A Story Of Office Subterfuge

(This is a guest post by Jon Bemis. You can find Jon on Twitter @jtower42)

Since becoming a Junior Pen Addict a year ago, I have tried to evangelize the message of a better writing experience. As is the case in many offices, our supply closest is stocked with the cheapest paper (generic legal and steno pads) and pens (BiC “Xtra Comfort” medium points) our purchasing people can find. By sheer accident, there are some gems like PaperMate Flair plastic tip pens and Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, but mostly the shelf is a cathedral of mediocrity.

I have made some inroads with a few co-workers. I noticed one of our commodities buyers is a woodcase pencil guy, so I gave him a couple of Palomino Blackwings. I checked in with him after a few weeks, and he somewhat sheepishly told me “When you said I would feel a difference between these (Blackwings) and the pencils I normally use, I thought you were nuts. But wow, these are SMOOTH.”

A member of our graphic design team is a kindred spirit as it relates to design and typography – I have introduced her to Field Notes and Mr. Aaron Draplin, and she’s digging it. Our sales analyst admitted to me that she “really likes, you know, GOOD paper.” I gave her an extra Rhodia A5 top staple-bound notebook that I had lying around, and it blew her mind.

I’ve had failures, too. Our corporate attorney, who happens to be a friend, is a Pilot G-2 fan. That’s a great pen; I thought that might serve as a gateway into fountain pens, so I lent him first my Lamy Safari and then my Pilot Metropolitan. It hasn’t taken. He always quickly goes back to the G-2’s he loves so much.

But the effort of which I am most proud was not so overt. This office needs to know the love of writing, dammit. So I did something a little sneaky. A little underhanded. I stocked the pond, if you will.

I decided to make a contribution to the supply cabinet. I knew the Pilot Varsity was a great entry-level fountain pen, and they’re inexpensive. I bought about two dozen in blue and black from JetPens, and snuck into the supply cabinet with them on a Tuesday afternoon. I carefully reshuffled the Bics and the Flairs to make a space. Luckily, JetPens had included a Varsity box, so once I was done it looked as if the interloping pens belonged there.

  The pens I snuck into the supply closet.

The pens I snuck into the supply closet.

Two weeks later, they were gone.

All twenty-four. GONE. In seven working days (not counting days the office was closed for Christmas and New Year’s.

About a hundred people share this particular supply closet, which is a lot. But for FOUNTAIN PENS to disappear that quickly? I couldn’t believe it. People had actually taken them to use. This only served to increase the audacity, the sheer madness of my next move. I didn’t plan it. I hadn’t thought about it. But in the moment, it seemed right.

I took a Post-it note, stuck it on the now-empty Pilot Varsity box and scribbled (hoping I was disguising my handwriting) “Please reorder. Thanks!” My heart was pounding. I felt like I had crossed some line, violated some rule. It was a little silly – I know some people ask for specific pens or paper from time to time, and my company generally will try to accommodate. Requests for staplers, tape dispensers, letter trays, wall calendars and white boards are generally approved without any raised eyebrows. But still, I had hacked the system! I had introduced a foreign life-form, and now I was hoping the office supply ecosystem would accept this new animal.

A week later, this.

  Fresh boxes. Ordered by whoever orders office supplies.

Fresh boxes. Ordered by whoever orders office supplies.

Three fresh new boxes of Pilot Varsities. It worked. I couldn’t believe it.

What I don’t yet know is if fountain pens are on the regular re-order rotation yet. I will be monitoring the inventory to see if folks are still taking them, and I’ll be keeping a sharp eye to see if I can spot people using the pens they’ve acquired.

Basking in the glow of having pulled off my own version of a “covert op,” I find myself wondering why I did it.

I’m excited that my co-workers will have the opportunity to use a pen that’s new to them, to have an experience that maybe they’ve never had. Moreso, I’m hopeful that just a few people will enjoy using a fountain pen so much that it makes their day a little better. We have a pretty great work environment here – people treat each other with respect, we’re pretty family friendly, and people stay a long time. But work is work, and days can get frustrating or mundane. Maybe, just maybe, my little surreptitious act will add a dash of enjoyment to someone’s day.

Posted on January 15, 2015 and filed under Guest Post.