Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Inky Regrets

I like swag.  I’m always happy to come out of a conference with a useful item like an umbrella, flash drive, or corkscrew.  My firm has swag of its own.  My favorite swag is a set of three beanbag balls that make up a juggling kit.  The idea here is that compliance professionals have lots of responsibilities and, therefore, need to be able to keep several balls in the air at the same time.  Rest assured that if I see any of our competitor firms jump on this bit of cleverness, I’ll make a public spectacle of them.

Speaking of swag, I feel I may need to apologize to some of my friends out there.  But, as you will see, you have had your revenge.

We have very nice pens with “Barnes/Richardson”, our tag line (which I hate), and web address printed on them.  These pens write extremely well and have a nice hefty feel.  They use a cartridge of liquid blue ink and a ball point.  I have given these pens to hundreds of people.  Sometimes, we include them with our very nice little note pads.

Today, on the plane home from the terrific ICPA conference, my Barnes pen let me down.  No, that is not strong enough.  My Barnes pen failed me spectacularly.  I was using it to do a crossword puzzle.  While I paused to work out “Marlon’s cereal credo,” ink poured dramatically onto the page.  Looking at my hand, I was horrified to see that it looked as if I had recently been fingerprinted in the old-school fashion. 

Taking in the carnage, I saw two blue spots still expanding on the pocket of my white dress shirt.  Another spot was growing just above my belt.  My favorite Jerry Garcia tie had taken a hit as well. 

Not clear on what to do, I made my way to the plane’s lavatory to try and engage in some damage control and to toss out the damned pen.  In my head, I could hear my mother’s voice saying “Blot, don’t rub!”  Blot I did; with a dry and then wet paper towel.  This was apparently a bad idea.  It had the unwelcome effect of accelerating the stain’s evil spread.  In the mirror, I looked like the victim of a drive-by shooting on the planet of the blue blooded lawyers. 

A flight attendant had seen me headed for the lavatory and gave me some more towels and a can of club soda.  Tools in hand, I worked my way back to my seat.  Like an indigo Hester Prynne, I had been marked on my chest for some sin I must have recently committed.  I worked the club soda magic on the tie.  Thankfully, it may still be wearable. 

After pouring a third of a can of Schwepp's onto my shirt (and, therefore, on to myself), I gave up.  My shirt seems to be a loss.  I will see what magic Clorox can work.  There is work I need to do and I certainly was not helping my shirt.

Buckling my seatbelt released another round of inky horror.  My hands were suddenly freshly blue, like I had been wrestling a squid.  The pen had also dripped on the seatbelt buckle.  There was ink on the surface and deep inside on the spring.  Moving the mechanism pushed ink out like a blue squirt bottle.  Luckily, I was flush with paper towels, so I cleaned up further. 

What could I possibly have done to deserve this?  Was it leaving ICPA early?  It’s just that I have work to do.

At this point, I feel compelled to say, “I am not making this up.”  I took these pictures with my phone while still on the plane.

Having cleaned up—again—I slumped in my seat, chin down, staring at the mess on my chest.  Pressure seemed to build in my head.  Visions of myself walking through O’Hare with a shirt resembling a blue-on-white leopard skin did not make me happy.  Instead, my chest tightened and stomach felt unsettled.  I know I’ll live, but I have two clean-ish shirts right in the overhead.

Have you ever tried to open a suitcase and retrieve a shirt in the aisle of a 757?  It takes some doing.  It also takes some contortions to change your shirt a plane lavatory.  But that is what I did.  As I write this, I am sitting back in my seat with blue fingers and a clean shirt.  I feel better.

But the question remains, why did this happen?  Superficially, I think the blame has to fall on the pen not being capable of handling rapid changes in atmospheric pressure.  Why now?  This pen has been on six flights in the past 30 days.  Obviously, something else is to blame.

That’s me.  I am always to blame.

I realize now that many of the people I was happy to see at the ICPA conference likely had received one of these pens in the past.  How many had I inked?  What shirts, briefcases, and purses have I damaged?  How many of my clients, friends, and colleagues are mad at me because of an 80-cent piece of swag?  Enough, I gather, that their collective anger caused me the bad karma I have just endured.

And so, we are even.  I am sorry.  You have my very inky regrets.


Anonymous said...

Aw for heavens sakes. You got a spot on the pocket of your dress shirt! Man up a little bit. Men should not worry about spots on their shirts or ties. Hell I have bigger spots than that after lunch.


StephL said...

Isn't that what pocket protectors are for? *Ducks*

I have to admit there was some fun swag at ICPA this year...too bad I didn't win one of the iPods. :)

Jim Dickeson said...

Ink happens.

I, too, have had it happen on airplanes. Even to a pen with a lot of frequent flier miles. I don't think there is a lot of standardization in cabin pressure, and that one time it drops lower than normal, ink happens.

First, carry pens in a ziplog bag in you briefcase.

Second, I've had success with with rubbing alcohol. (Remember to extinguish all smoking materials.) But try to back the ink out, because there is more on the side of the fabric it entered. Put the shirt ink side down on a very absorbent sacrificial cloth.

Now dribble the alcohol onto the back side of the stain. The stain should be in direct contact with the cloth underneath so it is attracted there. Otherwise it will just bleed more laterally into the surrounding shirt fabric.

From you photo, it looks like the Schwepp's already made it bleed, perhaps making it worse. I don't think your flight attendant did you any favors.

Let the alcohol do the work. Don't rub it. You'll go through a lot of alcohol (not counting what you consumed on the plane) and absorbent backing cloth. When you've got most of it out, only then result to the bleach and normal washing, rinsing out most of the alcohol first.

If the alcohol isn't doing enough, there's always acetone. But don't use that indoors if you have any pilot lights or electric light switches in the house.

Why do I know all this? I guess I too cheap to buy new shirts all the time.

AmyZ said...


As I returned to the office this morning from ICPA, I added checking out the Larry Freidman blog to my list of things to do. My first glimpse was not some insightful tid bit from an esteemed attorney but and emotionally charged tale of embarrassment on several levels. I just had to reach out to this new associate. He was just screaming for the small bit of advice the practitioner could offer. So Larry, if you want to save the shirt, hair spray is the answer. It is still a time consuming task and the results will show at least reasonable care, but you may be better off using your time as billable hours and buying a new shirt.

Larry said...

UPDATE: Thanks for all the advice. I went with the obvious choice for a white shirt. I bleached the heck out of it. Much to my surprise, the shirt came out with no signs of ink. I'm hopeful that a trip to the cleaners for a professional pressing will have it back good as new.