As a kid, I wanted a secret life. I knew I wasn't in the same league as Batman, Superman and Green Arrow, so being a superhero was out of the question. Thus I settled on being a spy.
Ultimately, spies were cooler than superheroes anyway. They couldn't fly, breathe underwater or see through walls, neither could I. So since we poor mortals were doomed when it came to otherworldly powers, I figured why aspire to them in the first place.
But spies, on the other hand, were real live people, just like me. OK, so they weren't just like me, but you get my drift. Point is, while I cold never bend steel bars or pick up cars, I could parachute into East Germany, pass for a native, find out vital military secrets and then send them back home in Morse code. Or at least, since spies were humans, I could imagine I could.
Plus, when it came to outfits? No aspersions intended, but the superheroes and their tights and capes were just tootootoo alternative lifestyle for an authentic Adirondack kid like yours truly. Trench coats and fedoras, however, were right up my alley.
I bought a crappy little tin telescope and on summer nights I spied on my neighbors. Or at least I tried to. The sad truth is their lives were as humdrum as mine - at least when their shades were up.
Eventually, when I became just one more cog in society's Great Wheel, I abandoned my dream of a secret life - until very recently.
It wasn't something that happened in a big way; in fact, I didn't even realize it was happening until years after it started. And if not for a comment from the Amazon Queen, I probably wouldn't have realized it at all.
We were in my living room drinking coffee, when suddenly she said, "Hey, where'd all those pens come from?"
"Pens?" I asked. "What pens?"
"What pens?" she asked, pointing to my shelf. "All those pens you've got stuffed in that mayonnaise jar, that's what pens."
"Ohyeah," I said, on the defensive. "Those pens."
And suddenly my secret life was secret no more.
What I'd been doing for years, but hadn't realized it was picking up pens that I found. And of course, once I picked them up, I kept them.
I don't remember how or when it started - as I said, I wasn't even aware of my home stash till the AQ pointed it out. I only know I've now got a full-blown case of CPS (Compulsive Pen Scrounging).
I realize some people might think it's weird - I know I did at first. I mean, really, a gainfully-employed senior citizen picking up detritus, even literary detritus of sorts? It sounds almost as sleazy as picking up cigarette butts and half-eaten candy bars. But ultimately, not only isn't it weird - it's downright sensible.
First, I'm acting as a good, concerned citizen. Since those pens'll never biodegrade, in my own little way I'm keeping America green.
Second, I'm way ahead of the recycling curve. Once rescued from their aboveground crypts, the pens are resurrected to write another day. Either I write with them, or I lend them to others (and you might be amazed if not horrified to discover how many college students go to class without pens not to mention, pencils, paper, books and clues).
And third, I get a whole lot of kicks from my found pens.
Of course, I've bought pens, and those are the ones I use most often. As far as writing instruments go, they're fairly expensive, but since they're the tools of my trade, their cost is in line with their efficiency and longevity.
But let's face it: In a lot of ways, as my headshrinker friend Russ Sheffrin might observe, sometimes a pen is just a pen. The ones I find, while not as fancy as my others, still work well enough. And that's my source of delight: Every pen writes differently, so if one day I feel like writing with a black ink, extra-fine point with a thick barrel, I can. And if an hour later I want to switch to a blue ink, medium-point with a soft barrel, I can do that. And ditto for all sorts of other colors, points, widths, flows and darn near everything.
As a matter of fact, I started writing this column with something called a Bic Soft Feel black point, and I finished it with a Uni Power Tank 1.0.
Finally, my no-longer-secret life epitomizes serendipity at its best, since I never actually look for the pens. Instead, I wait for them to reveal themselves to me. It's a strange and wondrous process which adds a touch of adventure and delight to otherwise mundane days.
Will I ever stop being a one-Dope pen search-and-rescue squad? I doubt it. If anything, my trashmo pen jones has become a fact of life.
But if it changes, I can see only one way it will - when I start picking up pencils as well.