When I was but a young TRex, this was the time of year I dreaded the most. Summer had flown and school was about to begin. It wasn’t so much school I hated as other kids, really. Well, and being told what to do all the time. (I know you’d never guess it, but my relationship with authority has always been a little rocky.)
When I was a lad, and many of you will remember this yourselves, our summers were not rigorously structured into camps, workshops, off-season athletic practices, or French lessons. Summer came and our parents basically kicked us out of the house with our bicycles in the morning and reeled us in at dinner time, sunburned, bug-bitten, and exhausted.
I loved summer because it meant that I would have vast, uninterrupted spans of time to read. The public library was my favorite place in the world from June to August. Mom would drive us over there and turn us loose for an hour and then we’d head home with more books than we could possibly read in six months, let alone a week, and then the next week, we would repeat the process.
In between were hours and hours to read, write, dream, listen to music, and avoid the other little savages in my neighborhood as much as possible. My mom let us stay up late and sleep in if we wanted, and we basically would spend the summers as a family of happily engaged readers, meeting for meals and occasional trips to the pool or out of town to our grandparents’ place in North Carolina where there was a public library that I liked even better than the one at home.
But then came September, inevitably, just like it does every year. I would start fretting about it around the Fourth of July, actually. ("Summer’s halfway gone! Have I read enough? Have I done enough with this season of freedom before I must go back and face The Beast? I wonder if third grade will be any better than second…")
August would wend its way toward Labor Day and I knew that my halcyon days of independence were numbered. The terrific ordeal of shopping for school clothes was close at hand. I would have to put on shoes again and comb my hair and grind my teeth through the tedium of reviewing all the crap from last year ("HOW MANY TIMES are they going to tell us what a FREAKING NOUN is?!").
My father knew, however, that there was one sure way to bait the trap and get me and my brother to come along quietly.
I don’t know if it’s just a product of being raised by a pair of Ph.D.’s or what, but I love the school supplies aisle of any drug store or supermarket more than any other location in the store. I get all weak-kneed for new notebooks, blue ultra-fine-point Sharpies, freshly sharpened pencils (or better yet, fancy mechanical pencils), erasers, folders, stationery, and most importantly, fountain pens and bottles of ink.
Now, these days, you have to go out of your way to get a decent fountain pen. Sadly, they are falling out of use as anything more than pocket jewelry for wealthy men, and I think that’s a shame. Of course, a great number of them are ridiculously overpriced, but when you bear in mind that these are permanent tools that you will write with for years, they kind of take on an entirely different meaning than your average biro.
Okay, I confess. I am a fountain pen junkie. I have about fifty of them, all different kinds from street level student pens to a couple of luxury items, a bunch of antiques from the forties, fifties, and sixties, and some oddities that I have found at flea markets and estate sales.
The one at the top of this post is a MonteVerde Mauna Kea, named for a volcano in Hawaii. It was half-price and I had a $40 credit with the company I bought it from, so I basically spent ten dollars on it. It should be here tomorrow. Now I just need to track down a bottle of Pelikan blue-black ink and I will be ready for fall.
Even if I will not find myself sitting bored and sweaty in a classroom this week in new shoes that pinch and tuning out the sound of some teacher who is the poster child for ennui, there is still a sense of limitless possibility in a fresh white stack of paper, a new pen brimming with ink, and a head full of ideas. Here’s to fall! And school supplies!