Many years ago, I was given a Mont Blanc MEISTERSTÜCK ballpoint pen by an appreciative client, who felt that I should not be writing with whatever pen happened to be close at hand. Granted, no pen makes its output better, but when I grasped the thick, warm black plastic pen in my hand, it just felt right.
Now it isn’t easy for a guy like me to love a pen. Aside from the fact that it’s a silly affectation, and I’m a very practical guy, most pens present a problem for me. You see, I’m one of the quirks of nature who writes left-handed and does everything else right-handed. Lefties rub the sides of their hands over the newly written words, smearing them unmercifully. If the ink doesn’t dry instantaneously, my writing looks like it was done by a three year old. With “issues.”
The thick, black Mont Blanc pen worked like magic. It didn’t smear. I wasn’t left feeling as if my signature was a blob of black, but merely entirely unreadable squiggles. I never dreamed it could look so good. I was hooked.
One day, while riding the Long Island Rail Road train home, in the midst of the longest-running traveling poker game in the world, someone asked to borrow my pen. Like a fool, I gave it to him. Like a fool, I expected him to return it. I never saw the pen again alive (or dead). It was gone.
So I went to the Mont Blanc store. They actually have Mont Blanc stores, which came as a surprise to me, given that I was unaware that there were enough people who wanted to buy thick black plastic pens to keep a stand-alone store in business. I learned otherwise. They were quite formal and hushed in the store, as if it was a religious experience. Pens were laid out as if pieces of art, jewels to be individually admired and appreciated. I told the lovely young saleswoman that I wanted to buy a pen.
The pen cost a fortune. I can’t remember now how much, but I started to choke, then sputter the words, “for a pen?” The lovely young saleswoman then lapsed into indecipherable sales-speak about the “fine writing instrument.” As the hum continued, I tried to calculate how many BIC pens I could buy for the price of a single Mont Blanc pen. I stopped after a zillion, accounting for the free ones I could pick up off counsel table where others had left them behind.
Mrs. SJ, who came with me to provide ballast, told me to just buy the darn pen so we could get out of the store. She was getting hives, apparently. So I did, with my eyes closed tightly in order to pretend that I had no idea how much money I had just spent on a pen. She said I was a lawyer, and wrote a lot, and could manage to buy a decent pen without being a baby about it. She uses the “baby about it” thing whenever she wants me to do something. It always seems to work.
It’s been about two years since I wasted my money on bought the new Mont Blanc pen, and the new pen was every bit as comforting as the one lost to poker. Until this week. When I gently caressed my pen to put into the breast pocket of my suit jacket, I felt a rough, unexpected, unwanted ridge in the black plastic bottom part.
I inspected the pen closely, and saw that the black plastic had broken, cracked. A chunk toward the gold piece at the bottom appeared to have snapped apart, though it remained in place in its cracked state. I was devastated.
But as I shook off the loss, I realized that this was no ordinary pen, but a hand-crafted fine writing instrument. Surely, the good folks at Mont Blanc would understand my devastation, would be appalled to learn that their pen had broken and would cure this disaster immediately. I could imagine septuagenarian craftsman crying in the background, distraught at the thought of one of their beloved fine writing instruments failing. So I called Mont Blanc.
I can’t say for certain that the young woman who answered the phone was lovely, but she certainly sounded so. I explained my situation, my devastation, and awaited her comforting words.
Sir, you will have to send your MEISTERSTÜCK fine writing instrument in to be inspected by our master craftsmen for service.
But I already know what I need, just that bottom black plastic part.
Sir, our writing instruments are not made of plastic, but of the finest resin.
Fine, so your finest resin broke. Maybe it’s not that fine after all. Can’t you just send me a new piece of finest resin?
Sir, if the black resin broke, then it must have been because of customer abuse.
Hey, wait a second. I’m not that kind of a guy. At least not with a pen. That’s disgusting.
And your fine writing instrument is not warrantied against customer abuse, so there will be a charge for the repair.
Huh? I spent more than some people’s weekly salary on a pen, and you won’t stand behind the cracked plastic?
Fine writing instruments can break if dropped or even banged around in a brief case, and we can’t possibly repair damage caused by such abuse.
You mean that they’re only good if you keep them locked in a vault? And I never dropped my pen, either.
So after a thorough inspection, we can replace the black resin for a nominal charge.
Nominal? I hate that word. It always means I’m about to get screwed. The charge for a new piece of black plastic was $80, plus shipping by personal courier in a stretch limousine with necessary food and drink. I passed.
I told the young woman on the phone that I was deeply disappointed to know that Mont Blanc charged such ridiculously high prices for its pens, and then tried to nail me again when their pens failed. At the very least, I should be able to enjoy the use of the pen until a poker player steals it from me, rather than when the black plastic breaks despite the love and care with which it was treated. Is that too much to ask?
I told the young woman that the message I was receiving was that I was foolish to spend an inordinate amount of money on their pens in the first place, and that this failure to stand behind their “fine writing instrument” has driven away a customer.
Sir, is there anything else I can do for you? Thank you for calling Mont Blanc. [click]
I still keep my Mont Blanc pen on my dressing table, hoping that it will heal naturally but expecting nothing. In the meantime, if you receive something from me with a blurry, smeared signature, you will know why. I really did love that pen, silly as it may seem.