Halloween is upon us, and this year I almost went dressed as a Smurf. Believe me, it was not intentional. Yes, I was a misguided fan of the little creatures back when I was nine, though I cured myself totally of it after eating only one bowl of Smurfberry Crunch cereal in 1982. So I hadn’t planned to revisit those days ever again, but here’s what happened.
Last week I was in my office grading essays. My pen of choice is the Pilot Precise V7 Rollerball Fine Blue. I use blue because I was told once that red ink traumatizes young adults when they see it marked all over their essays. So, out of the deep sensitivity of my heart, I grade in blue. It is cool and soothing. And while my students seem to be slightly less sensitive to the many ways in which I am traumatized by their punctuation, I will continue to use blue ink to soften the blow when I have to tell them that a certain sentence should be taken out and shot.
But let’s get back to the story. So I’m grading away with my Pilot Precise V7 Rollerball Fine Blue. Did you know, by the way, that V7s cost $1.88 apiece? A five-pack is nearly $10, and you don’t want to hear about the 12-count box. But when a man is reduced to buying pens off the rack, he picks the most upscale brand he can swing.
Even worse, the English department does not subsidize my ink supply, and since I grade nearly 1,100 essays per year, I’ve got steep out-of-pocket expenses. Not a bit of grant money or fundraising is available for something as mundane as pens. So freshmen, consider that the next time you contemplate omitting the hyphen from a compound adjective preceding the noun. That tiny little mark I have to insert in your paper costs me about an eighth of a cent. It adds up quick, buddy.
Anyway, as I was saying, I was at my desk last week putting blue comments on essays. One other limitation of the Pilot Precise V7 Rollerball Fine Blue (which, incidentally, was the present little Ralphie wanted in the first draft of “A Christmas Story”) is that they tend to run out of ink after a week of hard grading. And that’s exactly what happened to me last Wednesday. I was just about to strike out yet another singular “they” when my pen started to fade.
Knowing how much it costs, and knowing how much heavy correcting it has to do, you can understand why I cannot let a pen go without a fight. On this particular day, I was in a fighting mood. Normally when a V7 is running dry, I pick up the pen and gently jostle it, much as you would gingerly squeeze the last of the Crest Cool Mint Gel to the top of the tube.
But this day, after an especially rough round of comma splices, I got a little too violent. I actually lifted the pen above my head and shook it vigorously up and down, much as you would jog a bottle of lemon-scented Cascade Complete detergent when you know there is just enough left at the bottom for another rinse cycle. However, there is a warning on the package of the Pilot Precise V7 Rollerball. It says, “Do not shake vigorously.”
I first realized my folly when I saw a string of blue dots running across the paper I was grading. Then I saw that the dot-splatter pattern extended across the entire desk, up a box of Kleenex and onto the wall opposite my chair. Several pictures on the wall had also been doused, but the collateral damage did not end there. My favorite L.L. Bean Wrinkle-Free French Blue Classic Oxford shirt was now polka-dotted, as were my favorite slacks. My left hand bore the brunt of the ink spill, with 14 separate smudges, one of which has yet to come out. And such was my reckless fury — such the scope of my wrath — that somehow I managed to get a half-inch blue streak on the back of my neck.
It was a huge mess. Had Cookie Monster turned up dead last Wednesday, there would have been enough evidence in my office to label me a “person of interest.”
In his novel “Bleak House,” Charles Dickens satirizes an overbearing activist who forces her 10-year-old daughter to write fund-raising letters day-in and day-out. Dickens describes the poor girl’s appearance like this, “I suppose nobody ever was in such a state of ink.” Last week, I was in that very state, as if Jackson Pollock had opened a tattoo parlor. Now I’ll just have to wait until all this blue skin fades, and try to stay away from Gargamel in the meantime.