As For the Peasant So For the Pilot

“The machine which at first blush seems a means of isolating man from the great problems of nature, actually plunges him more deeply into them. As for the peasant so for the pilot, dawn and twilight become events of consequence. His essential problems are set him by the mountain, the sea, the wind. Alone before the vast tribunal of the tempestuous sky, the pilot defends his mails and debates on terms of equality with those three elemental divinities.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars

 

Galveston, Texas

Estate Sale – An Orgy of Greed, Voyeurism, and Necrophilia

Candy and I have picked up a new activity/obsession – going to estate sales. I’ve always had a strange enjoyment in poking around garage sales or maybe stopping by a thrift store on my way to somewhere important, but now I’m mainlining it.

I still keep an episode of Hoarders on my DVR and watch it before going to make sure I don’t buy too much stuff. Actually, I’m not that interested in buying anything – it’s the going that’s important. You see, a true estate sale, where the owner of the house and contents is recently deceased, is a summary of a person’s entire life translated into the language of junk. You can walk through the house looking at the piles of dishes, mounds of mementos and knickknacks, and especially, stacks of books – and read the life of the owner. There, spread out on tables with little pieces of tape bearing prices is the history, values, and taste of humans beings – a life… decades of hopes and dreams, successes and failures, prizes and gifts, laid bare for hundreds of casual shoppers to see.

An estate sale is an officially sanctioned orgy of greed, voyeurism, and necrophilia, disguised as bargain hunting.

Today, you don’t have to go cruising around the hood looking for “Estate Sale” signs taped to telephone poles or stapled to stop signs. You don’t have to get out your reading glasses to squint at the classifieds. The Internet will bring you the cornucopia of an estate sale buffet right to your cathode ray tube. There are sites that list the upcoming sales, complete with glorious descriptions and often pages of photographs. There are instant messages to your smartphone, email list servers, and even Twitter accounts all poised to keep you informed about homes full of old crap for sale. So I can sit there with a website, a handful of emails, and Googlemaps and plot out a route to cruise the most interesting looking sales.

One of the unfortunate things that happened was that I hit a gusher on one of the first sales I attended. It’s sort of like getting a big win on a trip to Vegas – you keep thinking this will happen every time. You get a feeling about a person from seeing their possessions and this was a person with too much in common with me. Right off the bat, in the living room, I found a Sheaffer Snorkle Fountain Pen Desk pen on a table… twelve dollars. I scooped it up and carried it around until I bought it. Then, back in the home office room, I found bottles of ink, piles of blank journals, and a stack of calligraphy instruction books. These were priced a bit higher than I wanted to pay.

I told Candy, “This guy had a lot of ink and stuff, I’m surprised he doesn’t have more pens.” She answered, “Didn’t you see the case of pens up at the front.”

Sure enough, the mother lode. There were a handful of European school pens, some Pelikan Piston fillers, a Namiki/Pilot Vanishing Point, a Lamy 2000, and a big, beautiful Montblanc. I picked them up and looked them over – great pens. Unfortunately, the prices were a bit too rich for me so I put them all back.

The Woman running the sale said, “You know, tomorrow at noon, the prices will be cut in half.”

So that gave me a day to think about it. At 12:05, I showed up again and went straight for the case. All the pens were still there. The Montblanc was a great bargain – but that pen is for show and not the sort of thing I’m into. That left the Lamy 2000 and the Vanishing Point. It was a tough choice, I’ve always wanted a Vanishing Point, but I bought the Lamy.

The woman said, “Tomorrow, at four, for the last hour, the prices go to twenty five percent.”

So you know where I was at 4:05 the next day. The pens were all gone. That’s not a surprise – they were a bit overpriced at first, but at fifty percent they were, if not a steal, at least a good value – so they all sold. The place was getting empty – everyone was hauling out everything that wasn’t nailed down. I ventured back into the office room and discovered all the ink and paper were still there. So I scooped up four bottles of Waterman ink, six boxes of various cartridges, some blank writing journals, a metal tin of sketching pencils and accessories and a Lamy leather pen case for ten dollars.

Oh, I love the Lamy 2000. I’m working on my macro photography, I’ll see if I can put some pictures of it up here soon.

Finally, I’d like to talk about a house Candy and I visited this last weekend. It was in a nice area of North Dallas – an established upper-crust area of winding streets and big trees. It was built out in about 1974 – which is actually pretty old for Dallas standards. The house was amazing – not so much for its size, but for its unique floorplan and astonishing flair. The place had over a thousand square feet of “porches.” Every bedroom had its own little private outdoor garden – now all overgrown and rundown, but with echoes of elegance and luxury still clinging from the salad days. The kitchen was piled with setting after setting of beautiful china, crystal, and servingware – there must have been a long series of elegant dinner parties. The whole house was set up for entertaining – thick shag carpets or hand-cut stone tiles. The living room held a monstrous pipe organ – the largest and most elaborate I’ve ever seen outside a church.

The master bedroom was the size of a generous living room and painted a bright lavender. A huge headboard covered in gold leaf leaped from the bed, growing across the wall like the crown of a golden tree. Across the rest of the walls, gilt angels peered from behind gold clouds. The attached bathroom was done in deep dark purple with a gigantic tub rising on a carpeted column in the middle of the room. In every room were piles of statuary, mostly of nude women, and on the walls were hundreds of pieces of art – oddly mixed from obviously valuable originals to tacky 1970-s era hippie posters, framed and under glass.

The house was too big to show in one setting. It will be open again next weekend, with the furnishings on the outside and in the garage for sale. I’ll probably go back for another dose.

I seldom wish I was wealthy, but I’d love to drop a half-million or so for that house, then spend another couple hundred grand bringing it back to its former elegance – while updating it into the proper century.

Such dreams.

We did buy something from amid all that faded opulence… a two dollar microwave omelet pan for Lee to take back to school with him.

Refilling a Varsity

I believe that we all have addictions. Trying to navigate this vale of tears without a healthy dose of irrational cravings is an impossibility. The key is to chose your addictions.

Good luck.

At any rate, one of my addictions is Fountain Pens. I have no idea why: a childhood memory? The pure gadgetry of the thing? The nerdiness? The relationship to writing? I don’t know why. I only know that I don’t fight it.

Much.

In the spectrum of Pen Collectors I am what is referred to as a USER. I don’t care about how expensive a pen is, I simply want to write with it. I don’t care about rarity, or perfect condition, or if someone in time past had their name engraved on their pen (I think this is cool, actually). My favorite thing is to find some beat up old antique caked with dried ink and desk drawer dust at Canton or some other flea market – then disassemble, clean, repair, replace, rebuild, and then, actually write with the thing.

Enter the Varsity.

Modern fountain pens do not, as a general rule, stand up to vintage writing instruments.  There are exceptions.

One interesting specimen is the Pilot Varsity. The Pilot company is a Japanese manufacturer and purveyor of fine pens that can cost thousands of dollars. (their Vanishing Point model is very popular, their expensive shit is sold under the sub-brand Namiki).

The Varsity is one of their low-end models, very low-end. It is disposable. You can find them in office supply stores or some bookstores for around three bucks each.

They even come in packs of seven different colors for about two dollars each.

The crazy thing is, they are great writers. A wet medium line, a surprisingly smooth nib, very reliable, rarely leak. If you want to give writing with a fountain pen a try, this is a great way to do it.

I like the Varsity so much, I decided it was too good to be disposable. When my blue model went dry, I decided to re-fill it.

My favorite color is a bluish-green and I decided to go there, with a slant on the green side. I chose two compatible inks: Private Reserve Spearmint and American Blue. I assembled all my tools: pen, ink, pliers, and an irrigation syringe.

Tools

Pen, ink, syringe, pliers.

I grabbed the nib with the pliers and pulled it out – it gave away with a nice firm click. The nib is the metal part of a fountain pen. It sits up against a ribbed plastic bit called a collector. This is what holds a dab of ink up next to the nib so it can go onto the paper quickly. A fountain pen is accurately described as a “Controlled Leak” – the collector is what controls that leak. In the Varsity the steel nib and black plastic collector came out of the clear body in one piece.

Easy. Much better than the method this guy uses.

I washed everything out and put some diluted green and blue ink (mostly green) into the syringe.

Pilot Varsity

Pen, nib and collector removed, cleaned out, ready for new ink.

I was a simple process to squirt the ink back into the body of the Varsity and then push the nib and collector back in. A good shove and it clicked back as it was before.

And now it writes again. I saved myself three dollars (minus the cost of the ink) but that’s not the point.

Varsity Refilled

The Varsity refilled with a sample of the ink color. My handwriting is terrible, it always has been.

Now that I think about it… I don’t actually know what the point is. Points are overrated, I guess. Aren’t they?

A junkie fix for my fountain pen addiction. Not too bad as addictions go.