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You Never Know...
from the fountain pen of Rod Ragner

My parents gave me a Parker ballpoint pen for my eighth grade graduation and I used it throughout four years of high school. The teachers at the parochial school that I attended enjoyed assigning large quantities of home work; I consumed no less than two refills per month and often one each week. I really liked that pen. It had a gray barrel, a brushed aluminum cap and the distinctive Parker arrow clip.

I started college the day after high school graduation and got a part time job as a bellman, courtesy van driver, and weekend maintenance man at a motel to fund my education. Sometime during that first summer semester, I lost my beloved Parker ballpoint. I bought another Parker that looked just like it at the university book store. Unfortunately, it was inferior to the original.

One day I was called to the Front Desk, where the clerk instructed me to drive a guest to the airport. I helped the man into the van and put his luggage in the back. I started the engine, began driving toward the parking lot exit, removed my Parker from my shirt pocket and pushed the button on the pen, then I said some things that I would never want my mother to hear.

As I brought the van to a stop, the passenger asked me what was wrong. After a few seconds, I recovered the pieces of my former pen, handed them to him, apologized for my use of foul language, and, as we resumed our trip to the airport, explained my dismay with the writing instrument. I told my passenger that I was required to record the beginning and ending mileage and purpose of every trip with the courtesy van in a log book. I had intended to use my personal pen to record the odometer reading, but the pen exploded in my hand.

The threads on the barrel had become stripped and the spring caused the barrel, spring, and refill to shoot across the vehicle, leaving only the cap in my hand. I told the man that this was not the first time that one of these Parker pens had broken in this exact same way. I told him about the pen that I used for all four years of high school, how I lost that beloved pen, and how I had been buying a new Parker pen every month for a year. I told him that I was contemplating changing brands, maybe a Sheaffer. But I lived in Wisconsin, not Iowa, so I wanted to purchase something that was made 'locally.'

The man asked me if there was anything different about the new pens. I told him that my original had a rubber barrel, but the new pens had a hard (and brittle) plastic barrel. After replacing the refill a few times, the threads on the barrel would become worn by the threads in the metal cap, to the point that the threads on the barrel would become stripped.

I watched in the rearview mirror as the man carefully inspected the pieces of my former pen. He then asked, "may I have this?" I said, "sure, but why would you want it?" The man smiled and said, "because I am the President of Parker Pen Company." Then he removed a beautiful solid gold pen from his coat pocket and asked my name. After a few nervous seconds, I told the man my true name, but I was not feeling to good at that moment.

I walked on pins and needles the rest of that week. If the man had not lied to me, then the motel manager might soon call me into his office and reprimand me for what I had said about the poor quality of Parker pens.

A week later I had decided that the man must have lied and that I was not going to be in trouble. Then I was called to the front office. The manager told me to come into his office and close the door, then he asked me if I knew anyone at Parker Pen. I became worried that I was about to be fired. When I replied "no," he held up a package addressed to me in care of the motel, with a return address of Parker Pen in Janesville, WI. He reminded me that it was strictly forbidden for employees to receive packages at work and he insisted that I open the package in front of him. When I asked him why, he told me that he did not want to be any part of trafficking in illegal drugs - I was a college student and it was the 1970's after all.

In the package we found two Parker ballpoint pens (with rubber barrels) and a note that simply said, "I hope you like these." I laughed and told the manager that it was probably a tip. When he looked at me quizzically, I told him that I had taken a man who worked for Parker to the airport the previous week. I did not tell the manager about the exploding pen or that the man claimed to be the President of Parker - I figured that was more information than he really needed to know.

I lost the pen with the black barrel while on a vacation in Canada in 1983 and the pen with the gray barrel on the island of Cozumel in 1991.

I have no proof that the man was the President of Parker. But, then why send me a pair of pens? Maybe he did work for Parker or maybe he was just wanted to "pull my leg" one more time. Unfortunately, I may never know the whole truth (twenty five years later).

I do not always keep my opinions to myself, but I do try to be more careful with whom I share them.

Copyright (c) Rod Ragner, 2001. All rights reserved.

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