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Slices of Life... I admit it ... I steal pens

I steal pens. That's it; now it's off my chest and out in the open. Everyone can know me for what I truly am: a pen thief.

I'm not sure when it all started. It isn't really a black and white issue. Like one day you wake up and say, "I think I'll pilfer pens." It's more of a gradual process that starts just as much with pen loss as pen theft.

I wouldn't take pens if I were able to keep them in my possession. I know that sounds illogical, but no matter how hard I try - no matter how many pens I actually purchase - when I go to my pen drawer looking for a writing instrument, it is dismally cavernous. Empty. Penless. I am left to choose between a crayon and Sharpie, which isn't much of a choice at all.

It's easy to see how someone in my situation would resort to theft.

I'm not even sure theft is the right word. If someone purchases pens and puts a promotional message on them, isn't it presumed that people will pinch the pens and put them in their purse or pocket?

Can you get arrested for taking a pen from a Holiday Inn? If so, lock me up and throw away the key.

Like most bad habits, my pen stealing started slowly and unobtrusive-ly. At first I only took the pens that presented themselves before me in a conspicuous way. You know, the pen from the desk at a hotel, or one from the cup next to the deposit tickets at the bank. Then, somewhere along the way, I started evaluating pens - judging them on desirability - going for the ones with features like a rounded rubber grip, gold tone accents or a clicking mechanism.

Pens with a clicking mechanism became my favorites. Clicking pens do not have caps because they don't need them. Pen caps, actually, are more of a nuisance than they are useful. What can you do with a pen cap except misplace it? At my house, the only thing that gets lost faster than a pen is the pen cap. Might as well just throw the cap in the trash and pretend the pen was capless to begin with. Clickers are definitely the way to go.

Premium pens come from a variety of sources. Pens purchased with grant money are often the clicking kind. Real estate agents have nice pens. I've found that prescription drug companies aren't afraid to spend money on full-featured pens. There's not a whole lot of reason to fill my drawer with the cheap, capped pens when I can hold out for the nice, heavy duty, rubber-gripped clicking ones.

Besides - and I keep going back to this - if someone has advertising on a pen, aren't you really doing them a favor if you take it and use it so others can see? Aren't you actually setting yourself up to be an advertising assistant?

If someone wanted to stop you from stealing their pen, wouldn't they tape a plastic spoon to it, like they do at convenience stores? No one steals the pens from convenience stores. I bet they have drawers full of pens that have never been lost.

Which gets me to thinking.

I steal pens because my pen drawer is a black hole for writing instruments. It's not so much that I steal pens; more that I lose pens. Maybe it doesn't have to be this way. Maybe the solution for my pen quandary lies not with collecting more pens, but with the safekeeping of the ones I already have.

With that change in perspective, the answer becomes obvious and almost too easy. I am not a pen thief after all. I am simply a person in need of more plastic cutlery.

Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and award winning freelance writer working with graphic designer Nikki Willgohs to provide writing and design and other marketing services to businesses and individuals. You can check out their Web site at http://marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/ or e-mail Jill at pertmn@qwest.net.