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Shell Shocked: My life as a pen thief

By Staff | Jun 4, 2019

Art Stevens

I’m a pen thief. There, I said it and got it out of my system. I take pens wherever and whenever I find them.

When I sign into a doctor’s office there are usually cups filled with pens at the receptionist’s desk. When she’s not looking I put a few in my pocket.

When I’m turning in my credit card at a restaurant, I usually keep the pen I’m provided with to pay the bill.

The only time I don’t steal pens is when I’m at a store that sells them. I have no desire to plead guilty to grand theft and spend thirty days in jail or do community service at a stationery store.

Why do I steal pens? Maybe because it’s the easiest crime to get away with. It’s one thing stealing jewelry. It’s quite another thing to steal a pen. My wife tried to discourage me when I would come home from some appointment with my pockets bulging with pens. “Why do you keep doing this? You must have a thousand pens in your desk drawers. You’ll never be able to use them all in your lifetime. Are you going to leave your pens to a charity? I’m sure they all have enough pens and don’t need yours.”

I told her that I agreed with her and would try to stop. But once at that same doctor’s office with the cup of shiny, inviting writing utensils staring me in the face, I would do it again. I must confess that there was a reason I kept stealing pens. I simply didn’t want a ball point pen to run out of ink without another pen to replace it. I had already had a few embarrassing experiences that contributed to making me a pen thief.

I originally started stealing a few pens to make sure I always had a working pen handy. Before my crime spree began pens would run out of ink before I had replacements available. I began to pile up the number of pens I would keep in my desk drawer as insurance against the day that I needed a pen and none were available.

Call it a fetish, an addiction, a compulsion – whatever you like. But not having a pen that worked became an obsession. I’d wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat worrying that the active pen on my desk would produce words that weren’t readable. That the letters would be half blank and half ink making whatever I wrote totally illegible.

There were times that this indeed happened to me. I would purchase an item in a department store and when it came time to sign my name on the credit card receipt, nothing came out of the pen. I would press hard, put saliva on the tip of the pen, shake it – but nothing worked. The store clerk would give me a quizzical look as though I was attempting to forge my signature. I would smile meekly and say that the pen doesn’t work.

She would try it and it would produce ink on her command. What was I doing wrong? Can such an inanimate object be instantly repelled by my handling of it that it would purposely and spitefully not do what it was created for?

I once went to a bank to cash a check. I had forgotten to endorse it on the back. The bank teller gave me a pen to complete this banking requirement. I pressed, I tugged, I pleaded silently, I complimented the pen on its fine form but it refused to release ink. It volunteered tiny tantalizing spurts of ink that would bolster my confidence only to stop squirting as one or two letters appeared.

I tried my best to endorse the check but what appeared on the back of the check was gibberish – a few letters followed by blank space followed by letters and more blank space. The teller looked at my signature and her look said it all. Doesn’t this guy know how to sign his name? After a tense discussion with the bank manager I was allowed to find another pen that worked and did my best to fill in the blank spaces with the rest of the letters in my name.

Is it any wonder then that every time I need to use a pen I’m filled with angst, paranoia and dread? Pens hate me and won’t work for me. I can’t use computers for everything, you know. There are times when only a pen will do and my need for multiple back up pens has increased over time.

As sure as I’m spilling my guts out here I know that there will come a day when I simply won’t have enough pens at home to cure myself of my pen phobia. I’m presently preparing architectural plans to build a new room that will house all the pens that I presently hoard and the tens of thousands to come. Maybe that step alone will stop my nightmares.