Tag Archives: #vintagepens

Bic Cristal Inks Get Testing

We tested these 8 Bic Cristal pens to see how ballpoint ink holds up to 6 months of sunlight. Blue, Pink, Green, Black, Grass-Stain Green, Purple, Turquoise and Red.

During my last visit with Ink-Fast Donn at the D.C. Pen Show in 2019, he said he was starting to test ballpoint inks to see how well they hold up to UV light.

Last summer, I discovered a collection of the famous and commonly used Bic Cristal ballpoints in my fencing gear. I taught a wonderful group of teens and tweens advanced competition maneuvers and strategy, and to help them remember their lessons and opponents, I insisted they keep “Diaries of Doom” and “Tomes of Terror.” To help personalize it more, I handed out colorful notebooks and pens.

Armed with 8 colors (blue, pink, green, grass-stain green, black, turquoise, purple and red), I created a sample on Rhodia paper and taped it to a sunny window of my home at the end of August. I took it down at the end of February and was surprised by the results.

This photo doesn’t really do full justice to the sample set and proof set. The blue doesn’t look as blue as it does in real life.

Surprise #1 to me was that the black ink faded. With fountain pen inks, you can generally count on black to be the most stable and fade-proof. While it didn’t fade away entirely, it had issues.

Side by side comparisons showcase the effect of 6 months of sunlight on Bic Cristal inks.

Surprise #2: Blue! Blue fountain pen inks fade something fierce under the withering sun. Bic Cristal blue got stronger! It lost some of its blueness and turned blacker, but it held on defiantly under the sun’s gaze.

Surprise #3: Grass-Stain Green didn’t fade as much as I thought it would. It faded a little.

Red and purple faded the most. Green, turquoise and pink faded a little, but survived okay.

Reflecting on this experiment, for some reason, I always assumed oil-based ballpoint inks would be far more permanent than water-based fountain pen inks. Yet, their chemical compositions all have their frailties. Some ballpoint colors react differently than fountain pen inks, but that shouldn’t surprise me as much as it did.

Our Latest Story in ‘Pen World’

I wrote a story featured in the February 2021 issue of Pen World Magazine. We have been given permission to reprint it here.

Check out the February 2021 issue of ‘Pen World’ Magazine! They loved our blog post about Parker’s Vice President of Foreign Sales Frank Matthay and asked us to write a more pen-centric story about Frank and Parker! Editor in Chief Nicky Pessaroff has given me permission to reprint and post the magazine cover and story here for your entertainment. It is different than the original blog post, and I hope you enjoy this new story. Also be sure to run out and subscribe “Pen World.”

 

Pen World Magazine has given us permission to reprint this story I wrote for the February 2021 issue. Click the image to see a larger, more readable, version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 2 of the story. Click the image to see a larger, more readable, version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 3. Click the image for a larger, more readable, version.

 

Decameron 2020: The Price of Guilt

The Price of Guilt
By Art Cerf

Here’s the first snowfall of the year in Connecticut. It has nothing to do with the story. We just think it is beautiful and as good a way to illustrate this story as any.

Mike and Jill had been married for almost two years and still behaved like newlyweds. They treasured each other.

One morning Jill woke up with a headache and a slight fever. She said it’s just a cold and went on with her day. But the headache got worse and her fever climbed so Mike rushed her to the hospital. It was the last time he would see her for four weeks.

He checked about every four hours with the hospital staff but she was showing no improvement. In fact, three days in the doctors said they had to put a tube down her throat because her oxygen levels had dipped so.

Mike was worried sick. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t read or watch TV. About all he could do was go outside and walk…and walk…and walk.

One day, he ran into Maggie, one of Jill’s acquaintances and she asked for Jill and he told her how she was now hospitalized with Covid. She looked at him…gaunt in appearance, he hadn’t shaved in days nor eaten much.

She said let’s go back to your place and I’d cook you up something. He followed her and she rummaged through the fridge and came up with bacon and eggs.

She told him to go upstairs, shower, shave and change his clothes. When he returned, he suddenly realized he was ravenous and quickly ate every bite.

After the meal, he asked her if she’d like a beer.

“No, but if you have any gin, I’d take a martini.”

So they both had martinis and talked. And then a second martini and then a third.

The next thing he knew, he was getting out of bed to pee while nursing a terrible hangover.

As he returned, he saw a sleeping Maggie, one bare breast peeking out from beneath the sheets.

He tried to dress quietly but she awoke smiling, saying, “Good morning, lover.”

Mike turned scarlet and stammered, “We shouldn’t have, I shouldn’t have…”

She stopped him, saying not to worry, it was a one-time thing and she had no desire to break up his marriage, adding, “As for me, I really enjoyed myself and apparently, you did too…twice!”

Maggie then said she’d take a quick shower and be on her way.

Those were the longest 25 minutes in Mike’s life until she went out the door.

Then he worried, “What if the neighbors saw? What if she had a social disease or, God forbid, Aids?”

And then he realized he had used no protection…what if she’s pregnant?

Just then the phone rang and it was the hospital. A doctor told him Jill had been taken off the ventilator and was doing much better and though still very weak, could go home in two or three days.

Mike ran upstairs, stripped the bed and washed the sheets…twice. He then scrubbed out the tub to make sure none of Maggie’s long, chestnut hair was stuck in the drain or anywhere else.  Then he cleaned up the kitchen, washing pots and dishes, again trying to erase any sign of Maggie’s presence.

Three days later, Jill came home and went straight up to the bedroom to lie down.

Then the phone rang and it was Maggie.

“Mike,” she said, “I had a Covid test at work after our night, and I’ve tested positive but asymptotic. However, they warn that I may have past the virus to anyone I’d seen or spent time with.”

A Very Parker Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in Groton, Conn.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been this chaotic and stressful for everyone in America since at least World War II…possibly since the 1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic. There’s the Covid-19 pandemic, political turmoil, recession, open-rampant-growing racism, civil unrest and climate disaster for many recovering from wildfires and hurricanes.

It feels more important than ever to take a day to recognize all of the things we are grateful for in our lives. Me, I’m thankful for my fiancé, her mother and I all being healthy and well together in our new home. I’m thankful my parents, sister and her family are healthy and safe. And I’m thankful for all of my friends, whether we know each other from before ThePenMarket.com or because of it.

So many customers became friends who beautifully color my life. In Chicago, I have a Civil-War studying, vintage-camera-loving buddy with fantastic wit and a social-working, philosophizing friend who convinced me to not give up on my novel. There’s the salsa-dancing police detective who specializes in tracking down child abusers in Arizona. A Heinlein-loving pen collector in Virginia. A virologist who is working on the Covid-19 vaccine. A certain retired urologist in Connecticut. A retired sailor in Virginia Beach. A school teacher in Germany. A Waterman-loving Oklahoman. The nursing home nurse in Texas. Several great paramedics in Washington and Colorado. I have a 3-fingered brother from another mother down in Texas, as well as a wonderful roommate and travel buddy who loves cars as much as pens. I’d have never guessed I’d have as many additional new and wonderful friends from the Deep South as I do. I am a Yankee city boy, after all. And, of course, there are many, many other pen friends whom I delight in getting to know through the site. 

The newest friend I think you’ll enjoy meeting is Camy Matthay. Camy reached out to me after reading my series of stories about the pens that ended World War II. Most of those pens were Parker pens, and she is reconnecting with her late father by doing the deepest dive into Parker pens I’ve seen in years.

Frank Matthay in his passport issued 1959. Matthay was the leader of Parker exports from 1928 through 1966.

Who was her father? No. Not George or Kenneth Parker. Her father was the unassuming sounding Frank Matthay…the man responsible for making Parker a global brand!

Her story is equally captivating as her father’s. Camy came along late in Frank’s life. And, unfortunately, he died of early-onset Alzheimer’s in the mid-1970s when she was a teen. His memories were robbed of him by the disease, just as she was coming of age and really interested in getting to know her father as a person more than just Dad. Life moves quickly in one’s teens and twenties, and a little later in adulthood Camy decided to reconnect with her late father when she uncovered a treasure trove of boxes filled with his papers, passports, photos and other personal effects.

Frank, as it turns out, lived the adventure of a lifetime. Not only did he live well at a time when most of the world lived in crushing poverty, he saw the world before it lost much of its mystery. He met presidents and Nazis—generals and actual Amazonian headhunters. He helped give birth to the Parker Vacumatic, 51, 61 and 75!

Thankfully, Camy has shared her discoveries with me and is happy to share them with you, too. The following is my summary of her father’s biography with her full approval.

Frank Matthay (far left) with George Parker (white haired guy, founder of Parker Pens) circa 1929.

Frank Matthay was born May 10, 1904, in Beyenberg, Germany. Too young to fight in World War I, he was a talented student in what now would be considered a college-prep high school. Here he specialized in studying the classics, including the languages Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and his native German. Along the line, he also picked up English.

At the tender age of 19, he immigrated to the United States in 1923. He was sponsored by his uncle. Germany, at the time, was struggling desperately with the national economic collapse of post-WWI reparations and more. He moved to Chicago, where he was supposed to work in his uncle’s grocery store. However, it seems he never worked for his uncle, taking a job initially as a soda jerk and taking night classes at a YMCA. 

It is unclear when and where he mastered English, as well as Spanish, Portuguese and some Mandarin Chinese. Yet, his early training in the German school system likely made it very easy for him to learn any other language put in front of him.

Also unclear is how he joined the Parker Pen Company in January 1928, at the age of 23. His mastery of languages was what got him a job in the export department, and he was soon working closely with George and Kenneth Parker.

By all accounts, Frank was the life of any party with a natural gift of gab and always armed with a joke and amusing stories. He was tall and lean with a broad, easy smile and a glimmer of mirth in his eyes, plus he had a meticulously Teutonic attention to detail. All important traits for setting up a global distribution and sales network in Central America, South America, Europe, Asia and South Africa!

After a year with the company, Frank was sent on his first assignment to Cuba on the two-year-old airline known as PanAmerican. His career would actually parallel the rise of PanAm. He rode on every glamorous (and not-so-glamorous) float plane they had including the very early Sikorsky S-38, Consolidated Commodore and the extremely lux Sikorsky S-40 “Caribbean Clipper,” which was the first of PanAm’s famous “Clipper” airliners.

Frank took this photo of a Sikorsky 38 float plane taxiing to the dock.

On the success of his Cuba trip, in 1930 he was sent to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, France, Mexico and Cuba, once again. During his trip to Europe on the SS Bremen, he witnessed one of the first, if not the first, aircraft launched from a ship at sea. It was a mail plane launched from a catapult to speed the delivery of the mail the ship was carrying. In 1931, he spent 6 months “on the road” building Parker’s network in Australia and Southeast Asia!

Herbert Hoover’s motorcade drives through Port au Prince, Haiti.

An avid photographer, Frank took pictures of all of his travels. He has images of President Herbert Hoover’s 2-car motorcade in Port au Prince, Haiti. He loved exploring volcanos. On one of his trips to Peru or Ecuador he met and photographed a tribe of headhunters. He even bought a shrunken head from them for $25 (about $330 in our current money). The images look as if they could have been in National Geographic.

Frank took this photo of a tribe of headhunters in Peru or Ecuador. He bought a shrunken head from them for $25.

If you remember my stories about Kenneth Parker befriending Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in the Philippines, Frank was with them!

Fans of the Parker 51 will love knowing that Frank was the architect of the 1939 and ’40 release of the preliminary Parker 51s in South America and the Caribbean! His itinerary in 1939 was packed with extended trips south of the border. His itinerary on PanAmerican Airlines alone cost nearly $27,000 in today’s money. That doesn’t count his hotels, meals, etc. Yet, it also laid the ground work for the sale of tens of millions of Parker 51s both abroad and at home.

Here is Frank’s copy of the PanAm route map from 1931. Odds are really good that he flew every leg of that route.

Financially speaking, Frank was very well paid for his efforts. At the end of the Great Depression in 1939, he was making $5,000 a year. That is just shy of $100,000 a year in today’s money. And that doesn’t count for his luxury travel and adventures paid for by the company. According to records from Janesville that Camy found, he was making more than local doctors. Parker’s famous nib grinders of 1939 made $2,400 a year. A typist at Parker would make $1,000 a year. (Other cool details she uncovered.)

Frank’s passports are works of art, colorfully illustrated with visas to scores of nations. More impressive than the stamps of many colors are the notes from customs officials. Chilling are the notes by Nazis and Italian fascists telling him where he can and cannot go. It also seemed to him at times that the Nazis had him under surveillance. As a former German citizen who became a naturalized American, he was suspicious to them.

As it turns out, they had good reasons to suspect him. He was very anti-fascism. After the outbreak of World War II, he worked with friends and family in Belgium to funnel money to the resistance fighting Nazi-occupation.

His post-war years were just as busy, as he rebuilt Parker’s global networks from the rubble of Europe’s and much of Asia’s destruction.

Check out the stamps from China to Nazi Germany on this heavily inked page from his 1937 passport.

Unfortunately, a life of travel and corporate empire building was rough at home. His first marriage, in which he had 3 children, ended in divorce. Later in life he remarried and had three more children, including Camy. Yet, that was difficult, too. He traveled around the world so much, a very, very young Camy thought he was one of America’s first astronauts for a little while.

In 1960, Parker opened a sales office in Paris, and Frank and his family were moved there to run the office until 1962.

By the mid-1960s, Frank’s memory started to fail. Very little was known about neurological diseases such as Alzheimers back then, and doctors actually thought his medical problems stemmed from diseases he might have picked up on his travels or from eating exotic native foods, such as, apparently, a still beating snake heart in Vietnam.

Frank retired as a vice president at Parker in 1966, after 38 years of dedicated service. He continued his hobby of collecting stamps and learning Russian and Sandskrit until his Alzheimers made it impossible. He passed away in 1974.

Frank is on the far right posing with the famed Parker 51 airplane. Among his many other hobbies, Frank was a licensed pilot, though I do not know if he flew the “51.”

Honestly, there are so many more adventures in Frank’s life, but I just couldn’t fit them all into this post without simply writing a book. I am so thankful for Camy’s reaching out to me and sharing her stories and research. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about Parker’s international growth and its star salesman and leader.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season. No matter how bad this pandemic gets, remember we are going to get through it. A vaccine is on its way. And one day, this pandemic will be nothing more than a bad memory. Thank you for visiting and supporting ThePenMarket.com. We can’t do it without you, and we are so grateful for you. Stay strong and keep writing.

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: The Pickerel Witch

Here’s a Fowler’s toad lurking in the grass…or is it? Enjoy our modern fairytale.

Ilke and Streusel were walking through Germany’s dark, primeval Black Forest. They had been lost and wandering for days.

“Ilke,” her little brother called. “I’m hungry. Why did our evil step-mother send us on this horrible quest to find dingleberries in the forest?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “But even if we find this dingleberry bush, I do not think we can find our way back to our loving-but-easily-duped father and have a dingleberry pie.”

They trudged on, weak and trembling.

“Remember our friends, Hansel and Gretel?” Streusel asked.

“Of course.”

“Well, just last week I heard that they found a cabin made of candy,” he said. “Maybe it is still here somewhere close to us.”

“I hope not,” Ilke shivered. “I heard they met a witch who tried to eat them.”

“Yeah, but they pushed her into an oven and killed her. That means there should be plenty of fresh candy waiting for us.”

“I think we’d be better off avoiding witches.”

Eventually they came to a swampy clearing. They rested their weary little bottoms on a log.

“I’m so hungry,” Streusel exclaimed. “I could eat a frog.”

Here’s a real Pickerel frog?

Just like that a splotchy, warty Pickerel frog hopped up between them on the log.

With the last of his strength, Streusel caught the frog and held it gently in his hands as he contemplated eating it raw.

“Don’t hurt it,” Ilke commanded. “It never did anything to you. You have no right to take its life.”

Streusel cried with guilt for ever thinking of killing a living creature, and he cried because he was hungry. He carefully set the plump little amphibian down.

It looked at him and ribbeted, “Thanks.” Next there was a flash and poof.

The children screamed as a beautiful woman with thick, shoulder-length blonde hair appeared wearing a long, black dress, black hobnail boots and a wide-brimmed black pointy hat.

She produced a compact from her black-satin dress and powdered her nose. Then she gave a toss of her golden locks, just for effect before closing her compact.

“Hi there,” she greeted the children. “My name is Madison, but you can call me Maddie.”

The children looked at her and trembled in terror.

“Oh, you little lambs must be starving,” she said and handed each child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off, just they way they liked.

“Our step-mother says never to take food from strangers,” Ilke declared.

In a sweet and sardonic voice, Maddie asked, “The same step-mother who intentionally left you in the forest to die so she could have lots of sex with your dim-witted father and raise her spawn in your place?”

“Ohhhh,” the kids sighed, thought about it and devoured their sandwiches.

Feeling better, Streusel asked, “Are you going to eat us now?”

Madison laughed with impish delight.

“No, Sweetie. That was Hildegarde, who Hansel and Gretel did in so nicely. She was old skool. Very conservative and traditional,” Maddie explained. “I’m with the more progressive Witchs’ Welfare League. We love good little girls and boys and think it is unfair to prey on them when they are already such easy and undeserving targets.”

The siblings nodded appreciatively.

“So what are you going to do with us?” Ilke asked apprehensively.

“Nothing, dear child,” Madison said. “The real question is, ‘What are you going to do to help me?’”

“What do you mean?” Ilke asked.

Madison pinched Ilke’s ribs and said, “Well, it feels to me as if you haven’t had any meat in ages.”

“No, we haven’t,” Streusel told her.

“How about you guys help me chop up your step-mother and eat her for dinner, and then you can live happily ever after with your loving father.”

“Yay!” cheered the kids, as they clasped Maddie’s hands, hopped off the log and skipped all the way back home to cannibalize their most-deserving, wicked step-mother.

T
H
END

Decameron 2020: The Undertaker

The Undertaker
By Art Cerf

Having nothing to do with this story, here’s a Revolutionary War memorial to the patriots massacred at Fort Griswold in Groton, Conn., by British soldiers under the command of the traitorous Benedict Arnold.

Businesses across America were crashing but not Buddy Seldon’s. You see, Buddy was a mortician, inheritor of a small family business. And business was soaring.

Buddy was working seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, preparing up to four funerals a day, due to the Covid pandemic. By the time he would head home at night, he just had time to feed his cat, Abby, and throw a frozen dinner into the microwave. After eating, he would fall asleep from exhaustion, sometimes on the couch unable to make it to bed.

He had no personal life. What started as a promising relationship with Rachel Morrison died when he no longer had time to spend with her.

His only solace was the money was pouring in. He was clearing six figures after expenses every month. At this rate, he figured he’d be a millionaire within a few more months. Then he’d sell this profitable operation for even more money and then go live the life he wanted.

And that day finally came. He signed the sale papers, deposited the check and started making plans.

He called his travel agent and told her to book a month-long tour of Great Britain, from Scotland to Southhampton, from London to Wales.

The agent replied, “Sorry, Buddy, but you can’t travel to Britain…there’s a two week quarantine for all travelers.”

“Okay,” said Buddy, “Then make it a tour of Europe.”

“No can do,” said the agent. The EU has banned American tourists.

“How about Australia and New Zealand?”

“Same story,” said the agent. “Canada is out, too.”

She added, “I could still get you into Brazil, but I don’t think that would be very wise at this moment.”

Buddy said: “Okay…how about travel in the States. I’d love to have a spree in New York City.”

Again, the agent paused. “You live in one of the states from which New York is not accepting visitors, unless you quarantine for two weeks. And you don’t want to go to Florida or any other Southern states, Texas, Arizona or California.”

Buddy thanked her, opened a beer and had no idea what to do next.

We’ve Moved…Again…& Whatever Happened to the Great American Motel?

We have a guard toad, so watch out. He might spray you with toxins. Nature lover that I am, I love having an “American toad” living on and near our front porch.

Greetings from Gales Ferry, Connecticut! What a crazy, unpredictable journey life is. My fiancé found her dream job, and I sure wouldn’t say no. I have now lived from coast to coast. When I was just a lad, I used to spend a lot of my summers on the East Coast. My dad is from New Jersey, and we’d visit relatives most summers, with a final destination often in Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. My Great Aunt Florence lived in Connecticut, and while I remember visiting her and her sister Helen with regularity, I can’t say I really remembered much of Connecticut besides them and Florence’s rambunctious dog.

(Even as a really little kid I was a total history buff, and I loved that Florence and Helen–who lived deep into their 90s–were the daughters of a Civil War veteran. Their dad, who fought for the Union at Manassas and Gettysburg, was in his forties or fifties when they were born, and their earliest memories were playing Teddy Roosevelt charging San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders. I loved listening to their stories, and they loved having a little kid around who would actually sit and listen to them.)

In all fairness, the last time I was in Connecticut was likely 35 years ago. I really don’t remember it being this hilly…and natural! I lived in Montana for nearly a decade, and it took me years to see as much wildlife as I’ve seen in a week in Connecticut. I swear. Although I haven’t seen them, yet, I’ve heard at least two owls hooting up a magnificent storm over several nights now. There are plenty of deer. My fiancé has seen a fox. We have bats eating all of our bugs at night. A marble salamander lives in our backyard and an American toad lives on our front porch. Little red crabs live not 5 miles from here in the brackish waters of the mouth of the Thames River as it connects to the Atlantic Ocean. And to think I was expecting massive urban sprawl from New York City. I love it.

Best of all, even though it is hot and humid, people understand that wearing masks in public during a pandemic will save lives! The results: yesterday made two days in a row with Connecticut not reporting any Covid-19 deaths. When we drove through Ohio virtually nobody we saw was wearing a mask. Virtually everybody we’ve seen wears a mask in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Aside from grocery runs, we’ve had to quarantine for 14 days, but that’s nothing compared to the lockdown this past spring. We have far too much to do unpacking our lives and the pen business.

Our move was a bit harrowing, especially driving through Tropical Storm Fay. Yet, what really got me was the decline of the classic American motel…and hotels, in general. Pre-Covid I traveled the country to at least 7 different pen shows a year. Plus, I have done a ton of traveling throughout much of my life.

We found this Marble Salamander living in our backyard. I had never seen a real, live wild salamander before. This place is awesome.

As a kid in the 1980s, we traveled every summer by car. We stayed at motels all of the time. Days Inn, Super 8, Holiday Inn, Knights Inn and any number of mom & pop operations were the norm from Midwest to the East Coast to the Deep South to the vast expanse of California. With only one or two exceptions, they were all clean, safe and homey. Yeah, the towels, sheets and blankets were a little scratchy from too much bleach. No, we didn’t have all the space to lay stuff out like at home. BUT, there was no mold, the paint was never peeling from anything, we never worried about bedbugs or cockroaches, everything worked as it should…and if something didn’t, they sent a maintenance man right away to fix it. These establishments were definitely nice enough to want to go out and explore the great American highway, but they were also just different enough that you’d also be super happy to be back home in your own bed by the end of the trip. Even though the value of a dollar was different in the 1980s, you could get a good, respectable room for about $30 a night in 1985…which comes out to about $65 today.

On this specific trip, we couldn’t find a hotel room for less than $100 a night. (Admittedly, we were traveling with a cat, which I never did as a kid.) Yet, every hotel we stayed in was bad to terrible. Apparently, nobody wants to bleach out a hotel bathroom any more. Every single motel had a ton of mold in the bathroom. Even at pen shows in Double Tree and Hilton hotels, which are supposed to be the classy joints, I find mold all around the bathtub…and those places start at charging around $150 a night. On our trip we stayed at mostly name-brand motels. Paint was peeling off the showers and walls. Stains were all over the carpets. One hotel where we ultimately didn’t stay had boogers all over the wall of one bathroom and mud in the bottom of the tub. In the second room they offered us the room had cockroaches. All for the low, low price of $100 a night plus taxes! We had another hotel where the A/C didn’t work.

While I am grateful there were any places open at all during a pandemic…and while I appreciate labor isn’t cheap…a gallon of bleach isn’t going to set anyone back. I’ve cleaned enough bathrooms to know that even just squirting bleach on mold will likely kill it and maybe even remove it without much, if any, scrubbing. I would think that a bucket of paint and a steam-cleaning rug vacuum would be pretty standard motel and hotel items. For $100 to $200 a night, a clean, mold-free room doesn’t seem too much to ask.

When we got to our new house, the old tenants had left behind a glossy travel magazine whose issue was dedicated to hotel glamour. Dawn and I laughed. The magazine spoke so lovingly about the comforts and joys of hotel living, and all we could think of was how the writers and editors clearly haven’t stayed in an average hotel or motel in ages.

How Do I Restore a Conklin Crescent

We are by no means done with the Decameron 2020 Project. However, I felt like getting back to pens for a posting. If you’ve been mostly coming for the storytelling, who knows, maybe you’ll get a kick out of a deeper dive into old fountain pens.

Here is a Conklin Crescent 2NL fountain pen in need of restoration.

Let’s look at one of the oldest “self-filling” fountain pen filling systems. In the earliest days of fillable fountain pens, any pen with a bladder or ink sac was considered self-filling. Before that you had dips and eyedroppers. Conklin invented the crescent filler in 1898. For as cumbersome as it looks, it was an insanely simple design. The pen is hollow like an eyedropper, but there is a rubber ink sac affixed to the nipple of the section. A crescent is fitted to a flat steel bar, and when the safety ring is rotated into the proper position, the crescent can be depressed, flattening the rubber ink sac within. The rubber ink sac wants to re-inflate, which fills the sac with ink and pushes the crescent back out of the barrel. Way less messy than an eyedropper, it was an instant hit. Even the famed American author Mark Twain was hired to be an advertising spokesman for the pen.

Don’t soak a Conklin hard rubber pen for very long, as it will discolor the old hard rubber. Be sure to get the water over the end of the section and on to the barrel threads.

If you already read our “How Do I Re-Sac a Vintage Pen” article, this isn’t very different. However, most of these pens are made from black hard rubber more than 100 years ago, and they are very brittle. You want to make sure you are pretty comfortable with restoring plastic/celluloid pens first. These early Conklins are getting much older and harder to find, and they break much more easily.

As with before, you will need some ink sacs, a pair of spark-plug/section pliers, a long dental pick, sac shellac or rubber cement, scissors that can cut through rubber ink sacs, a jar or cup, clean water, polish, a cloth rag, paper towels, a hairdryer, a razor blade and an ultra-sonic cleaner.

  1. Always start by soaking the nib in room temperature water over the threads of the barrel. Now the trick with old hard rubber is that water discolors it quickly. A shiny black will quickly turn to a chocolate brown haze. Don’t soak it for long, just enough to start to leech out old ink and maybe lubricate the friction fit of the section into the barrel. I certainly wouldn’t soak it for more than an hour. I’d probably soak it for much shorter a time.
  2. Next, remove the nib and section from the water and dry them off.
  3. Warm them up just a little with the hair dryer or heat gun. You only want them to be warm to the touch. Heat will also discolor the hard rubber. Plus, it can melt it.
  4. Scrape the dead ink sac out of the barrel. Be sure to be especially careful shaving the ink sac remains off the section nipple.

    Using your section pliers, gently grip and twist the section counter clockwise in an unscrewing motion. Sometimes it takes nerves of steel, patience and experience to discern the difference between the old ink sac inside the pen cracking and the barrel of the pen cracking. If the barrel cracks, you’ve likely killed the pen and made it nothing more than a parts donor.

  5. Once you get the section to start coming out, gentle, small wiggles can work it out without further stressing it from twisting. Very small wiggles. You can easily break the barrel, especially when the section looks as if it is almost out of the barrel. The more the section wiggles, the more it can act as a lever to crack the barrel. Some people choose the give the nib and section a sonic cleaning and others don’t. The sonic action can destroy the part if there is a crack already starting in it. More than 30 seconds to a minute will start discoloring the rubber. However, I’ve also found that pens this old often are filled with sediment-based inks that need something special like a sonic cleaning to remove the caked-in old ink.
  6. After the section is out, the rest is fairly easy. Scrape out all of the old ink sac from inside the barrel and very gently shave off the remaining sac on the nipple. Your razor can easily cut the nipple or cave in a wall of the nipple. Go super slow and easy with only small motions.
  7. Polishing old hard rubber is difficult. You can wear away a lot of rubber very quickly, ruining imprints and chasing.

    With everything cleaned out and disassembled, that is when I like to polish the pen and parts. You cannot go as rough on century-old hard rubber as you can plastics. I like to use MAAS metal polish on a soft terry cloth rag. Mostly I just give a light going over of the pen and cap with the polish and rag because both strip away the top layers of the rubber and can remove chasing and other imprints. It also removes some of the chocolate hazing. Using a Q-tip, I also polish the nib and crescent.

  8. Reinstall the crescent filler and lock it in place with the safety ring.
  9. Dust the ink sac in talcum power to help preserve it.

    Size and trim an ink sac that isn’t too snug inside the barrel. If you don’t have the crescent filler with the bar reinstalled first, you won’t get the proper fit.

  10. Use orange shellac to attach the sac to the section nipple.
  11. Dust the sac in pure talcum powder
  12. Very gently and slowly reinstall the sac and section into the barrel. This is another high-risk move that can crack the barrel so take it easy. You might even want to warm-up the barrel a bit.

Wait 24 hours for the shellac to dry before filling the pen. Then you are ready to write.

The finished pen should look much cleaner and be ready to write.

Decameron 2020: The Fencing Champion—Part 2

Among my many careers, I was a fencing portrait photographer. The following are photos I used as advertising and pose options. I own the copyright to all of them, so please don’t steal them, without permission.

Latching the floor cord to the D-ring just above Jill’s left hip, Dan took a moment to appreciate that he was standing in her shoes only 20 short years earlier.

When Jill finished plugging in her favorite electric foil that she named Annibelle the Cannibelle, she rushed to get to her en garde line and start the final bout of the women’s national foil tournament.

Seeing her haste, Dan grabbed her wrist and pulled her back to him.

The 18-year-old was bright and smiling from the joy of fencing for the title, but Dan could also see the nervous tension around her eyes. He had butterflies in his stomach, but he didn’t show it.

Placing his hands on her shoulders, he looked deeply into her brown eyes for a second before speaking.

“It feels just like yesterday that I was teaching some skinny little 11-year-old girl how to kick the asses of 2 17-year-old boys twice her size.”

She exhaled a laugh, and the tension left her face. “If they could see me now.”

“They’d shit their pants and be grateful you didn’t kill them.”

She laughed, again.

Now that her nerves were steadied, Dan helped her focus: “Don’t think about the title. Only think about the touch in the moment.”

She nodded.

“How are you going to beat this girl?”

“First, I’m going to figure out how the director calls right-of-way. Then, I’m going to test her distance, comfort zone and weaknesses.”

“Good,” Dan encouraged. “What else?”

“Fence for only 1-light touches. There’s no trusting the call on double-light actions,” Jill replied. “Oh, and listen to her coach give away her strategy.”

“Excellent,” he said. “What do you do if your attacks stop working?”

“Play defense.”

“And if your defense isn’t working?”

“Go on attack.”

“Perfect,” he said. “So, in other words, this is just a normal bout for you.”

She nodded.

“Good. Just keep in mind one more thing. Give yourself a little extra space until you know her reach and abilities. Never hesitate. You have the best instincts in the game. Trust yourself.”

“Got it, Coach.”

“Good. Stay grizzly.”

She gave him a low, menacing growl with a lop-sided grin.

He winked back at her. “You’re ready. Go kick her ass.”

Jill turned on her heel and strode confidently to her en garde line, her sweaty brown pony tail swaying with each step.

He watched her from the coach’s box like a proud father. Jill was not his daughter, but she had become very much like the daughter he never had.

***

Upon winning the silver medal at the national championship, Dan was more determined than ever to take home the gold. He trained like a man possessed. He won countless tournaments and defeated many world-class competitors, but, at the following national foil championship, he failed to make the semi-finals.

And so he would preserver in the years to come. Through bad romances and good, economic boom times and bust, his love of fencing never wavered. Back in college, he assumed adulthood would be glamorous. With a professional career would come professional paychecks that would finally pay for the travel and gear that he could not afford in college.

What he did not count on was that a professional career also required far more time out of his day. The more he succeeded at work, the less time he was able to devote to training. While he remained one of the most gifted naturals in the sport, the general effects of age and the inability to train and travel as much as in college cost him his dream of a national title.

Still devoted to the sport and fly-over country, Dan began helping out more at a local park district club, like where he first learned.

Fencing had changed over the years from a mostly adult sport to a mostly kid sport. On the circuit, 12-year-olds just getting into the sport were practically too old to have a chance. The kids who started at age 8 were nationally rated and winning major circuit events by age 12.

Teaching had moved on from classical fencing where students were taught all of the moves until they learned each to perfection and also taught how to think and react under pressure to teaching kids a few basics and then one or two power moves. The power moves were dominant and won tournaments, but the kids knew nothing else and became proud and arrogant in their ignorance.

Most flicking had been eliminated from the sport by stiffening the foil blades, but directors still based their calls almost entirely on footwork, regardless of the way the rules remained written.

Poor sportsmanship was promoted to appalling levels. Dominate young fencers were encouraged as young as 9 to create their own victory dances and war whoops after every touch scored. The days of fencers winning and losing with stoic grace, dignity and honor were long dead.

As Dan began teaching kids, he taught them the old ways. Realizing 90% of the kids he taught were only interested in living out their pirate and Jedi fantasies, he had fun with them, adding more advanced classes for the kids that actually wanted to learn something and try competition.

Dan didn’t remember meeting Jill. She was just another scrawny 11-year-old who was rather shy and quiet. He never really took notice of her until he noticed two of his nearly grown high school students going way too rough on her in the advanced class.

“What on earth are you guys doing over there?” Dan called out across the gym. He left the two younger kids he was helping.

One of the older boys stammered, “She wanted to fence us. She said for us not to go easy on her.”

Dan looked at him doubtfully and asked the girl.

“It’s true,” she agreed enthusiastically. “I’m tired of beating everybody else in the club. These are the only guys I can’t beat, and I want to learn what they’re doing that I can’t beat.”

“You mean you’re beating all of the other students?” he asked doubtfully.

“Haven’t you noticed?” she asked, hurt in her big, brown eyes.

Dan felt horribly because he hadn’t.

“Aren’t these guys hurting you?” he asked.

“Yeah, but it is the only way to see what they are doing so I can beat them.”

Dan looked at her thoughtfully, as she gazed up earnestly. Dan placed a hand on her shoulder and turned her away from the boys, and they walked a few steps.

Squatting in front of her he whispered, “You can’t beat them fencing them like they fence you. You’re too small.”

“I hate being little,” she said. “I can’t wait to grow up.”

“Are you kidding me?” Dan asked. “Being small and fast are the two best things for a fencer to be.”

“No, they’re not,” she dismissed him.

“Yes, they are. You have no target area to stab when you’re small,” he said. “Put your foil down and go en garde.”

She did, and, crouching down to her level, he went en garde, extended his right arm and index finger, gently poking her leading right shoulder.

“Now, extend your arm and finger.”

She did, poking him in the bicep.

“Who is going to win this fight this way?”

“You are,” she said.

“Now, how are you actually going to beat me?”

Jill thought a second and cautiously bent her arm, parried Dan’s arm—which he kept rigid—, stepped closer to him, resting his straight arm across her belly, extended her arm and finger and poked him in the right shoulder.

“Very good,” he said, genuinely impressed, as he stood back up. “You made yourself safe from the tip of my foil and put yourself in a position to stab me repeatedly with impunity. Go over there and kick those boys’ butts.”

Jill smiled and ran back to her en garde line.

Dan stood in the director’s position and loudly told the boys, “I want you to fence your best against Jill and not give her any easy touches. BUT, you also can’t fence to hurt her. There is no reason at your size and skill level that you can’t beat her without ever letting her get close enough to you that you even accidentally leave a mark.”

One of the boys volunteered to go first. Jill scored the first two touches and was beaming at Dan. She then lost 5-2, when the boy changed tactics. Still, that first boost of confidence was there and Jill dug in. At the end of a month, she was an even match against the older boys. At the end of two months, she dominated the boys, who were now taking special instructions from Dan on how to beat her.

Dan added more classes for the kids who wanted to go even further in competition. Plenty of boys and girls signed up, and the group gelled as a team, working together to always get better.

Over the years, several qualified for the national tournament.

Jill had been qualifying since she was 13. Now, at 18, she had gone as far into the championship as her coach, who was barely competing and mostly focusing on his students.

***

Jill snapped a sharp salute with earnest intensity, as her coach had before her.

When the director said go, both women rushed forward.

Jill’s much taller opponent suddenly dropped down with perfect poise and form, scoring a touch on Jill’s 8, just below her sword-arm elbow.

Jill replayed the move in her head. For as surprising and perfectly executed as the move was, Jill noticed the woman’s hips seemingly unhitch, as if she were double jointed. Then the opponent kicked with her front leg and pushed off her back leg, extending it completely until the contours of her left calf and thigh lay flat on the floor, her left bottom cheek smacked the floor and her right thigh angled up to her knee positioned directly over a shin that was perpendicular to the floor. The competitor’s torso was erect, right arm straight as an iron rod that was holding a 35-inch long foil. This woman gracefully covered 10 feet of ground from her back foot to the tip of her foil.

The entire maneuver didn’t take more than a second to execute. When her back side tapped the floor, it gave her the momentum she needed to pop back up into en garde.

Before the director called the point in her favor, the woman unleashed an ear-shattering, primal shriek of a victory cry.

Jill’s parents looked at Dan from the stands, mortified. Neither they nor most of the audience had ever seen a fencer move like that and sound so intimidating.

Dan nodded reassuringly to them.

“Taylor Swift!” is all he shouted to Jill.

Jill performed a little hand-flicking dance move from the “Shake It Off” video, as she reset herself on the en garde line.

Given how closely they listened to opposing coaches screaming and yelling at their fencers, Dan only spoke in code to his fencers at tournaments. He taught them to think and act for themselves. Jill’s little dance move told him she’d seen the woman’s hips unhitch and that she knew what to do.

When fencing resumed, both women rushed off the line. Two steps in, Jill stopped as the other woman’s hips unhitched. Jill waited for what felt like an eternity, as she let her opponent overcommit to the attack. Once the shrieker’s arm was extended, Jill swept down for an almost clumsy parry 8, riposting for a touch in the middle of the opponent’s chest.

Jill was soundless and expressionless, her actions were more intimidating than any screaming.

Dan clapped three loud, rapid times, indicating nice touch. Get back to work.

Jill’s opponent looked back at her coach a little nervously. Nobody had previously denied her the long-lunge touch in 8. Jill heard him tell her to switch attacks, and she knew what was coming.

When her opponent rushed her, sword windmilling counter clockwise, Jill waited, feigned a parry, retreated a couple steps and picked off the attack with ease, riposting and then parrying one last time to guarantee 1 light.

2-1 Jill.

Clearly, this was the shrieker’s second favorite attack, as she did it again. Jill easily defeated it.

3-1 Jill.

The attack came again, but this time Jill skipped a step in her defense. The opponent landed and shrieked.

3-2.

“Don’t get overconfident,” is all Dan told Jill.

Emboldened, the shrieker renewed her efforts with the same attack. Jill recovered her form and defended it easily.

4-2.

Not willing to believe Jill, of Fly-Over Country, could beat her special moves, the opponent asked the director if she could test her foil on Jill. Both acquiesced, and the equipment worked perfectly.

The opponent’s coach was furious with the shrieker, yelling at her to change the direction of the attacks.

The shrieker tried three more attacks from the opposite direction. Jill was waiting for them, and when the first 3-minute period of play came to an end, she was up 7-2.

Jill swaggered over to her coach for the 1-minute break.

“Stop right there!” he reprimanded, handing her her favorite sports drink. “You’ve got nothing to strut about, yet. Right now her coach is plotting your demise, and she didn’t get this far by giving up. What do you think he’s telling her?”

“Play defense,” Jill said, sobering up.

“Right,” Dan said, softening.

“What should I do?”

“Well, do you want to try winning by risking running the time out or by mopping the floor with her dirty-blonde head?”

“Mopping,” she said, with a grim set to her jawline.

“Give her a dose of her own medicine. Finish her off before this period ends. Don’t give her time to think.”

The director called the end of the break.

Jill took a last swig.

“If you’re in such a hurry, old man, you better start filling that bucket with soap and water,” she called back to him, making her way to her en garde line.

Dan loved her moxie, but he hoped it wasn’t overconfidence.

When he saw Jill blaze across the strip, windmilling and flicking with a hard shot to the stomach, he knew Jill was focused and playing for blood. 8-2.

The next attempt had her opponent ready. Another shriek and it was 8-3.

“You’re a shark,” Dan shouted, letting Jill know she froze her feet at the end of her failed attack. After all, sharks and fencers have one thing in common, when they stop moving, they die.

Re-invigorated by the parry-riposte touch she just earned, Jill’s opponent went back to her own windmill attack. Jill was waiting for it. 9-3.

“Crazy Monkey!” Dan called out.

The Crazy Monkey attack was Jill’s own invention. It took the windmill attacks that were so popular to a whole new level. She could land the tip on all four corners of the body and on the back by windmilling, which all top fencers could do. Her special ability was to keep moving forward and reversing the windmill in a heartbeat while also stutter-stepping to throw off the timing of the attack…or more specifically, throwing off the timing of the defense, allowing Jill enough time to pick where she wanted to most safely land. To make it harder to defend, Jill would also change her height from normal to low to up on her tip toes, never stopping forward progression and losing right-of way. It was extremely difficult to parry, until you got used to it.

Jill’s opponent fought with desperation, hypnotized by Jill’s elusive foil point that connected with her again and again.

It was 12-3 now, and Jill was so locked into the zone, she couldn’t hear the spectators. She could barely hear the director. She couldn’t even hear Dan.

As she began running down her opponent on the next action, she noticed the woman backing up far earlier than previously. That’s when she spotted the woman unhitching her hips.

Although it wasn’t what she planned on in her attack, Jill was so focused, she didn’t hesitate to press on, sweep a parry 8, bind her opponent’s blade and throw the entire weapon out of her opponent’s hand before dropping in to lunge dead center on the shrieker’s sternum.

Jill held her lunge for effect, and her opponent stood dumbfounded.

The crowd roared at the thrill of the site. 13-3.

Jill was so focused, she didn’t hear the crowd. She didn’t hear the director. She stalked back to her en garde line, lost in her own thoughts of strategy.

Dan saw it the instant the foil flew out of the hand of the woman across from him.

Jill didn’t see it until after resetting en garde. As her tall adversary tugged at the body cord by her hip to pull her foil back to her hand, Jill could tell she had broken her opponent’s spirit.

For a true warrior, it is both a beautiful site and a little sad. It is fun to be a lion and take down a wildebeest. Yet, there is little joy in putting down a whimpering wounded animal.

“Stay grizzly,” Dan warned. Jill looked back and growled. All he could see were big white teeth behind her black-mesh mask.

Jill made solid attacks that were responsibly cautious, given that her rival was no longer putting up much of an obvious fight. It was quite anti-climactic.

When the director awarded Jill the 15th touch, Jill trotted back to her line, gave a sincere, crisp salute and walked up to her opponent for a customary handshake and whispered, “Good game.”

To the dismay of the fencing officials, Jill never shouted, danced or screamed. She didn’t need to rub it in, as her opponent wept at the side of the strip.

Wearing the biggest grin he had ever seen, Jill swaggered back to her coach, joy radiating. He offered her his customary high five, and she wrapped him in a bear hug.

He hugged her back, picked her up and swung her around. They were then mobbed by her family and teammates.

After the awards and photos, when things started to calm down, Dan asked to hold her medal.

He looked over the enameled front and read the inscription on the back. It wasn’t real gold, but he stared at it wistfully, as he hefted it.

“Thank you,” Jill said. “I never could have done it without you.”

“Nonsense,” he said, looking up at her with a wan smile. “All I said were silly things like ‘Be a shark,’ and “Taylor Swift.'”

“No,” she softly protested. “You took me all the way to the finish line.”

He shook his head. “I shined a flashlight down the path for you. You did all of the work, and I couldn’t be more proud of you.”

She attempted to say something, but Dan held up his hand to stop her.

“I’ve been chasing this damned thing all my life,” he said, as he gently placed the ribbon back around her neck. “And I have to admit that it makes me ten times happier to see it on you than on me.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I also never coached any national champions. The passion, strategy, changes and sensations in this story are all true. Fencing has given me 25 years of joy, which I hope I passed on to my students…and maybe you, with these stories. In the event you want to learn, you are never too old to start. Although I’m taking a break from the sport for a little while, I hope to be fencing into my 70s, like my mentor, the great Jack Warner of Spokane, Wash., not Hollywood. If he is still with us today, he’d be about 95 or so years old. Yet, at age 70, with 50 years of fencing under his belt, he’d mop the floor with us cocky 20-somethings who foolishly believed their youth would destroy his experience and strategy. Special thanks goes out to him, Blue-Hair Cathy, Maria D. and Bakhyt for teaching me so much as a competitor and Tracy for teaching me so much as a coach…and to all the many other wonderful friends, teammates and students along the way. It might not sound possible, but you are all the best.