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Really, it was
quite a simple request.
Christmas was approaching, and I asked my younger sister what she would like as a gift.
"I'd like a ballpoint
pen with blue ink and a fine-point tip—no roller-ball, no marker pen, no fountain pen. Ballpoint only. Fine tip. It
has to be fine tip; it's the only kind I use."
My younger sister can
be quite focused, and deviations from specifications are not tolerated well.
Her specificity took some
of the fun out of selecting a gift, but I was also grateful it would make the shopping experience effortless. A few days before
Christmas Eve I made a quick trip to the local Staples office supply store to purchase the pen. Smug in my anticipated easy
shopping trip, all I needed to do was pay for the pen and wrap it with some nice paper.
How could I have been
At Staples I found a very nice fine-tipped Cross ballpoint pen with a blue ink cartridge. My sister is a pharmacist and the
substantial, attractive pen seemed appropriate for the role, but there were no refills available, and I wanted the gift to
include two refill cartridges.
I drove the thirty-four-mile round-trip trek to a different Staples on the other side of town. The store was barren of any
ballpoint, fine tip, blue ink refills. Instead, I purchased a half dozen inexpensive, plastic, disposable fine-point, blue
ink, ballpoint pens, made in China, of course.
When Christmas came, my younger sister received her Cross pen and the half dozen plastic ones, along with an IOU for two fine-tip,
blue-ink, ballpoint pen refills—only ballpoint, only blue ink, and only fine-tip.
To ensure success, I ordered two refills directly from Cross, two from Staples' online store and two from an eBay vendor.
Surely, with an order for six refills, she would have at least two in no time, and, when they all arrived, she would be set
for at least seven years.
The refills ordered from Cross were the most expensive, and they never arrived. I called the company and customer service
started the process of tracking the package.
From Staples, I ordered some home office supplies along with ink refills. The delivery man deposited the package at my front
door within three days. Delighted at the quick service, when I opened the package, everything I ordered was in it, except
the Cross refills. I called the number on the packing slip that was placed in the box precisely for when things went wrong;
and things had definitely gone wrong.
The eBay vendor shipped my refill order, and it arrived within four days. The refills were the wrong size—medium-point
rather than fine-point. Rather than returning them, I kept them for my own Cross pen.
I never knew what happened
to the refills I originally ordered directly from the Cross company, but the company sent another set of two, which arrived
safely in mid-January, several weeks after Christmas. By then I was sure the refills would either be the wrong color or the
wrong point thickness, and roller-ball or felt-tip rather than ballpoint, but the order was correct.
Staples was a different story, though.
My call to the number on the Staples packing slip resulted in the company sending me a new shipment.
The re-shipment never arrived.
Once again, I contacted Staples. The person I spoke to apologetically assured me I would have the ballpoint fine-point, blue
ink, ballpoint refills in a few days.
It was now late February.
Within a week of my call inquiring about the status of the re-shipment, two Federal Express packages arrived on separate days
from Staples. Each contained two of the correct refills. Now I had four refills from Staples and two from Cross.
I contacted Staples once again. By then I had two surplus refills. Customer service told me not to worry about it and keep
That was wise, I thought.
Before I gave the refills to my sister, though, I decided to take another trip to my local Staples store.
It was mid-March and they were awash in fine-tip, blue, ballpoint Cross pen refills.
I bought two.
When I gave my sister all eight refills, I reminded her the Cross pen company has a lifetime warranty on its pens. If anything
happened to her pen, she could get a replacement.
After all, she had almost a ten-year supply of refills.
She replied, without artifice, "Thanks. By the way, everyone at work loves those plastic
pens you gave me."