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TinotopiaLog → Office Supplies (26 Mar 2001)
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Monday 26 March 2001

Office Supplies

I am an unabashed office supply enthusiast.  This I will readily admit.  And I am hopping mad.

The entire office supply market in the United States has been taken over by companies like Office Depot and Officemax and Office-o-rama, and they are sorely lacking.

I’ll grant that the average cost of office supplies has come down significantly since all of the little independent office supply stores were pushed out of business.  And, in some areas, the selection has even improved.  The Office Depot stockholders should be up in arms, though, because there’s a huge market going untapped: the office supply enthusiast.

Europe understands office supply enthusiasm.  Whenever I’m in Europe, I hit at least one stationery store and buy huge piles of stuff to bring back.  My favorite place for office supplies is any formerly-Communist country in Europe.  The slavs really understand office supplies.

I’ve got this down to a science.  I reckon that there are four criteria that an office supply must fulfill in order for it to be considered good:

  1. Replaceability.  Office supplies, by their nature, get used up.  Ink, pencils, pencil lead, notebooks, paper, etc. all are consumed.  I find that, if I am not certain that I will be able to replace a given item once I’ve used it up, I am reluctant to use it, and the whole scheme falls apart.
  2. Utility. The item must be useful to me.  Therefore, things like Trapper Keepers (and all other giant ring-binders), comb binding systems, ‘gel’ pens, etc. are all Not Good.
  3. Funkiness.  I have particular taste in supplies, tending toward the archaic.  This strikes a lot of people as odd, seeing as my house is full of computers (with three separate networks tying them together), and that I am a gadget freak in general.  I believe, though, that things function best in the proper context, and that the proper context for office supplies is about 1930. I write with a fountain pen, I prefer hard-bound notebooks to spiral-bound ones, and in general I prefer my supplies to be, well, a bit genteel and old-fashioned.
  4. Cheapness.  These things are intended to be consumed, so, with the exception of nice pens (which aren’t consumed, anyway), I require that supplies be fairly inexpensive, and in any case not priced out of line with their utility.  Thus things like Levenger’s little leather-bound notebooks are Not Good. Anyone with the kind of personality which would allow them to buy those things probably has no thoughts worth writing down, anyway.
Some things are just plain unobtainable: it’s impossible, for example, to find blue fountain pen ink in the standard cartridges around here.  I can get black ink, which I hate; and I can get blue ink in Waterman cartridges, which are much larger and which don’t fit in my everyday Pelikano pen.  And I can get ink cartridges a-plenty in several different colors for the horrible, horrible, awful, miserable, scum-sucking Sheaffer fountain pen that’s sold all over the place in the USA and which leaks all over you at the slightest provocation.

And some things are obtainable, but may not be in the future (ironically enough, this is far more common in the USA than in any post-Communist country I’ve ever been to). The other day, I bought seven notebooks of graph paper at Office Depot, because they usually don’t have graph paper at all — except the very expensive (though largely identical) kind they sell next to their "drafting" supplies.  Because I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to buy graph paper, though, I am reluctant to use any of it.

I have the same problem with the blank books that appear to be generally available at Border’s.  Barnes & Noble sell several lines of blank books, but they all have lines on the pages, or idiotic covers, or are just too expensive.  Borders, in their remainder piles, sell a blank book that’s the right size at 6 x 9 inches (though I would like one half this size for carrying around), pretty cheap, and — just possibly — in open stock, to be offered forever.

I cannot get myself to firmly believe the "offered forever" part, though, so I just keep buying the things and finding myself unable to use them.  At last count, I had about 30 of the things.

I know that that’s not rational, but that’s the way it is.   I think that there is a market for office supply stores catering to people who really like office supplies, rather than people who just need them to get something done.  If you don’t believe me, check out this Google search for "office supply fetish".  There are a lot of people out there like myself, and I’d bet that a lot of them are frustrated, too.

Once you admit that it’s a fetish, it all becomes a lot clearer.

I can see the Office Supply Fetish Shoppe of the future: it’s in a side street, and called something like "Out of the (Supply) Closet".  You go in and find some strange-looking but friendly people behind the counter, probably a fat girl and a very skinny guy; they guy’s wearing a pocket protector and the girl has a pencil stuck in her hair.  You think, "My god, these people live their lives surrounded by supplies!"  You think that the fat girl, though basically plain verging on homely, might be fantastic to have as a girlfriend because she’d be sure, in her line of work, to have picked up some tricks about paper clips that you didn’t know.   In the display case would be some funky pens from Europe that you’d look at, pursing your lips and holding your hands behind your back, wanting a good look but not wanting anyone else in the shop to think you were getting ideas or anything.

There’d be a section over in the corner full of imported items, for people into the whole A4 scene.  In the back would be the Post-It notes and gel pens, for people who are easily bored and need the latest innovations.  There’d be a section near the front full of those 3-way pens and fat little spiral notebooks, for the groups of giggly, embarrassed 19-year-old girls who’ve come in on a dare from one of their friends.  They know, in a vague way, what they want, but they’re not yet sure that it’s okay to want it.  And they’ll be treated well in their naiveté by the clerks, because they know that supplies are natural and beautiful, that everyone’s got their own thing, and that everyone has to start somewhere.

It’ll be a beautiful day.  Until then, though, we’ll have to keep our secrets, keep struggling against the Man, and keep seeking out both supplies and others who understand in our own secret ways.

Posted by tino at 15:00 26.03.01
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