I have been selling fountain pens for 35 years. My first day in retail was the day I opened the shop, back in September of 1987. But it wasn’t the first pen I ever sold.
That was in the summer of 1972, when I was 15. My family never had a cottage or summer house when I was growing up. What we did have were valid passports and booked flights. That summer we travelled to Portugal, Austria and finally to Israel. We toured the entire country from Galilee to Jerusalem, the West Bank, the desert, and the Dead Sea. It was an amazing adventure over a couple of weeks.
But this story begins as we were leaving the country. This was only a few weeks before the Munich Massacre, and a year before the Yom Kippur War. Tensions were very high, and security was incredibly tight, especially at Lod airport as it was known then.
We had checked in and reached Security. I recall filing into a large hall divided across the middle by a row of cubicles. It was like a wall of bathroom stalls, with doors but no toilets. We waited our turn, and then each entered a cubicle. In my stall there was a young Israeli in his military uniform. He took my small shoulder bag and began rifling through it methodically as he asked me questions.
Finally, he pulled out something of interest, my Sheaffer No-Nonsense Fountain Pen.
“It’s a fountain pen.”
“Show me how it works.”
I uncapped it and handed it to him to examine. He studied it very carefully. Then he asked me the last question I could have imagined: “Will you sell it to me?”
I just wanted to get through security and get on the plane home, “If you want it, you can have it.”
“No, no. How much do you want for it?” My freedom? Just make up a number.
“How about two pounds?” At the time it was a nominal amount in Israeli currency. I thought it may prevent haggling.
“Okay, wait here. I have to go get the money.”
So, I waited for a couple of minutes, and he returned with another soldier.
“My friend wants to see why he’s lending me the money.” They huddled over the pen, capping and uncapping it. I was about to mention ink cartridges, but bit my tongue. I was given a large handful of coins, which I tipped into my bag, uncounted. Then I was given leave.
I came out to my parents and sister who were white with terror. They had seen me disappear into the cubicle, where I remained for some time, before an Israeli soldier left and returned with another soldier. The second soldier eventually left, and then, some time after that, I came sauntering out.
“What happened?” My mother asked, imagining I’d been carrying contraband.
“He just wanted to buy my fountain pen, so I sold it to him.”