Pen Ink – Thank You Notes

John Skoyles writes the column “Pen and Ink” and is a professor at Emerson College, a poet, and author of the memoir, Secret Frequencies: A New York Education. Find out more about John and his work at

A thank you note to John.

I thanked my friend who gave me my first fountain pen, the Lamy Safari, but maybe I should have blamed him for starting my addiction, for being like the drug dealer who says “the first one’s free.” Since then, I’ve escalated into pens many, many times as expensive.

Once I gave my father a bottle of Jack Daniels sour mash for his birthday, a big step up from his regular brand, Ancient Age. Each evening, when he came home from his job as an envelope salesman, he would sit in an armchair and have two Manhattans, made with bourbon. And sometimes more than two.

I can still see the label on his bottle: Ancient Age. And if he splurged, he bought himself a bottle of Ancient Ancient Age, which was older and afforded a kinder hangover.

When I gave him the Jack Daniels, he was delighted; it was something he enjoyed but couldn’t afford.

A few weeks later I got a strange thank you note from him.

It said how much he appreciated the sour mash, but he would appreciate it more if I never gave it to him again, because when he finished it, the Ages tasted lousy.

I know what he meant because I’ve had the same experience about fine writing paper and journals. But I’m staying with them because once you’ve written with a fountain pen on G. Lalo, Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Maruman or other quality papers, you can’t go back to the office supply store’s legal pads which feather and bleed.

As I’ve mentioned here before, nice paper is always well received as a gift because it is a present a person might not have bought for him or herself. And the slightly greater expense is worth it. Even at the risk of starting an addiction.

A few weeks ago, I sent my friend’s young daughter a box of back to school supplies from this website. And she wrote me the most entertaining thank you note.

I have to say I wasn’t sure exactly what to order for her, but I guess I did okay, as her letter recorded the entire shipment and praised each item.

Here are some excerpts, complete with misspellings:

    The brush pens I have wanted for a real long time but neaver fond ones so good!

    This blue led pen is beond awsome. I have never seen a blue mechanical pencil but if I had, it would have been on the top of my wish list! It’s so cool how the eraser has a cap!

    I love the Boxy eraser which works better than any of my other erasers.

    The cool pencil case has so many different pockets! It’s cosmic!

    The bag in bag matches my new sweater/poncho!!!

    I love the super cool two-way bag, it’s so nice how it can be a carrying case or a tote bag, what more could a girl want in a bag! It matches my new shoe laces too!

I’m glad she enjoyed the stuff so much! (Now she has me using exclamation points!) This is only half of what she wrote. My favorite is how the pencil case is cosmic!

At the other end of the thank you note spectrum is my friend, an ex-police chief, to whom I gave a couple of Macanudo cigars at Christmas.

I had a friend deliver them as I was out of town.

His response: “Tell him he’s a bum.”

My friend was surprised by the reply, but I wasn’t. The chief is an old-timer and this is the kind of lingo used in the old days, when affection was masked by gruffness. Toots Shorr, the renowned New York City saloon keeper in the 40s and 50s, relished masculine camaraderie and called his best friends “crum-bums.” He was unimpressed by celebrity. For instance, when Charlie Chaplin came to the restaurant and complained about the wait, Toots said, “It’ll be a half hour, Charlie. Get on line and be funny for the folks.”

It’s that sense of humor that I understood when I was called a bum for the cigars. Or maybe my friend knew I was starting him on the road to a new addiction.


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