Johnny America


Char­lie’s Pen­cil has Soc­cer Balls on It


Charlie’s pen­cil with soc­cer balls on it is ex­tra nice. It has both a se­date busi­ness side that al­lows him to write and then to erase, and then to write again, on pa­per, and it al­so has a dev­il-may-care side, qui­et­ly and whim­si­cal­ly in­form­ing peo­ple that he, Char­lie, plays fast and loose with so­cial mores and gives not a fly­ing fuck for Rudy’s but­toned down pol­i­tics or his games of in­dus­trio-cor­po­rate grab-ass.

This pen­cil is a num­ber three, not one of the in­sti­tu­tion­al, num­ber-two, urine-test yel­lows of his for­ma­tive years. Char­lie thinks that the num­ber three dif­fus­es a cer­tain eru­dite charm and when peo­ple see him us­ing it they of­ten crease their fore­heads and tell him that he has tak­en his in­de­pen­dent think­ing too far. They of­ten cite anec­do­tal ev­i­dence and ap­peal with a school marmish per­sis­ten­cy that a dis­re­gard for the num­ber two pen­cil is tan­ta­mount to a com­mu­nis­tic worldview.

Rudy told him that it is like us­ing a piece of a cook­out char­coal to take a pap smear. A fine doc­tor could use it, sure, but there are far bet­ter, far more ap­pro­pri­ate tools for the task.

Char­lie smiled and con­tin­ued to write, know­ing that he was hav­ing a smooth writ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Num­ber threes have a bet­ter clay to graphite ra­tio, and in terms of hard­ness, a num­ber three is far less flac­cid than the ubiq­ui­tous Ticon­dero­ga stan­dard num­ber two or even the San­ford HB‑2 which, by the way, he’s been known to snap in two over his thigh, some­times in­to more nu­mer­ous pieces if it is fresh from the box and his thighs aren’t sore.

He’s tried the Dixon Ori­ole no.2 and found that it lacked the smooth ac­tion of even your ba­sic off-the-shelf no.3, and the Sta­ples Brand House 2‑Deluxe with vul­can­ized rub­ber cut-away fin­ger sup­port felt and wrote like a pros­thet­ic limb.

This pen­cil, the one Char­lie takes to meet­ings, is a Pet­ros­ki 2nd Gen­er­a­tion Thore­au no.3. It com­pris­es a thin shaft har­vest­ed from sun-ripened, rain-kissed, Cal­i­for­nia In­cense-Cedar planks and stuffed with a pro­pri­etary blend of clay and graphite.

The ra­tio is se­cret, but it fa­vors clay.

Pet­ros­ki him­self ded­i­cat­ed hun­dreds of man hours to the fail­ure analy­sis of his Thore­au edi­tion, and this sec­ond gen­er­a­tion mod­el is no longer prone to the no­to­ri­ous splin­ter­ing found in the pro­to­type. Pet­ros­ki ar­gued that many of the in­juries sus­tained from what the press dubbed his “frag­men­ta­tion pen­cil” could be traced back to user er­ror. Twen­ty years fol­low­ing his death, how­ev­er, Pet­ros­ki Labs vin­di­cat­ed his the­o­ry through vig­or­ous dou­ble-blind stud­ies and Auger Elec­tron Spec­troscopy, a tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance un­avail­able dur­ing his day.

Many peo­ple don’t know these facts, but Char­lie does.

Charlie’s Thore­au hap­pens to come from a box of twen­ty-four, the spe­cial Pet­ros­ki World-Cup Edi­tion and it is way nicer than Rudy’s Faber-Castell no.2 ‘Take-Me-Out-To-The-Ball­game’ Base­ball-Bat Ju­nior Graphite Slugger.

Char­lie told Rudy that his pen­cil made him look like a jack­ass swing­ing a fun­go bat and Rudy bristled.

Rudy, not to be out­done, ac­cused Char­lie of look­ing like the sports man­ag­er slash score­keep­er of a spe­cial needs girl’s soc­cer team.

There was bristling from Charlie.

Char­lie ac­cused Rudy of hold­ing his pen­cil too tight­ly. Rudy was grip­ping it with all the pent up zeal of a re­cov­er­ing onanist, claimed Char­lie, and then Rudy re­tort­ed, claim­ing that Char­lie com­mand­ed his Thore­au with the same bored, loose grip as a woman of class, pre­sid­ing over a game of bridge, light­ly hold­ing the ivory cig­a­rette hold­er that her hus­band gave her.

Charlie’s fist tight­ened around the Thore­au and it broke in­to two splin­ter-free pieces. Char­lie got up from the con­fer­ence ta­ble and walked slow­ly to­wards the far end of the con­fer­ence room where the pen­cil sharp­en­er was fas­tened. Through­out his walk to­wards the sharp­en­er and dur­ing the sub­se­quent sharp­en­ing, Char­lie stared over his right shoul­der at Rudy, who was try­ing hard to sti­fle a church laugh. Char­lie used his right arm to slow­ly turn the sharp­en­er crank. He made eight cranks, four for each bro­ken piece, and re­turned to the con­fer­ence ta­ble wear­ing, Rudy thought, the un­touch­ably smug look of a vis­it­ing diplomat.

Now, he said, I have two pen­cils that are bet­ter than yours.

Rudy’s face burned with the in­ten­si­ty of one-hun­dred fif­teen stop lights.

He reached for his water.

Hav­ing a bet­ter pen­cil than you makes me thirsty, he said.

Char­lie opened the pris­tine prop note­book that he car­ries to meet­ings and in a blend­ed dis­play of chi­ro­graph­ic show­man­ship and Broad­way ar­ro­gance, Char­lie be­gan draw­ing lit­tle cir­cles, then spi­rals, then more cir­cles, each hand light­ly grip­ping a pen­cil stub and work­ing independently.

When he fin­ished Char­lie flipped the pen­cils back­wards and slid one be­hind each ear, gun­slinger-style, and held up the note­book to show Rudy.

Char­lie beamed a one-hun­dred six­teen can­dle­pow­er smile at Rudy who just sat there, gap­ing, mes­mer­ized by the solemn brazen­ness of Charlie’s im­promp­tu chiaroscuro.

The shad­ing, Rudy ad­mit­ted to him­self, was mag­nif­i­cent. The grays that hung up­on that pa­per were of the sort sel­dom seen in re­al life and Rudy be­gan to think that the no. 3 pen­cil was per­haps the con­duit to some high­er plane of reality.

Then Rudy got re­al mad.

He seized a per­ma­nent mark­er from Hen­ri­et­ta, that over­con­fi­dent bim­bo, and be­gan draw­ing lit­tle black teeth all over his hands and knuckles.

Rudy, in bla­tant dis­re­gard for Mr. McAllister’s slide pre­sen­ta­tion, lurched across the ta­ble to­wards Char­lie, who was still sit­ting back in his chair, smil­ing the smile of a cor­rupt croupier.

Char­lie caught one on the nose and his eyes start­ed to tear up.

Hen­ri­et­ta grabbed a blue dry-erase mark­er and tried stab­bing Rudy in the neck, but Rudy licked his thumb and wiped off the attack.

Gi­a­co­mo, the pro­jec­tion­ist, re­moved his glass­es and twist­ed his me­chan­i­cal pen­cil in­to at­tack mode.

Leonard, at­tempt­ing to cre­ate a smoke­screen, clapped two erasers to­geth­er, and head­ed for the door, but, be­ing dry-erasers, they emit­ted no dust.

Fat Leonard looked sil­ly clap­ping his hands to­geth­er like a cir­cus seal and run­ning to­wards the door. Every­one but Gi­a­co­mo stopped to en­joy Leonard’s slow mo­tion pan­tomime of an escape.

Gi­a­co­mo got Leonard.

Af­ter­wards, Hen­ri­et­ta got her­self kicked in the groin by Char­lie, who was aim­ing for Rudy.

Pen­cils and feel­ings and noses were broken.

Mr. McAl­lis­ter start­ed to get re­al mad at every­one and yelled a lot, par­tic­u­lar­ly at Rudy and Gi­a­co­mo, whom he be­lieved were in ca­hoots. Mr. McAl­lis­ter has a pen that was cus­tom made from the jaw­bone of a Con­golese war­lord, pro­cured for him by his friend in Bel­gium, some­time dur­ing the sixties.

He took this pen out of his jack­et pock­et and re­moved the cap.

Every­one knew what he was get­ting at.

Char­lie, who was zip­ping up his pen­cil case, knew; ad­just­ing a Wind­sor knot, blue-thumbed Rudy un­der­stood, too; Hen­ri­et­ta, rub­bing her kicked groin, bowed her head in shame; Gi­a­co­mo turned off the pro­jec­tor and be­gan to put it away, shrug­ging off the whole thing, busi­ness as usual.

Mr. McAl­lis­ter was sore with the whole of­fice and the whole of­fice was sore at Rudy for his hot-head­ed pride.

No­body was mad at Leonard, though, be­cause Gi­a­co­mo got him while he was running.

Mr. McAl­lis­ter won­dered out loud about Benjamin.

No­body knows who got Benjamin.

Rudy and Char­lie no­ticed that Roger didn’t have a scratch on him and scarce­ly moved a mus­cle, even as the con­fer­ence ta­ble was jos­tled and kicked. He just sat there clutch­ing his cof­fee with both hands as if were fire­side co­coa, watching.

Rudy and Char­lie ex­changed looks when they ob­served Roger’s pen­cil; it was a thick, three sided af­fair that, de­spite the tur­moil, moved not an inch.

Char­lie called it a mariner’s pencil.

Rudy said it was a carpenter’s pencil.

They looked at each oth­er, then at Mr. McAl­lis­ter, then at the floor.

With the qui­et eyes of a prophet who has seen it all be­fore, Roger just looked at them all from over the brim of his cof­fee cup. And then he smiled.

Filed under Fiction on November 29th, 2007

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