Last week, Patrick, normally the very embodiment of composure, chucked a pen across the kitchen island in frustration. It nearly landed in my scrambled eggs. "I have had enough of crappy pens!" he yelled. "Damn thing has one purpose for its existence and it doesn't fulfill it." I had heard this complaint many times before -- though never accompanied by pen chucking -- so I decided to jump into action. From now on, the Kelly household would feature only quality pens. No more pens that take some scratching to get started or pens that leak on your hands or pens that don't last.
I knew which pens I hated: the Paper Mate Write Bros ballpoint pens ( $3.79 for 36 at Office Depot). They are always drying out, and the pressure needed to write with them leaves your hand stiff before the end of a grocery list. And I knew Patrick hated pens from which the ink flows so easily that you don't need to press down. "Those kind don't work with my duplicate checks," he explained, adding, "and I hate most fine-point pens because they're damn scratchy."
I started the research with my nephew Aidan, who is a collector of pens -- his backpack must have 40 pens rattling around in the bottom of it -- but he never buys them. "Whenever I see pens in the lost-and-found at school, I grab them," he said. He had clear opinions on winners and losers. "My favorite is the Pilot G-2 [ $4.99 for a four-pack at Staples]," he explained. "I like the fact that I can click it; it's a gel pen, very flow-y, and has a comfy grip hold. I can also refill it."
Aidan must not be alone in his love for the G-2. The package proudly stated, "America's #1 Selling Gel Pen."
A close runner-up for pen-collector boy was the Staples Xeno retractable ballpoint pens ( $2.24 for a five-pack at Staples). "It flows nicely for a ballpoint pen," he continued, "and it's a sharp-looking pen, a lot of silver. I also like the grip on it, which they call a comfort dot grip."
My brother-in-law Leon is another fan of the clicker pens, though not for the sound. "When I'm out on the job appraising," he explained, "I can't use a pen with a cap because you end up losing the cap and the ink gets all over everything. You don't have that problem with a clicker pen."
His wife Nancy prefers the Pilot Precise V5 ( $5.61 for a five-pack at Staples). "I find my handwriting is better with this pen," she laughed. "The ink flows out with ease."
My lawyer friend Bill said he dislikes ballpoint pens, but he had more to say about the ink color. "Only use blue ink pens," he stated. "In this age of copiers, it's so difficult to know if the document you're looking at is an original or a copy. With a blue-ink signature, there's no uncertainty."
"We were told by our bank to use gel pens for writing checks," offered sister Cathy. "They're harder to erase and forge over."
"I probably have way too much to say about pens," replied friend John. "I use a Zebra F-402, black ink, fine ballpoint pen with a stainless steel shaft and finger and thumb rubber grip [ $7.29 for a two-pack at Office Depot]. I own three of them. They're worth the price. The ball rolls well with minimal coverage jump. I hate all cheap, plastic shaft, disposable, capped pens, like Paper Mate or Bic. For a little bit more money you can get quality pens like the Zebra or a Pentel. I find they are even better than Cross pens, which cost more."
My teacher friend Mike got poetic. "Writing with a quality pen after using poor quality pens is like driving a Porsche after years in a Hyundai." He told me his class at Cook's Elementary had borrowed his colored dry erase markers when theirs had dried out. "And half of the felts on the pens are pushed in. They ruined them!" he exclaimed. "See, with a pencil, you have to put pressure on it to write, so the kids are used to applying that pressure. But with a pen, you shouldn't have to use that pressure, it should just glide across the paper."
His wife Shawn raved about the Foray Gel Ink Pens ( $13.99 for a 12-pack at Office Depot). "A lot of ink comes out, so you can sign your name thicker, which is what I like. It is one of those pens where your handwriting looks neater than usual."
Mike found Shawn's favorite to be too scratchy. "You can hear the scratching on the paper as you write, which I don't like," he announced.
"No you can't," disagreed Shawn. I left them to hash it out.
Most everyone preferred the pens with flow-y ink, except Shawn and my college chum Bernice's husband. "I have fairly strong opinions on pens," he remarked. "I have always mourned the loss of the Fountain Pentel, which was a plastic-tipped fountain pen. I adored that, and I can't find it anywhere. I like a little bit of resistance when I am writing. I like a little scritch-scratch feeling, a little of that feather-on-papyrus kind of thing. Nowadays, I still use a Razor Point by Pilot whenever I can find it [ $3.96 for a four-pack at Staples]. Roller balls have sort of won the market, but they slide over the paper too much for me. I'm also not too particular about grip. I've used some of those ridiculously padded ergonomic pens, but I've yet to develop a cramp using something else."