Tag Archives: Nathaniel Cerf

A New Dream for MLK Day: Reuniting America

We need more serenity in our lives. Enjoy this sunset over the Thames River in Connecticut.

Teetering on the brink of a new civil war, perhaps it is time to use the Dr. Martin Luther King jr. holiday to reflect on fulfilling his dream in a whole new way.

In his quest for equality, fairness and justice for all, Dr. King advocated for peace at every juncture of policy and protest.

I fix, restore and sell fountain pens for a living. I write stories to entertain people. I’m no politician. I intentionally avoid politics at all cost with regard to my business and this blog. BUT, I am heartbroken to see the nation I love falling apart. It is terrifying to see our capitol under siege. It is alien to have anything less than a peaceful transfer of power in Washington D.C. It is awful watching people whom I call friends so politically divided and letting their politics spoil their friendships.

As a guy who loves vintage pens, it should come as no surprise that I love reading about history. Among other projects, I’m working on a book about the original American Civil War. Plus, with a master’s degree in journalism, I have a fairly strong understanding about the machinations of modern media.

There is one common factor that I have observed in recent years that conservatives and liberals can agree on: the media is biased. How many times have you heard conservatives blame the liberal media…or liberals blame the conservative media? How many of our friends who are 50+ bemoan the fact we no longer have an Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite that every American can trust to tell us the facts and only the facts in a news broadcast?

Why do we have so much media bias in our current time?

In 1949, the United States enacted a law known as “The Fairness Doctrine.” After having watched the rise of fascism in Europe and communism in Russia, American lawmakers wisely foresaw the new invention of television (and the older medium of radio) being used in horrible ways to subvert our democracy. As such, they enacted “The Fairness Doctrine.” Under this law, nobody who owned a broadcast license could promote one political ideology or party over another. If a channel or network wanted to feature a certain political opinion, it had to balance it out with the opposing view to give viewers a fair opportunity to consider both points of view and come up with their own opinions. Any channel or network that violated that balance would be punished by the Federal Communications Commission, which was nonpartisan and watched networks closely—enforcing the policy with vigor.

The policy remained in force until it was eliminated by Congress in 1987. Not surprisingly, we saw a sharp spike in opinion-based and biased broadcasting in the 1990s through today.

I propose that if we really want to heal our nation, then liberals and conservatives must come together to demand their lawmakers reinstate “The Fairness Doctrine.” No more liberal media. No more conservative media. No more lopsided political coverage. No more ideological brainwashing. News shows go back to broadcasting facts and only facts.

News shows might become more boring, but after watching violent insurrection on our streets, maybe boring would be a good change of pace on TV. 

This week marks the start of a new presidency and the start of a new cast of senators and representatives. Call or write your representatives and president this week and demand the restoration of “The Fairness Doctrine.” It won’t solve all of our nation’s problems, but it will go a long way to help lower the national temperature and restore bias-free broadcasting to our airwaves.

Decameron 2020: Where did Janey Go?

There are so many beautiful scenes to photograph in Connecticut in the fall…especially a stone wall leading to oblivion.

“Wheee!,” cheered Jane, clapping her hands for encouragement. “Look at that little girl run.”

Vick looked up from the papers he was grading and smiled at his mother-in-law. “She’s adorable.”

There was nobody else in the living room.

Since before they moved into this fully restored, 3-story Queen Anne home in New Haven, Jane had been seeing people who just weren’t there.

Jane had early onset Alzheimer’s and was nearing the end of the line. This little girl she had been seeing since they moved into the house likely was a series of happy memories about Vick’s wife when she was a little girl.

Jane was happy and comfortable, and that was all that mattered to Vick.

Getting this tenured professorship at an Ivy League school was a dream come true for Vick. His wife Sue was an architect who was in high demand, and she could usually work from home, traveling when she needed to. She was 100% supportive of this move, and they both agreed their newly renovated home was the best home in which either had ever lived.

They took great care with the interior design. Each room was unique, creating its own ambiance. The living room was tastefully elegant in a rich 1890s Victorian motif to restore the home to some of its original state. Dark woods, red cushions and wall coverings. House plants helped fill the room with life. Ferns and vines threatened to overtake the windows and furniture. The walls had paintings or bookshelves tastefully arranged. It was Vick’s favorite room.

Sue came in and asked, “You didn’t happen to take a bath and forget to empty the tub, did you? There are watery footprints all over the floor.”

Vick gave a subtle head shake no, and they both looked to Jane, who was bare-footed, and playing patty cake by herself and giggling.

Sue sighed, “I’ll go drain the tub and clean up the floor.”

“That’s alright. I can do it,” Vick offered.

“No, you’re busy. I got it.”

Keeping tabs on Jane was easily a 2-person job. Jane always meant well, but she had virtually no short-term memory. Frequently, she’d wander off and do household chores or yard work. It sounded great on the surface…until they discovered she never used dish soap and stacked wet, dirty dishes in the cabinets, without any regard for the contents of the cabinets and drawers in which she placed them. The pantry was forever being reorganized.

It was easier when their kids were home, but their two girls were off at college. For now, Vick and Sue tag-teamed watching Jane or cleaning up after her. The hardest part was that Jane preferred to be busy. You couldn’t just plunk her in front of a T.V. Jane preferred mowing, raking or pruning to watching T.V. Yet, to set her loose on her own would be trouble. When they gave her a trowel to weed the garden and left her alone, she forgot to weed and dug a 4-foot deep hole instead.

Neither Vick nor Sue blamed Jane. It was the disease.

During the week, a caretaker came to look after Jane. On the weekends, it was just Vick and Sue. They didn’t mind. They had set some boundaries for defining the moment they would need to find a nursing home, but they enjoyed Jane’s company and knew how much she’d hate a nursing home in her present state of mind.

They were content to give Jane as many good years, months or days as they could in their happy home.

•••

Imagine being buried in red and orange leaves.

The advantage to having kids off at college was sleeping in on Sundays and rediscovering each other.

Sue and Vick were as flirty as teenagers while making pancakes and bacon in the kitchen. Vick was nibbling Sue’s ear when Jane rushed in, out of breath and wearing nothing but a bathrobe.

“Have you seen that little girl?” she asked. “I tried to chase her, but she’s faster than me.”

“No,” Sue said, putting down the mixing bowl full of batter that she was stirring. “You want some breakfast? I’ve got some strawberries and whip cream for your pancakes. I know you like that.”

Jane looked confused. “Not right now. I really need to find that little girl.”

Jane left the kitchen on her quest, and Sue sighed and shrugged. “I guess playtime is over, now that she’s up.”

Vick gave her a kiss. “To be continued.”

She gave him her naughtiest smile, then Jane came running back into the kitchen.

Jane was pale and trembling. Panic was in her eyes.

“There’s a man in the house,” she said.

“What?” Vick asked. “Where?”

“I don’t like him,” Jane’s voice was a tremor. “Make him go away.”

“It’s okay,” Sue soothed, as she embraced her mother.

“What did he look like? Where is he?” Vick questioned, grabbing a long, sharp kitchen knife.

Vick was a pudgy college professor, not a knife fighter, but he figured something was better than nothing.

Jane was at a loss for words  and just pointed out the kitchen entrance she came in.

“Be careful,” Sue cautioned.

Searching the first floor, Vick saw no trace of anybody. No broken windows. No disturbed furniture. No stolen items.

He was surprised to find the front door unlocked. Opening the front door, a package was waiting for his wife on the porch.

Snorting a small laugh, he put together the pieces of the puzzle.

He took the package back to Sue and asked Jane, “Did you see the delivery man? Is that who scared you?”

“What man?” Jane asked, confused.

Sue exhaled in relief.

“I’ll check the rest of the house,” Vick said. “But, I think we found our culprit.”

“Thanks,” Sue agreed, as she took the package.

Nothing was amiss as Vick explored from low to high. The only thing out of place was that the 2nd floor bath tub was full, again. Muttering to himself, Vick drained the tub and sopped up the mess on the floor with a towel.

•••

Not sure there is anything more beautiful than maple leaves at peak color.

Raking the last of the front yard leaves into a huge three-foot pile, Sue and Jane were dressed in gloves and heavy sweaters.

It was a crisp, late-October day.

“Watch that little girl play in the leaves,” Jane said, resting on her rake.

“I don’t know about any little girl,” Sue smiled mischievously. “I think you want to play in the leaves.”

“Noooo,” Jane protested. “I’m too old. What will the neighbors say?”

“They’ll say, ‘Look at the old lady having fun. Maybe she’ll let me play, too.’ Go on. Have fun.”

Jane jumped into the leaves with reckless abandon. Sue picked up a pile of leaves and dropped them on her. Then she fell into the leaves next to her mother.

They both laughed like they did when Sue was a little girl.

When they tired of laughing and throwing leaves at one another, they lay quietly staring at the cold, grey sky through the nearly naked branches of an old oak tree.

“I don’t think I’ve got another winter left in me, Sue.”

Sue was shocked by the sudden return of dementia-free clarity.

“Of course you do, Mom. You’re a skiier.”

“Not any more.” Jane was silent a moment before continuing. “I really want to thank you and Vick for how well you are taking care of me, but I want you to know that it is okay…whatever it is you need to do to take care of me.”

Tears welled in Sue’s eyes, as she took in the full permission of what her mother was granting her.

“I love you, Susie.”

“I love you, too, Mama,” Sue said, hugging her tightly and crying. “I miss you so much.”

They cried and hugged some more, and before either of them was ready, the dementia returned.

“Why are you crying?” Jane innocently asked, oblivious to her own cheeks wet with tears.

Sue tried hard to compose herself quickly. “Nothing. Nothing, Mama. How about some hot cocoa?”

“Only if my little friend here can have a cup, too,” she said, climbing out of the leaves and on to her feet.

“Of course,” she agreed, absently wiping her nose on her sleeve.

•••

Later  that night, just down the hall from her loving daughter and son-in-law, comfy and warm in her bed, Jane passed away peacefully.

On October 30th, a small grave-side service was held for Jane. Her granddaughters came in from their respective colleges. Nobody in New Haven knew Jane, but a couple of Sue and Vick’s colleagues came to offer their support. The girls were upset. Sue and Vick had far more complex feelings. They were sorrowful for Jane’s passing. She died too young from a disease that deprived her of her memories and personality. Yet, being her constant caretakers had taken a toll on them, too, and they felt guilty for feeling some relief.

At midnight Vick was awakened by a small hand gently patting his shoulder. He groggily thought it was one of his daughters, momentarily forgetting they were now grown women.

Through his bleary eyes he saw a 9-year-old girl patiently standing next to his bed. She had curly hair like Shirley Temple and was wearing a 1940s’ dungaree jumper.

Coming to his senses, he gasped and sat up in bed—scooting backward until his back was against the headboard.

“Who are you?”

Sensing his fear, the little girl took a step backward and asked,  “Where did Janey go? I haven’t seen her for a couple of days.”

Sue started to stir next to him.

“What?” Vick asked. “How did you get in here?”

The girl smiled like he was being silly.

“You know me,” she explained. “I’m Janey’s friend. You called me adorable once when we were playing in the drawing room.”

Sue was coming to her senses and trying to understand what a little girl was doing in their bedroom.

Vick tried to explain gently to someone whom he wasn’t sure existed, “Umm. Jane died several days ago.”

She looked at him quizzically, as if she didn’t quite understand.

Then a soft familiar voice playfully called from down the hall.

“Evvvvelynnnn. Come out, come out wherever you are.”

“Mama?” Sue whispered, confused.

“Oh! There she is,” said the little girl, perking up. Then her eyes widened and fear shown on her face. “I forgot to warn her about the man with the bloody arms in the bathtub!”

The girl faded away as she looked like she was going to run out of the room.

Seconds later Jane screamed from the middle of the hallway.

“Mama!” Sue shouted, as she and Vick ran down the hall to the bathroom. Moments later they were joined by their daughters.

They stood silently watching the lit bathroom. Nobody else was in the hall or bathroom, but the tub was full and wet footprints led to the hallway and vanished.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Decameron 2020: Elementary Human Nature

Nope, again this has nothing to do with the story, but it is a beautiful swampy nature preserve in Wisconsin.

Mrs. Peebles loved her first-grade class. Each of her 20 students was a clever little sponge soaking in knowledge, exploring and learning in their own ways. High-energy and mostly adorable, she wished she could protect each one from all of the dangers in the world.

To help keep them safe, near the end of the school year, she’d have a special class to warn them about the dangers lurking within their own homes. She explained how bleach and ammonia could be wonderful cleaners for their homes, but they could also be deadly poisons if drunk. Just getting the chemicals on their skin could hurt them, if they didn’t wash them off quickly. She let the kids come up and give a quick little sniff of each chemical to make sure they knew what they smelled like and should avoid.

Next she warned them of other dangers, such as hot stoves and space heaters.

She would wrap up the discussion with a dire warning never to stick anything other than an electric plug into a light socket. Electricity was vital to powering their lights, TV and computers, but it also was deadly when touched directly. She explained how a shock could stop their hearts or burn them.

After answering the children’s questions and reassuring them that all of these dangerous things could be very safe if only used properly, she began to put away her sample chemicals in a locking cabinet behind her desk.

At the very second she knelt down, there was a loud pop in the classroom and the lights flickered.

She stood up and screamed when she saw little Johnny Whozit lying unconscious next to an electric outlet on the other side of the room, a small pair of scissors clenched in his hand.

***

Dear Friends,

It is easy for us, as adults, to see that Johnny had a severe lapse in judgement when he was just told that the very thing he was about to do could kill him. The vast majority of us don’t need to stick things in an outlet to know it is an insanely terrible idea. The overwhelming majority of us have never stuck anything other than proper plugs in an outlet.

While quarantine totally blows goats, for the life of me I cannot understand why grown adults think it is suddenly a good idea to drink bleach, break quarantine and stop wearing masks in public, in close proximity to other people.

With increasing repetition, I’m hearing all manner of virus conspiracy theories, as if Covid-19 has ideological intentions.

It doesn’t. The virus isn’t liberal, conservative or even political. It is a mindless microscopic thing that isn’t even a complete single-cell structure that scientists define as only being on the “edge of life.” It isn’t living in the traditional sense that we understand living to be…but it isn’t quite not-alive, either. No wonder it is difficult to treat. It only has two goals: quasi-live & replicate. It sickens and kills everybody equally, regardless of politics, race, religion or wealth.

I am blessed to count many EMTs, nurses, doctors and police officers among my friends and customers. Many of them have told me how insanely contagious this disease is. Most of them have seen people die of the disease…many people, in some cases.

Many of the best scientific minds in the country are working on cures and vaccines to save the rest of us from this plague. At the moment, we have no known, proven cure. We’re mostly keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn’t kill us. True, for as many people who get it, only a small percentage of them die. Who wants to take that risk when a cure or vaccine might be just around the corner?

Yes, the economy is in rough shape. Absolutely, people need money to continue on. All of us would love to gather with friends and family once again. We all want life to return to normal as soon as possible…and I hope with as little suffering and death as possible. OMG! Warm weather and a beautiful springtime make it even harder to stay indoors. I get it.

But these are extraordinary times, and they call for extreme measures to protect our family, friends and neighbors as much as humanly possible.

One of the most dangerous parts about Covid-19 is that you can get it and never know it. You can also get it and spread it for up to 14 days before coming down with symptoms. Why put yourself at risk? Why put your family and friends at risk? Why pass it on to some friendly elderly person you accidentally bump into at the grocery store? Who knows how many people someone you might infect can then turn around and infect?

Until we have a cure or vaccine, the only thing we can do for ourselves and everyone else is stay home…and wear a mask if you have to go out for supplies. It totally sucks, but it is the only way to stay safe…minimize the spread of the disease…and buy the many doctors and scientists working around the clock to find a better way to kill, cure and prevent this disease a little more time.

Regardless of politics, for the health and lives of our families and friends, we need to unite as a nation and a planet. At no other time in human history has it been easier to be a hero that helps save humanity. All you have to do is continue to shelter in place.

With great love, health and respect,
Nathaniel

Catching Up Part I: Our First ‘Pen World’ Write Up!

It has been a crazy year for us at ThePenMarket.com. As some of you might know, I was working a full-time job…in addition to working full-time hours on ThePenMarket.com…while also coaching youth fencing competitions…while also writing a novel, seeing it published and ultimately being nominated for (and losing) a Pulitzer Prize. Toss in lots of pen repairs and a handful of pen shows…it was tough keeping up with these Drippy Musings.

I am very excited to say that I am now working full-time for myself at ThePenMarket.com. Good-bye, corporate America.  All the thanks goes to you, our customers, for helping me to live out a dream as a full-time pen entrepreneur!

The joy of the freedom of working for myself means that I can bring this blog up to speed. As such, it is time to thank “Pen World Magazine” for writing a story about my novel “Little Victories” in the December 2016 issue. With their permission to share it, here it is:

The 'Pen World Magazine' cover December 2016.

The ‘Pen World Magazine’ cover December 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My First Published Book: ‘Little Victories’

It was a dark and stormy decade, but I finally found a publisher for my novel, “Little Victories“!

The aptly named Last Chance Press released it today, which, coincidentally, is the 9th anniversary of ThePenMarket.com’s launch! I guess good things are meant to happen on August 5th. I should buy a lottery ticket.

Here's the front cover of my novel "Little Victories." It was beautifully drawn by Kim Kagarise and designed by Rhonda Jackson.

Here’s the front cover of my novel “Little Victories.” It was beautifully drawn by Kim Kagarise and designed by Rhonda Jackson.

My novel exposes the travesties and small successes of the American children’s mental healthcare system. From laws written to unintentionally benefit sex offenders and other abusers to spending cuts on social services, this story gives voice to the voiceless children across America who are being as abused by the bureaucracy as much as they are their tormentors.

Far from being a bleeding-heart crusade, it is a cold reality check that follows a year in the life of a mental health worker and the elementary school students she tries to help. The characters are fictional, as to write about real people would break confidentiality laws, but the events are events that happen every day in every community in the United States. I’ve spoken with scores of teachers, mental health workers, social workers and local child-protective agency employees. Specific wording of the various laws referenced in the book vary a little from state to state, but the core of the problems are the same in all 50 states. Experts in several states have read this and agree that I’ve nailed the heart of the problems while showcasing the lives most effected by them.

There are no long, dry political rants; this book just shows life as it really is from the points of view of the people most intimately involved in the system. It is a very fast-paced read that I hope keeps you turning the pages.

It is a hard-hitting book, which I hope goes a long way to help people, much like the Boston Globe’s unveiling of the Catholic Church’s child-sex scandal. That reporting only exposed problems in the priesthood. “Little Victories” sheds light on a far more wide-ranging national problem.

As depressing as it can be at times, I intentionally keep a steady stream of really dark humor running through the book. People working under that kind of pressure and duress keep their sanity via gallows humor, which I consciously included to pepper the dialogue and narrative as these employees would. It works much the way humor does in “Catch 22,” the classic Joseph Heller novel about World War II.

I would be hugely honored if you bought a copy of “Little Victories.” You can ask for it in any book store, and you can find it in print and on Kindle at Amazon.com. If you order it from Amazon, please, please, please write a review for it. If I can get enough reviews on Amazon, it will help tremendously to get the word out.

This wouldn’t be much of a blog post for a pen site, if I didn’t mention the pens I used to write this book.

When I started writing this book in early 2005, I was writing in my off hours when I was an editor at a newspaper. I needed some relief from the computer, so I opted to enjoy myself writing the 326-page rough draft longhand. I wrote with my entire–very limited collection–of fountain pens. I wrote the most with my late grandfather’s 1928 Sheaffer Lifetime (black and pearl), a gold Cross Townsend, a Cross Metropolis and a 1945 Parker Vacumatic Major in emerald pearl. I worked in a Rotring double-broad stub pen, too.

It is much easier to compose on a computer, and I probably won’t write another novel out longhand, first, but it was very cathartic to do it on this novel.

Please buy a copy of “Little Victories” and join the fight to help abused kids in your community. Thank you!