Try saying that title as fast as you can. It’s not exactly a tongue twister but it sure can give your vocal chords a spin!
That’s the pencil sharpener I have on my desk right now. It’s rugged, simple, and “aged”. I say “aged” because it’s not “old” like some vintage sharpeners from the early 1900s but it’s been around enough and used enough to prove that it works. And, works it does and it does so very well!
I remember when I my father brought a few of these sharpeners home from work when I was a boy. His workplace was littered with these things. I know this because I was lucky enough to visit him at work. It was a different time in America and security was different. I could wander around and explore. There was a corridor with a huge shelving system that contained every office supply item you could think of: pencils, hole punchers, staplers, erasers, notepads, etc. It was all there for the taking. Whatever you needed was easy to get as long as it helped you do your job. Each office was therefore fully outfitted with every tool and utensil possible. There was no desktop computer to rave about or to take space on your desk. So, you had office supplies! I also remember how neat everyone’s desk was at the time. Every little bit and scrap was smartly organized. A place for everything and everything in its place.
As the decades wore on, computers found their way to the desks and traditional office supplies started to be displaced. Where there once stood a paper file a monitor appeared. Binders in front of workers were replaced with keyboards. The cup of pencils lost it’s special place in the center of the hutch and was replaced with a box of floppy disks. Once you stop using pencils then you stop using pencil sharpeners. That was the beginning of the end.
I kept visiting my fathers workplace throughout the years and I saw another phenomena: downsizing. Offices that had busy and motivated workers were soon empty. Cleanliness turned into clutter as other workers began dumping “their crap” in those empty offices, which included pencil sharpeners. There were loads of these single hole sharpeners. Some were neatly mounted on blocks of styled wood. Others must have been held down with a C-clamp. Most were in decent shape after decades of solid use. A few were thrashed and trashed from defiant abuse.
After I grew up and graduated college, the workplace was consolidated with another office. The building was leveled and the rubble was hauled off. In that rubble lay several hundreds of these poor, sad, abandoned sharpeners. I feel fortunate that my father sneaked his small stash of three when he did. Mine was barely used and for many years it sat as New Old Stock. Sometimes it was on my shelf and sometimes it was tucked away in my closet. When I needed a pencil sharpened I would pull it out, use it, and then tuck it away again. I pulled it out about four years ago and gave it a new permanent home on my desk. It is one of my cherished possessions as it holds a lot of memories for me. I suppose one could argue that the demise of my father’s workplace is tied to the demise of this sharpener. Would the office have survived longer if my father and his coworkers did not take things like this home? Or, were there greater wrongs afoot here? Can an illicit pencil sharpener or a notepad compete against the evils of large scale corporate waste or the ever increasing tide of cheap imports from China? Taking the sharpener probably didn’t help things but leaving it there wouldn’t have stopped the inevitable.
Is the tie to the demise of the American pencil sharpener even more closely reflective to the demise of the American and global economy?