Thursday, January 12, 2012

How it all started

It all begins somewhere.

I passed a guy hammering a nail into a wood plywood board yesterday. I was riding my bike in Sherman Oaks near the library on Moorpark when I heard the distinctive sound of a nail being driven into wood by a hammer. It's a sound you rarely hear today, yet it's as common as it was since the hammer was created.

For some reason, it caught my attention, even as cars sped by. It took a beat or two before I realized something. That sound brought back to the house my dad built in Windsor, almost 40 years ago. It brought  back a flood of memories, last summer I drove past the house which was well kept and still the same and probably with a few owners by this time.

My father wasn't as whimsical as me; he said that "a house is a house, when you're dead and gone it doesn't remember you." So much for that.

Just for your information, hammers go back at least to 30,000 bc, stone hammers go back even further. Nails have been with us at least since the Roman Period.

And it still looks the same. No upgrades here, except maybe that machine gun-like hammer that shoots nails. But there's something else that came to me yesterday, actually two things;

First, the sound of a nail being hammered in goes back at least 3000 years, maybe even more. And secondly, it's the beginning of something; a house, a garage, a war shield and many other things.

And what about writing?

Writing began to show up around 4000 bc in Mesopotania and was created for keeping track of numbers, as in 50 sheaves of wheat or 10 cows. Eventually there was need for words describing the objects rather than only the numbers. It took off over the thousands of years until now.

Like, totally, for sure, dude.

Okay, not the best example of writing.

But now we write with every type and shape of pens, pencils and computer keys and ipad surfaces.

Which brings me to the Rhodia.

I discovered the Rhodia at one of the last real office supply stores, A&B in Studio City. Unlike the big box stores, A&B has pens and pencils where you can buy one, not 10. It's a classic mom & pop store on Ventura and is rarely crowded. But it's the kind of place where you can buy one envelope or a hundred, and it has more pens and pencils than any Staples.

And you even get to try them out on small 2x2-inch sheets of white paper.

And that's where I found the Rhodia.

It's an upscale pencil and costs almost $2 for one. You can buy 10 pencils at Staples for the same price. But they're not Rhodias.

I didn't know anything about Rhodia pencils until I hunted around on the internet and discovered a world I never knew. Pencil fanatics with forums where they compare, discuss and argue.

The Rhodia pencil is a pale orange with black details, made in France and just finely made.  The designers of this pencil went so far as to dye the wood black, so that the pencil is absolutely and completely black and orange.

It's tip is cut by a knife rather than a pencil sharpener. How's that?
So, does it perform better than a dime pencil? I can't really tell, but holding it and using it seems to make me feel like it's really something special. But somehow, along with the nail being hammered into wood, the idea of holding a wood pencil again brings me back to the past and a time when the world was a bigger place.

And a 12-year old who had a crush on his teacher and learned how to write by using a pencil.

1 comment:

  1. There's a great series on BBC Radio 4, over here, by Melvyn Bragg about the beginnings of writing. You could probably listen to it on the Internet and it's well worth it.
    By the way my daughter and her husband bought a fountain pen for me for Christmas; a TWSBI - a DIAMOND piston filling fountain pen and it's great; it's improved my scrawl already.