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  The organ of Acquisitiveness is situated on the side of the head above Alimentiveness. To find it, take the middle of the ear as a starting point, and move the finger up one inch and then forward the same distance. Its facial sign is thickness of the nose, especially noted in Jews whose arched nosed has, not inaptly, been called the Commercial Nose. The organ prompts us to accumulate and to store our surplus. It incites the farmer, the mechanic, or professional man to diligence, and is one of the sources of comfort and elegance in life. Its regular activity distinguishes civilized man from the savage. Yet the perversion of this organ, as history all too fully notes, is excessively developed.

     My hands know which ones to steal. They know what I really want. I hardly have to look; I just let those nimble wonders go to work. I'm like a pianist who doesn't need to look at the keys, or an old lover who has long ago memorized the sweet spots and the right amount of pressure. My right arm rests on the display case while the other directs the salesman to select among the cameras on the shelves behind him. No not that one, two more to the right. Yes. Oh, I'm sorry I meant the row above that. With his back to me, I scan the location of the other clerks, noting the closest ones, getting a fix on their eyes. A constant stream of chatter occupies my salesman. He's from Morocco. We're becoming buddies. We're talking about trance drumming. I lean forward against the counter to indicate a camera that requires him to stand on tip-toes and stretch out his arm. At the moment he's fully extended, all five and a half feet of him splayed out against the shelves as if he had been flung there by a petulant giant, that's when my hand curls around the back of the counter and fires its five-strong assault. Right away, I'm in the goodies and a quick graze of the fingertips yields my objective. Cool delight begins to spill down the back of neck. Is that the one for sale in the window? I'm asking. My palms envelope the cylinder, my fingers are tuned to its taper.

     With the prize neatly shot deep past my shirt cuff, I retract my arm slowly, shadowing the action by tilting my body even further forward. My eyes flash from one far peripheral to the other; all's quiet except for some glassiness—a sign of staring—in the eyes of the bearded fellow giving a desultory polish to the counter at my far right. He could simply be bored, or maybe he's seen everything. The cool trickle ebbs as a hot-water faucet opens in my stomach. I withdraw my hand just in time to drop my chin dejectedly into an upturned palm. Jeez, maybe I saw it in another store window. My Moroccan friend turns around and tucks his shirt in, making a great show of his irritation. Yes, we were great pals but now that's over. Now I'm another knucklehead wasting time he could otherwise have spent making a number one, top-dollar sale. My apologies do little to repair the rift that has opened so suddenly between us. I make for the door feeling, all the way, the bearded one's eyes on me. Everyone in the store could be gaping at my bare ass, or the word THIEF tattooed across my shoulders. An embarrassed buzz raises the hair on the back of my neck but I keep walking, now only a step or two from the threshold. No one calls out. No footsteps in pursuit. In front of me the pedestrian throng is an inviting stream whose current tugs me forward. Once I hit the pavement, I swim leisurely to the center, the imagined hoof beats from behind stalled at the banks.

     I permit myself to breathe. My steps grow quicker, not with fear, but with restrained exhileration. As I cross the street, I let my trophy slide down my sleeve into my hand. It fills my palm with delicious weight. I strum the grooves on the carbon-fibre barrel with my fingernails. Fingertips trace and retrace the clip. My eyes dead-ahead, I slip off the cap and massage the nib, the heart, the tip. Were I given to showy display, not now but in more relaxed circumstances, I could be blindfolded and proceed to name the brand and model of any one of these by touch alone. I might take one and twirl it between my fingers till it was a blur, then, with one hand, remove the cap, unscrew the shaft, dandle the cartridge or give the ink bulb a playful squeeze. If I were shameless, after reassembly, I would, in fair Palmer Method, write my name on the palm of the hand that holds the pen.

     An Alfred Dunhill, the AD2000 model to be specific. I'd seen advertisements in magazines, its blacker-than-black finish too potent a lure to resist. Odd, that a clip-joint like that would be selling so sophisticated an instrument. It deserved to be liberated from such philistine quarters. I deliver the pen to the inside pocket of my jacket, affixing it there with business-like elan. By now the trickle has flooded me. My thumbs are hooked loosely in my pant's pockets—I'm giving my prehensile workmen a ride— I fairly skip down the street. I could easily begin shouting about my coup, but instead I settle for singing to myself, to the approximate tune La Donna mobile, the words, I stole a pen today. I stole a pen today.

     To be sure, I steal other things—rare books, belts, cans of smoked oysters, wristwatches, flashlight batteries—when the need or opportunity presents itself, but my vocation, so to speak, is the collection of pens. Any and all pens. Expensive pens are nice to own and a challenge to thieve, yet throwaway ballpoints with a real estate agent's name are no less a prize to me. More than any one pen's craftsmanship, the true plumophile appreciates the plenitude of the species. And in much the same way, I am drawn to the ample and various opportunities for acquisition. Pens can be pocketed out of your dentist's open drawer, unchained from the counter at your bank, snatched in fistfuls from under the myopic eye of local stationer, filtched stealthily from a velvet case in an antique store, stowed away home in bulk from the office, pickpocketed from the gasman's pocket-protector, or spirited off with stylish prestidigitation from a snotty Madison Avenue clerk as he lays out three, or was it four? Mount Blanc Meisterstucks. There is even the cheap Bic handily vacuumed from a ladyfriend's purse. Indeed, once such a boundary is crossed, daily life presents an endless string of intimacies during which a writing instrument might disappear. I once lifted a solid silver Aurora from the desk of a bank officer with my left hand as he shook my right and lamented being unable to refund the fee I had been charged for a recent overdraft: I signed my very next check with it.

     Yes, even in our keybored kingdom, we still sign our names. On checks, job applications, last wills and testaments, birthday cards, casts, letters, yearbooks, and driver's licenses. We still make our mark in ink. With a pen. The pen is necessary. It is personal. It is gripped with apprehension or hope as we append our scrawl to a letter of resignation or a declaration of love. Agents of purposeful bleeding, pens pour out your name onto the world's tabla rasa. Cameras, some primitives believe, can suck away your soul. Similarly, with a pen in my pocket still warm from the owner's hand, I like to think I have left them scriptless. Stolen a piece of their name. Then again, perhaps this is all a rather pompous way of describing petty theft. So much embroidery around the simply fact that I like to steal. And that I steal pens because they are easier to take than Jacuzzis or wide-screen TVs.

     But I do cherish my scribblers, these ceramic, metal or plastic stalks so ready at a thumb's click or a good shake to make the mind legible. Flung as they are in drawers, shoe boxes, travel bags, the junky ones mixed with the jewels, you would never guess that each batch is governed by rigorous affinities. There is a drawer of those I have stolen from lovers, another drawer of those taken from doctors. One bag holds only pens filtched directly from people's pockets. An unmarked box holds pens stolen at Christmas time, another those stolen from from salesmen for whom I felt some flicker of affection, and still another box collects mostly cheap ballpoints that I obtained by asking strangers for a handy pen, engaging them in conversation, and then absconding with the now forgotten loaner. A cup at the corner of my desk is cramed with a bouquet of sleek plumes spirited, over several trips, out of the best shops in Milan and Rome.

     Of course, between any two pens there's only modest difference. All stylistic flair must serve basic requirements—that it can be grasped and that it hold ink. The subtle variations, like those in, say, a piano sonata, wax large to the plumophile precisely because of this narrowness of range. In truth, though, they're all still are pretty much the same. And so their theft is really the same crime habitually repeated. No doubt that's the deep grammar of it all. The spasm of snatch and dash thrills, but stealing the same thing, or really just one thing over and over is a kind of lower-case grail quest. My singularity of purpose lends a kind of purity to otherwise gross robbery since what I'm really after, I suppose, isn't some handheld booty but an idea—that penness that all pens possess. And it's no surprise that so noble a pursuit would yield salutory, restorative effects. A stolen pen is like a Valium I might grope for in the cabinet late some dismal night; as soon as it's in my palm my breathing slows and the world eases back ever so slightly—something small, something purposeful has filled my hand. Now there's a thought worth jotting down. That is, if I might borrow your pen for just a second.



"the handbook of phreno-
logical organs"