"A writer's got to feel the ink, you know."
The first thing Eddie said that day was not
Exactly calculated to astound
Me with his brilliance. I was tempted at
That moment just to write him off as one
More hack to be endured along the way.
I smiled inside and told myself that I'd
Be signing Eddie's paychecks by July.
Since this was February, you will see
That my assessment of my boss was none
Too high. Or maybe I, as was my wont,
had pegged myself a notch or two above
The level clearer vision saw for me.
I chuckled once again when Eddie reached
Into his drawer, rummaged back and forth,
And came up with a fountain pen, an old
And battered clunker, so it seemed,
And started checking galleys--with that pen!
I sidled closer. Eddie raised his eyes
To me and said, "The ink. I meant it when
I said a writer's got to feel the ink."
He offered me his pen. I took it from
Him slowly, scared I'd drop it. I had no
Idea what Eddie meant. I took a sheet
Of typing paper, scratched a line or two,
And made as if examining the pen.
I realized at once that it was not
A junker. I had thought it scratched and worn,
But what I saw was chasing, all around
The cap and barrel. And the nib was gold.
It gleamed, and I could see that somebody,
Most likely Eddie, loved that pen. I read
The name of Parker on the clip. I looked
A little closer, saw a date: Sep 5-
16. "A Jack-Knife," Eddie said. But that
Meant nothing, not to me. I nodded, gave
The pen to Eddie, turned, and found my desk.
This really wasn't what I'd had in mind
Applying here to work the daily beat.
In any case, that day began a long
Relationship. As weeks went by, I grew
Accustomed, bright and early every day,
To step across the bullpen, hand outstretched,
To take whatever stories Eddie had
For me. He should have seen the easy way
I put a twist on everyday events
To draw the human interest out, but I
Was positive that I was getting just
The little fillers that would run below
the fold. One day in June I had a chance
To talk with Eddie over coffee. "Why,"
I asked, "do I get stuck with all the junk?"
"Remember what I said to you the day
You came? A writer's got to feel the ink,
I said, but you, you write your stuff with just
A keyboard, letting that big Royal sap
Your soul in trade for speed. You've got all day
To turn it in, you're done by two, and then
You're off to sniff at someone else's desk."
"But why's that wrong? My stuff is good," I said,
A little proudly. "You're a pro, or ought
To be," he said. "It's not enough to sling
Good ink, you have to put your heart in what
You say. A cub reporter, fresh from school,
Can throw the bull as well as you. But you,
I see in you potential, something tells
Me Pulitzer if you'll just take your time.
Now listen close to me. I've got a way
To slow you down, to make you take your time.
You want to try?" I couldn't tell him no,
At least until I had another job
Lined up. "Okay," I said, "I'll try it for
A couple days. And if it works, I'll keep
On doing it, whatever it might be."
He got right up and went back over to
His desk. He dug into the drawer the way
I'd seen him do that February day.
He handed me a dull brown pen that looked
As if it should have been a different shade.
"A Sheaffer Lifetime." Eddie pointed at
The pen, continuing, "It once was green,
But that old plastic stains like crazy when
The sac lets go, and when it doesn't, too."
I must have looked confused. "The pen's just fine,"
He smiled. "And here's some ink. I think you'll like
This blue-black Skrip. It's new old stock, you know,
And just as good today as forty years
Ago." I took the bottle, but I had
No faintest clue about what I should do.
"Okay," he said, "now watch." He took the pen
And ink and opened up the bottle, then
He stuck the pen point in the ink. He pulled
A lever on the pen, and bubbles rose
Beside the point. He moved the lever back,
And counted five. A little shake, and then
He wiped the point with kleenex. When he had
It clean enough, he capped the pen and gave
It back to me. "Now write with this. I want
To see your next week's stories all in pen."
I did it. After smudging half a sheet,
I figured out that lefties have to write
With care. But after that it went so smooth
I soon forgot that I was taking twice
As long to write a piece. I skipped my lunch;
I went home late. "A writer's got to feel
The ink," my boss had said to me. And when
I handed up my work for setting, I
Could tell him honestly I understood.
And when I'd done a week of stories, well,
I gave the pen back. "I can buy my own,"
I said. "I think it's worth the money. Thanks."
"Oh, no," he said, "you need this pen. You can't
Just buy a pen like this. There's something to
A vintage pen, a pen that's shared a life
Or two and written out the hearts of those
Who owned it. No, my boy, you keep this pen."
I swear I saw a glint in Eddie's eye,
A momentary tear. And then he asked
A favor. Thirty years it's been, and now
He's gone. Computers own the newsroom now,
But I still have my pens, a dozen, two,
Or maybe three. My Pulitzer? I wrote
That piece with Eddie's Lifetime. Now it's time
To pass it on, so here--you take the pen,
And write your stuff, a solid week at least,
And see if you can learn to feel the ink.
(c) 2000 Richard F. Binder