Pencil fetish

Jan. 9, 1995
My pencil fetish began after a teacher tried to prepare us for a test by telling of a student who only took a couple of pencils to an important test. Both points broke. The kid twiddled his thumbs through the rest of the test he should have passed. The teacher shook her head and said, “I would have chewed the end off those pencils before I flunked that test.”

I’m not into chewing pencils, so I decided to make certain I had plenty of sharpened extras. That became a problem as an college freshman. The grammar and composition professor at the community college I attended insisted we use pencils. There were no pencil sharpeners on campus for general use. When I couldn’t find a store with a pencil sharpener, I bought a small jack knife, only to discover it needed sharpening and I couldn’t sharpen-it either.

When my dad visited, he showed me how to sharpen the knife on the cement, took me to a department store to buy a hand-held pencil sharpener. I was ready for class and any attack of petty pencil thieves.

Years later, as an older student majoring in math, I developed the habit of stuffing stray pencils in my cosmetic bag -just in case. When an arts class of 30 students was asked to answer a survey with pencils, I pulled out the converted cosmetic bag and stopped the general search for pencils. Although most of the pencils I handed out were the traditional, hexagonal, yellow No. 2 lead pencils, a choice few I trusted with my treasured rounded pencils. I wanted to be sure I had those for tests. Round pencils know all the right answers.

I let my son in on the secret one morning. He was looking for an extra pencil for his test in third grade math. I pulled out the cosmetic- pencil bag and took out a white, round pencil. “What you need is this pencil. I have used it on tests and for taking notes. It knows all the answers.”

“Really! All right. Thanks.” He passed the test, too. After all that, my child eventually dared reject my favorites for those plastic tubes with a horrible clicker that advances the lead. I’ll never believe those are REAL pencils. They cost too much and that tiny little point feels like about a No. one-half.
I’m not sure that all wood pencils qualify either. My son paused in his packing up for college last week to study his Christmas gift: a package of round pencils stamped with pictures of “nerds”. I guess, if I did not look at the faces, I could use that kind of pencil. After all they are round.

But those triangular shaped pencils with the wood impregnated with purple, orange and yellow dyes, and painted in clashing colors! I don’t know if I could use them. They not only look weird, they feel weird. But not so weird that if I were heading out for another test in math, and those were the only pencils I could find, that I would leave them behind. I know I would stuff them in my bag. That teacher made her point with me.