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Shell Shocked: The Sanibel pen thief

By Staff | Jun 8, 2016

Once upon a time there lived in Sanibel a pen thief. We will call him Harry.

Wherever Harry would go he would be on the lookout for pens and steal one. He would steal pens from restaurants, hotel rooms, business offices, ticket counters, banks, doctors’ offices and even classrooms.

Harry would map out locations the way a bank robber sizes up banks. Harry would plan his schedule to include facilities that had multiple pens no matter where the journey would take him.

Was Harry a voracious writer and needed pens to keep up with his flow of words? No.

Was Harry a mathematician who needed multiple pens to create equations and logarithms by the score? No.

Was Harry a manuscript copycat whose talent was recreating original documents like the Declaration of Independence? No.

Harry was none of these professionals for whom pens meant everything. No. Harry was a plumber. Harry needed wrenches, pipes and plungers. But, he certainly didn’t need pens to contain leaks and flooding. Then why did Harry steal pens? Because they were there. That happens to be the same response infamous bank robber Willie Sutton gave when he was asked why he robbed banks.

How did Harry’s fetish with pens begin you might ask? Was he bereft of pens when he was a child? Was he the only kid in grade school who didn’t have a pen? Did he learn how to read and write later in life? None of these. Harry became a pen thief the first time he visited Woolworth’s as a child.

His mom was busy picking out some beauty cream and took her eyes off Harry. Harry wandered through the legendary five and ten cent store and made his way to the stationery department. There he witnessed an older boy shoplifting expertly. The older boy was putting such items as coloring books, pink balls, and marbles into his oversized pockets. No one paid any attention to the older boy.

Harry stared at the shoplifter in awe. He thought that the older boy, not only acquired items of interest to a boy that age, but was also having a great deal of fun in the process. Harry watched the boy casually leave the store without being caught and thought to himself that he could do that too.

Harry’s mom was now trying on a summer hat, so Harry decided to try his luck at shoplifting. It seemed to be his calling. He wandered through the same department the older boy had, but didn’t see anything he wanted to own. And then he saw the pens. They were all ball point pens and came in different shapes, sizes and colors. The pens called out to Harry. “Take me home, Harry, you need us,” they seemed to say.

Harry looked around and saw that no one was watching him. He ran his fingers lightly around a blue Bic and quickly closed his hand on it. The pen was safe and snug inside his hand. Harry put his hand in one of his pockets and the Bic settled there.

This was the defining moment for Harry. He looked around again and still no one was paying any attention to him. He did it a second time, a third time, a fourth time. Suddenly he had 10 pens in his pocket. He strolled away from the pen section and rejoined his mom who was just checking out with an assortment of beauty products, hats, sun glasses and Ex-Lax.

The two left the store and Harry said nothing to his mom about his adventure, or that of the older boy before him. Harry caressed the pens in his pocket, took them home and put them in a cigar box. That cigar box became the recipient of Harry’s new collection of pens. When Harry got older and moved into his own home he had absconded with about 10,000 pens. He never showed those pens to anyone. They remained hidden and never used.

The fact is that Harry never used his pens. They were simply his collection regardless of where he needed to go to gather them illicitly. Harry the pen thief was never caught. But, after a long life as a successful plumber in Sanibel Harry passed on one day. He left his collection of pens to the Library of Congress, which had to build a new wing to house all of them. The legend of Harry only increased as time passed. He was referred to as the pen thief who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. There’s a plaque in the Library of Congress that is dedicated to Harry’s memory. It reads: “Harry’s pens are mightier than his swords.”

Amen, Harry. Rest in peace.

-Art Stevens is a long-time columnist for The Islander. His tongue-in-cheek humor is always offered with a smile.