Treasure in the Grassmarket.

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Esterbrook M2.

I’m not much of a shopper. Browsing endless racks of clothing, trying to find something in both my size and style, is something I avoid doing whenever possible. So holiday shopping becomes a game I play with myself: how quickly and painlessly can I find things I would want to give friends and family?

When I heard about the popup market in the Cowgate a few weeks ago, I thought it might offer me an easy way to do much of this shopping at once. It was sure to offer unique items I wouldn’t be able to find on my own, and all concentrated in one place. Problem solved.

Well, not really. I did find a few things there, but most of it wasn’t in the style of anyone I know. (Except for me: I did not know this about myself before the popup market but I am fascinated by bizarre taxidermy, especially of small animals wearing spectacles.)

I was lucky to be wandering around the market with a patient friend, who was also up for checking out whatever was going on in the Grassmarket. (Another market! In a market. Not shocking.) And as we were strolling and chatting our way through that second market, I spied one of the things that even a non-shopper such as myself has learned means Cool Stuff Might Be Here: the wooden-sided glass case.

These glass cases are usually filled with an odd assortment of costume jewellery, rusted pocket-knives, old tins of long-dried unguents, commemorative coins commemorating things no one cares about anymore, and pens. Yes, pens. Usually dented metal ballpoint pens, but still: pens.

So I have to look. And I hate shopping, and I hate browsing for things that I might buy, but I still look.

In this particular case, something caught my eye that wasn’t a dented metal ballpoint at all. It was a plastic box with gold lettering and something was inside it. The gold lettering read “Esterbrook” and I gasped as I read it.

Because I was not raised by wolves, I asked the stall owners if I could open the box and look at the pen. As I was trying to play it cool, my tone was somewhere between desperation and apathy, a teenaged boy’s mumbled squeak.

I would like to tell you that my hands weren’t shaking. After all, vintage Esterbrook fountain pens are not uncommon, and they’re not even all that fancy. But recently I became a first-time Esterbrook Dollar Pen owner and when I fell, I fell hard. So my hands were shaking, a little, as I removed the pen from the case and inspected it. “Mint condition” is too generous but it was certainly in good condition, and I’ll save you the nerdery around the specifics there.

Because I’ve been collecting pens for a number of years now, right about the time I am fondling a pen hard enough to consider buying it, a number pops into my head. That number is the most I would pay for the pen. Another thing pops into my head: the first word I would write with that pen, if it were mine, but that’s less relevant to the actual transaction portion of the experience.

So as I turned this cream-of-tomato-soup red pen over in my hands, the number popped into my head, and the word too, and then I realised there was also a number on a sticker on the plastic box the pen was inside and that number, that number, was a deliriously low number, the type of number not even as high as the number on a menu next to a fancy hamburger. And that was when I knew that this pen, this pen, was mine. The rest was a formality.

The word? Serendipity. Because shopping, as awful as it can be, can also contain moments of serendipity like this one. Plus “serendipity” is just one badass word to write with an Esterbrook M2 fountain pen.

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