I recently made an excursion to the Brentwood Stationers, a much-heralded mom-and-pop store in the center of hoity-toity Brentwood. Back in April, I went to the Piedmont Stationers in Oakland and apparently the owner of that store used to work for the owners of the Brentwood store back in "the day."
They have a huge collection of filofax stuff, which I quite liked looking at. And I did see some pens by people I've never heard of before. Like a Xenon Gel, a silver barrel pen with a black 7mm needle tip, ergonomic little cushion for your fingers, and smooth writing. For like $3.99, I believe. I also got one with an opaque turquoise barrel. I also bought a purple Pilot Razor Point pen - I just love porous point pens, but for every pen there is a matching piece of paper, and I can never find the right paper for porous points. On smooth paper they run. On scratchy paper, they scratch too much. So it's a continual quest for me to try to find the right notebook to write in with my lovely porous point pens. I also bought two notebooks - a moleskin one for $17.95 (they're cheaper at Borders, but I can't bring myself to give Borders that much money for blank paper. I give them enough money for paper with words on it already).
So the selection was ok. They didn't have the best collection of pens (they didn't sell my favorite Y&C gel pens, for example) but I'd chalk that up to the fact that, according to the staff, a store called Flax, described as 'pen heaven' is close by, so I'll have to make another trip to check that out soon. And their notebook selection was just ok. Not great. But it's not Office Depot, so I wouldn't expect it to be that great.
The thing I noticed, though, was how it seemed that everyone was really uninspired. They were friendly enough, but they just didn't seem to be passionate about stationary. I go to stores like that so I can be a stationary geek and discuss the virtues of pilot pens over pentel ones. Or the binding of a notebook. Or whether narrow rule is better than wide. I mean, if you can't get passionate about stationary in a place like that, where on earth CAN you? Most non-chain store employees are totally into their product - they'd go work at a chain or something if they didn't care that much. So I was expecting a low-level buzz about new shipments of planner pages that were arriving the next day, or whether all gel pens only last about 30 pages and then you're done. But it wasn't there. There was a nice breeze coming from the back door. Cue image of ghost-town sounds like tumbleweeds blowing across a deserted road. I did overhear their end of a phone conversation where a potential customer wanted something that was going to be nearly impossible for them to order, so they told them to go to a ...gasp ...
Now I don't know - for all I know they were asking for a miniature replica of the Taj Mahal. And maybe they were having a crappy day and weren't really up for my weirdly upbeat chitter-chatter about how much I love stores like theirs and how I have this blog, and they should check it out. But when I told them I wrote about pens and had a blog (that actual real people read) they just looked at me like I had arrived from Mars. Maybe they don't know what blogs are because they're so into the physical stuff. I don't know. I'm trying not to judge them too harshly, but really, they were so unenthusiastic. It was like they had no idea why I would talk to them about pens at all. I kept hoping so much that a pulse would appear, but none did.
Which is a bummer. I spent $64 there. I really wanted to like them and have it be my new favorite stationary store and take monthly road trips into sidewalk-cafe-celebrity-dog-walker central to stock up on pens.
So on the drive home, I was thinking about how anyone can be unenthusiastic about pens and paper. I mean, ideas become real when people write them down. Symphonies happen because someone wrote them down. They just lived in Beethoven's head until he wrote them down so we can all hear them. A bunch of guys sat in Philadelphia in 1776 and talked a good game, but it wasn't until they wrote it down that it became Independence. It's magic, the power that paper and ink have. How can you not completely get goosebumps being around all that power all the time?