Wednesday, January 7

Pencil Collection

The first time I officially lived with Jenny was in East Williamsburg during the summer between junior and senior year. Before then I had slept on the couch in her on-campus living room, listening to her hamster run-out its late-night energy. In the Brooklyn apartment, she took the bigger room because she had a lot more stuff, and I took the room with access to the fire escape so I could sit outside all day. It was under this arrangement that I first met her pencil collection.

Sometime when she was little, inspired either by her mother or the heroine of a children's book, she began collecting pencils from places she visited, on either vacations or school trips. 15 years later, and she had a robust collection. There were pencils that shimmered and pencils that read, "Jenny," and pencils with huge erasers that were shaped after Disney characters or the branches of a palm tree. Her favorite was a pencil topped with a small clear plastic tube, which held multi-colored pebbles; I think it advertised a science museum.

And I envied it; all the things I had tried to collect when I was younger had disappointed me, and I was certainly too old to start a pencil collection and too impressed to copy her. I made repeated comments on a plan to force my [pending] children to collect pencils, but they came out weird at best.

Sometime during those summer months I went on a two-week trip to Los Angeles to visit my family. I'd call Jenny while I was away to check in on the apartment and because I missed seeing her. I went to the Getty museum and wandered around their gift shop and saw that they were selling commemorative pencils, which I never would have noticed before. The pencils were capped by a fake Grecian coin, and had Greek lettering on the sides. I bought one for Jenny to add to her collection.

From then on, I was intent on finding cool pencils and giving them to Jenny. Surely she was too old to add to her own pencil collection, much in the way I was too old to begin my own, but buying small presents for a friend is ageless! I went to the bookstore Whacko and bought a tan pencil whose large, red eraser made the whole pencil look like a giant match stick. I drove down Hollywood Blvd with my family and made them pull over so I could run into a tourist trap, now confident that places had visors and shotglasses also sold commemorative pencils, and from there I emerged with a pencil featuring a miniature clapper board on one end.

This trip - or extended stay in Los Angeles - I bought Jenny a pencil in the shape and size of a cigarette. The end that you can't sharpen is colored like a filter. Holding it horizontally, one side reads, NO SMOKING, as to spark it up would be to inhale lead; on the other is printed, BE GOODYJAPAN. I wanted to write about it before I gave it to her because it looks like a one-hitter, and I didn't want her to get too excited when she saw it, and then be let down.

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