The Cheap Santa: A Cautionary Tale


December 14, 1991|By KATHY KLUGE

Last Christmas, I received a gold ball-point pen from a co-worker. It seemed an especially thoughtful gift, as the person who gave it to me knew I was a writer who enjoyed writing manuscripts longhand.

Like a kid with a new toy, I couldn't wait to take my pen home and see its blue ink spill onto a crisp white page of my writer's notebook.

The pen came with an insert entitled ''Guarantee and Operating Instructions'' (really, aren't there some things we can still figure out for ourselves?) and on the insert was the word ''engraving.''

I hadn't anything engraved in about 25 years. Here was a golden opportunity to take this pen to the limit and have it engraved with my initials. It would be a step up to use an engraved gold pen rather than the usual disposable ones I have been using over the years.

While I was trying to think of a humorous topic to write about with my brand-new pen, I absent-mindedly twirled the pen between my fingers. And I spotted engraved initials. My first inclination was to think my benefactress had got the pen engraved for me. I thought: ''She shouldn't have gone to all that trouble.''

And indeed she had not. The initials weren't mine -- they were hers.

I tried to picture circumstances under which my co-worker might mistakenly (?) have given me this pen:

* She didn't want to make a midnight run to Rite Aid to buy me (a late revision on her Christmas list) the present she forgot to get.

* She had umpteen gold pens and didn't need another one and knew I could always use one more.

* The pen was from someone with whom she was no longer friends, or even someone she despised, so she didn't want it, and she didn't realize it had her initials on it.

Other questions arose in my mind. Did she use the pen at all and then put it back in its box? If she used the pen, how long did she write with it and how often? Just how much time is left before the pen runs out of ink? Will I be able to finish this essay? Is it too late to order refills? (I already know it's too late to have it engraved -- or originally engraved, anyway.)

So far, this pen has been worth far more to me than its price, for it gave me a topic for an essay. (And so far it has not run out of ink. Having this pen is like having a klunky car; you're never quite sure when it will go up.)

In any event, receiving this gift has made me reconsider my own gift-giving and shopping habits. Especially along the lines of what I will give its donor for Christmas this year.

Maybe I could rewrap ''my'' pen this year and give it back to her. Let her think that I went to all that trouble to have it engraved for her.

Or maybe I'll give her a gold pen with my initials engraved on it. Then she can sit down and write about . . .

Kathy Kluge writes from Baltimore.

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