But come to find out, they’re pretty much worthless. Just like my college degree. (Well, that part’s not really true. I could probably get a couple of bucks for my pencil collection.)
“You should collect Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures,” I remember my friend telling me when we were kids. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were huge at the time.
“Nah,” I said. “I’m putting my money into pencils.”
Three months later, my friend said, “You should collect pogs.” Pogs were huge at the time.
“Nah,” I said. “I’ve got a good thing going on with this pencil collection. That’s where the smart money’s at.”
Three months later, my friend said, “You should collect comic-book cards.” Comic-books cards were huge at the time.
“Nah — I’m not into these trendy short-term investments,” I explained. “My pencils will be worth big money one day. You’ll see.”
When we grew up, my friend sold all of his pogs, comic-book cards and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures on eBay. He retired to the Caribbean at age 21.
I, on the other hand, occasionally sell pencils out of a tin cup on Main Street. It’s the only job I can get with my college degree.
A lot of my pencils have sports teams on them, even though I don’t follow sports. That’s because I used to buy them from a machine at school, and that was the only kind I could get.
In elementary school, you could buy two pencils from the machine for 25 cents. I’d come to school with pocketfuls of change — my pants jingling as I walked — and then I’d feed the quarters one by one until the machine ran out of pencils. I’d always get ripped off once the machine ran out, because I’d drop in the quarter and spin the dial, but no pencils would spill out. The only way you knew the machine was out was when you lost your quarter.
When I asked the office secretary for a refund, she said I’d have to fill out a reimbursement form, submit it to the county courthouse and have my signature notarized.
“You don’t just have a quarter in your purse?” I asked. “Because I’ve got a subtraction class I got to get to.”
“Beat it,” she said.
I grew older and moved on to intermediate school, which also had a pencil machine. However, theirs sold only one pencil for 25 cents, as opposed to two. Either inflation was keeping pace with my childhood, or the school was trying to teach us a life lesson about getting screwed. (Looking back, it was probably the latter, as intermediate school was also when they took away morning and afternoon recesses — the bastards.)
When I grew up and Dollar Tree came to the area, I was ecstatic to discover they sold packages of pencils for only a buck. I’d skip into the store with a wad of ones clutched in my fist (which my friends argued would be better spent at a strip club) and bought package after package of pencils to fuel what was now a concerning obsession (at least in the eyes of the Dollar Tree employees).
But as the years passed, I sort of fell away from collecting pencils. It turned out not to be as lucrative an endeavor as, say, collecting stamps, coins or paintings.
“I told you to collect the pogs,” my friend said to me recently, as he lounged on the beach at his private resort, sipping a martini. We were using FaceTime, so I had to watch as a topless blonde massaged coconut lotion into his shoulders. “Pogs were where the money was at.”
“Any chance there’s an untapped market for 500 unsharpened pencils?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “No chance.”
“Would you want to take them off my hands for, say, 300 grand?” I asked.
“Are you joking, or are you really that stupid?” my friend asked.
“I was the one who sunk all my resources into pencils. You tell me.”
“They’re not completely worthless,” my friend said. “In winter, you could burn them for warmth.”
“Speaking of warmth, any chance of you inviting me down there to your tropical paradise sometime?” I asked. “I wouldn’t mind getting a coconut-lotion massage from a gorgeous, topless blonde. Besides, we used to be inseparable growing up, remember?”
My friend laughed. “That’s funny, man. You really are that stupid.”