They don’t make pencils like they used to. I discover that this morning after I grab a tall black one because I cannot read without a pencil in my hand. I curl up under warm fleece with A Walker in the City. Somewhere after the tenth page I shift positions and automatically lift the sharpened wooden tip to my mouth. I remember from my childhood the smell and taste of pencil wood — three-number multiplication and long division problems and in between the multiplying or adding or subtracting biting into that soft, scented wood. I set it on my tongue, put my teeth on it, and bite down.
No bite marks. No sinking in. No distinctive taste. The wood must be too hard. I look at the pencil and frown and then put it sideways in my mouth. Surely my molars can make a dent. I remember kids’ pencils in grade school all bitten into and rough, and how I hated to touch one after someone had chewed on it up and down. I can’t seem to make bite marks in this one and that is somewhat disturbing.
I go upstairs to my office desk where there’s an old Florida Queen Perfecto box in the first drawer, full of old pens and pencils that my husband accumulated years ago, and I have left there and never used. The first one I pull out is a four-inch stub of silver with the Alcoa logo on it in blue. He worked at the Pittsburgh headquarters for eighteen years. Next to the cigar box, I find an old business card that says, Manager, Corporate Procurement Services. I think of the research project he was asked to do after he went to work there in the late sixties. Alcoa wanted to produce an aluminum pen stylus instead of whatever metal was being used at the time, and he pulled together all the facts and made a recommendation that this would not be practical or profitable because the industry seemed to be going in the direction of plastic. Right after that, all the Bics and others came out with their plastic insides filled with ink. He was so damn smart.
So I pick up the silver Alcoa and lay its sharpened wood in my mouth and breathe in the smell of real wood and my teeth easily sink in. I am taken back to what used to be.