15 April 2013
Yesterday I traveled to my local Wal-Mart and trekked eight miles from the parking lot to the stationery aisle to buy a new box of Bic Round Stic pens. To my utter horror and disbelief, I discovered that my favorite pens had changed! This last solid bastion of unaltered products has finally succumbed to the fickle whims of bored company marketers and executives. Why, oh why, can’t these companies leave their products alone? They have taken so many goods that I had brought into my life and used every day and snuffed them out or warped them beyond all recognition! Now Bic desecrates the most important product of them all: the Round Stic pen! I will send Bic USA Inc. my ambulance bill when it arrives, that is quite certain!
The Bic Round Stic pen continues to exist under the old product name but in an intolerably bastardized form. Previously, for years and years since its introduction in the 1960’s, the Round Stic had a white plastic barrel with ends and cap colored the same as the ink. When this plastic pen first came out, I tossed my old aluminum retractable Paper Mate away and rejoiced at the Round Stic’s simplicity of design, the durability, the longevity and consistency of its ink, and its low price. And now they’ve ruined it, changed to an awful translucent gray, both cap and body! Were I to use this abomination, I could not help but stare continually inside the living guts of my pen, something that every pen should modestly keep to itself, something which I could not suffer to use without feeling a great disgust, frustration, and shame. Oh, what have they done?
The ballpoint pen is a relatively new creation of modern mankind; it only gained widespread use after World War II. Immediately before that time, most people wrote with fountain pens, which quickly ran out of ink, could take a few minutes to dry, and could leave quite a mess. I certainly would never have carried a filled fountain pen, not even one with a cartridge, in my pocket as I do today with the ballpoint. Gradually, improvements to the ballpoint pen led to its total dominance of the pen market, and fountain pens are infrequently used today. Bic is a French company that started in 1945 and gained success in the 1950’s with its Bic Cristal, those brittle, clear-plastic, hexagon-barreled pens that remain common today, and which I have never particularly cared for, the Cristal shamelessly flaunting its innards and all. Why couldn’t Bic have changed that pen instead?
Recent years have seen the rise of the rubber-barreled easy-grip pen, the ghastly gel pen, and pens writing in glittery ink in a variety of unprofessional colors such as purple or pink. Keep such goofy pens far away from me! Over the years, friends and family have also given me fancy metallic pens that are too valuable to lose and too inconvenient to refill. I keep them in my desk and rarely use them. Over the years I have habitually stuck with my simple, old favorite, Bic’s Round Stic.
After failing to find the pen at Wal-Mart—and after leaving the hospital—I frantically traveled from store to store to hunt for the old stock, but this new, unforgivable version of my pen mocked and taunted me in every single place. I searched online, finding some from Korea on Ebay, but these would take weeks to arrive, and how could I be certain that the Koreans would ship the correct versions?
Last night I could not sleep, tossing and turning so violently that Millie fled our mattress just before it slipped off the box-spring and onto that yappy Pomeranian dog of ours. This morning, such a gloomy and overcast morning, I awoke from a thin and restless snippet of sleep, not wanting to scale that great height from the cold, unforgiving floorboards to that aching upright position on my cold and swollen feet. My heart ached with emptiness and depression. I had lost all hope, capable only of mourning the loss of my old medium-point friend.
Oh, great pen, faithful toiler, always at my side
Your ink should have written long after I had died;
Life cut short; the grief, so heavy, crushes my heart
Life is now a shell, fractured, now that we’re apart;
Fickle marketers, bored executives, faceless every one
The loyal betrayed, the devoted cast away, used and shunned;
Sweet life of memories flowing across the years
Your ink runs dry and now I write only in tears;
Nights spent sleepless, yappy dogs in pain as I cried
Oh, great pen, faithful toiler, always at my side
After the horror of comprehension began to fade, memories of that pen flooded my thoughts. I had signed the birth certificates of my children with that pen, and the death certificates of my parents. I’ve written countless rambling essays and tedious novels over the years with that pen, and with it I have drawn many works of mediocre art. For at least four decades, I have stocked at least one and normally two of these pens in my right trouser pocket at any given time; I do not feel entirely whole without at least one of my white-barreled Round Stic companions holstered and ready at my side. In fact, about twenty years ago I took to wrapping a strip of masking tape at the bottom of each pen and writing a number on it; in this way I could inventory my pen stock and help make certain that I used one until it ran out of ink. This has helped me foil pen thieves and my own forgetfulness, but despite this I still lose about a third of my pens.
One time, a Round Stic Bic pen even saved my life. I was crawling up a mountain in the Colorado Rockies several years ago when a ferocious rattlesnake sprung out and bit me between the mouth and nose; quickly, as my poisoned face began to swell, I yanked the tip and end off of my Bic pen and pushed the empty white barrel into my mouth. Only by breathing through this tube did I survive long enough to reach a hospital. (To this day my friends accuse me of trying to kiss that snake, and even though I was drunk and did find the diamondback to be very lovely, I would never have presumed to so boldly kiss such a creature even while drunk. I have always acted as a true gentleman even to the most reptilian and legless of ladies, and I have long resented this chronic taunting by my so-called friends.) But back to the pen. The Round Stic Bic pen has served me for most of my adult life, and now it is marred beyond recognition!
I don’t like to loan my pens out. On occasion, I must lend the pen to someone who sees me using it: common courtesy demands it, however much I cringe at the probable loss. In my mind, as I watch it flit away in the stranger’s hand, I write this pen off. Three-quarters of the time the stranger won’t return it, and when the pen does return I often find that the borrower has chewed its end! What sort of doggish behavior is this anyhow, gnawing at the bottom of the pen? Completely barbaric! Even one tiny tooth-mark consigns the pen to the wastebin of pen-death; the pen is unclean, to be cut off forever from my collection.
After moping over a joyless Grape-Nuts breakfast, I tore through my house in search of lost Bics. Couch cushions, junk drawers, garage benches, closets. My hopes began to brighten as an arsenal began to grow. #113 hid on the floor under my recliner; then #121 peaked from between the seats of my car. Each reunion brightened my spirits just a little. After three hours of searching, and some assistance by my old and patient wife, Millie, who could only shake her head at my “foolishness”, I have rescued fourteen of my old pens! One of them, hidden away in a file cabinet, has no taped number and it says ‘medium’ instead of the more recent ‘med/moy’ beside the words ’round stic’, making this pen at least twenty years old; and it still writes! Amazing! This is one of the nice things about the Round Stic; the ink will survive unused for years. Depending on their various levels of ink, these fourteen might last for another three or four years, assuming I only lose a couple of them. After this successful search, I have turned a catastrophic emergency into a mere crisis. I might even die before having to use the last of this fourteen, and I would rather die than use the new version!
Just moments ago, I found a more permanent solution to this problem, and I am happy to share my findings with anyone else who may share my detestation for this disfigured pen enough to buy 500 of them at once.
- First, download the above image to your computer.
- Go to the website of Norwood Bic Graphic Company, a subsidiary of Bic.
- Leave the shape as “Solid Color Barrel/Solid Color Trim”. Change the Barrel Color to “White”; Change the Trim Color to “Black”.
- Under Barrel Imprint, select the radio button for “UPLOAD NEW LOGO”. Click the “Choose File” button, and find the downloaded image (bic-pen-retro3-small.png), then click the “Upload File” button. After a few seconds, the uploaded image should appear on the barrel of the virtual pen.
- I recommend increasing the size three times, and hitting the Left arrow button twelve times in order to more closely duplicate the original style.
And that will restore, closely enough, the old-style Bic pen to circa 1993 if you’re willing to shell out about $250 for the privilege, which I am! With 500 pens, I could afford to shed my tightfisted ways with the pen, handing them out freely to all who stumble pen-less through life. I’ll be like Ebenezer Scrooge on that wonderful Christmas morning after the three spirits had mercifully allowed him to live; I’ll leap through the streets in my pajamas flinging pens into the air, free from the stodgy and obsessive affection for inanimate writing utensils.
But I shouldn’t have to go to such trouble. Why can’t these companies just leave their products alone? I guess that companies assume, perhaps correctly, that people will grow bored of their old staples and move on to the exciting and new. The businesses change their products to keep the faithless, more youthful consumers interested, and the old and reliable—but soon dead—fogies like myself have no choice in the matter. We must adapt or die.
 Unfortunately, Angie the yappy Pomeranian dog survived this incident. I don’t call her “Angie” myself. On those occasions when I must speak of this creature, or to this useless creature, I refer to her as “Scourgey”, as she has scourged my house each day since my wife brought her home six years ago.
 There is another, less satisfactory, solution. The tips, including their ink tubes, of the new and atrocious pens will fit within the old barrel of the old pens. The tips will look different, of course, but the remainder at least will be restored. [Edit: 16 April: I have just found that even the tips and ink tubes of a pen will pull apart. One could pull an ink tube from a new Round Stic and insert it into an old tip. This is potentially messy, but I think it will work, thus completely renewing an old Bic body with a new ink tube.]