglass case, made from aluminum and felt-lined, which serves the purpose admirably.

I've owned a few fountain pens over the years, back before the internet when I knew little about their finer points (ahem), and was more in love with the idea of fountain pens than the way that the particular ones I owned actually wrote. Then I discovered the Pelikan piston-refilled pens, which dispensed with cartridges and instead are directly filled from bottled ink. Talk about nice, smooth writing, and the convenience of bottled ink means you never run out, as long as the bottle is near (which I carry in my writer's bag). Really, the piston itself holds about twice what a Cross cartridge contains, so it's pretty good, even without the bottle. I know, there are those bottled ink fans who mix their own colors; I'm not that into it (yet), but do appreciate the way that one can customize one's writing experience, something you just can't do with ballpoints, rollerballs, gell pens and mechanical pencils.

I've owned this Franklin electronic bible for several decades. It has the dictionary module plugged in the back, meaning it also serves up definitions, spelling suggestions and synonyms, besides spiritual riches. It's small and light enough (and the batteries have lasted for decades) that it always accompanies the other writing tools in my writer's bag.

Bic "Wit-Out" correction tape. For use with my three (so far) mechanical typewriters. Indispensible.

When I discovered piston-refill fountain pens, I also discovered the joys of bottled ink. I'm no ink collector; I have too many hobbies and collections as it is, I don't need another. So I chose Parker Quink blue/black ink for its reputation of quality, and blue/black color is ideal for my personal use. There's few things better than seeing a bottle of fountain pen ink almost empty, indicating a well-used pen, and many words written. Except another, fresh bottle, waiting in the wings.

College ruled composition books. They're harder to find (especially at common retail outlets) than wide ruled. These I found at the local university's student bookstore. I snagged a handfull. I love comp books. Good quality paper (they take Parker Quink rather nicely) in a good binding. The thing is, you just don't scribble and tear out sheets, like with natty spiral notebooks. Composition books are intended to stay whole, every page, paragraph, sentence and word is permanent. Put the filled ones up in your bookshelf, as an archive for years later. There's lots of stylish journal books these days from which to choose from, but for my money nothing beats a college-ruled comp book.

AlphaSmart Neo. A word processor in firmware, inside a great keyboard. Four (or six) line LCD display. Enough memory to write a book (literally). Three AA batteries last for several years (about 700 hours) of use. Syncs up to your PC. Will substitute for your PC's keyboard. Each letter, as it's typed, is already saved. Did I mention it's one of the best feeling keyboards you'll ever use? Available from Rennaissance Learning for about $160. This is like the best of typewriter technology, mixed with the best of computer technology. It doesn't surf the internet or do email or play games or anything else but write. Sadly, it's somewhat taken me away from my fountain pens, composition books and manual typewriters. Yes, it's that good.

Merkur shaving kit. For when the whiskers get a bit shaggy. Elegant yet durable metal construction, single-edged, double-sided, platinum-coated, German-made blades that are so thin they flex like paper. Sharp. Did I mention sharp? The cleanest shave I've ever had, short of a straight razor. Forget your four or six-bladed cartridge monstrosities, this is the real deal.

Bialetti stovetop espresso maker. Steam powered coffee. Think steampunk meets the espresso generation. Three simple parts, makes great espresso, genuine Italian. I remember the first time I used it, one recent summer morning. My wife, walking back from the gym, rounded the corner from the sidewalk into our driveway, and could already smell the espresso from outside. Elegant simplicity personified. It's nice to brew up a pot prior to sitting down to write.

(All photos captured in the Lumix G1, 20mm lens at F/1.7, ISO1000 under the light of a single bulb.)


Blogger Duffy Moon said...

Fantastic. Makes me want to respond in-kind.

8:19 AM  
Blogger James Watterson said...

Where to start... Great post, I have been meaning to do something like this.

I have the Mekur HD razor as well. I use the Israel made Personna blades with it, they're amazing and I never, ever cut myself with them.

I have been meaning to get a NEO but my AS2000 has been holding me just fine for now. I will get one soon though because like you said, they are just that good! I see it with the 2000 and can only imagine what a few years of revisions brought to an already amazing device. I have found the 2000 to have an amazing keyboard feel as well and isn't bad coming from the Unicomp, IBM clicky feel. Some of those mushy keyboards that are at school and come with their computers are just plain horrible. I would much rather use my AS any day.

The Parker Jotter, the Fisher, and those Pentel Twist Erase Mechanical pencils are my every day weapons. Specifically the Pentel though. Great great Pencils!

12:46 PM  

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