Charlie’s Pencil has Soccer Balls on It

by Sean RUANE

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.

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