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The taste of Bic.

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A three-story house (attic, main floor, and drive-in basement) on a hill
↑ Not this actual house. Maybe.

The house

It was one of those typical Midwestern houses: dark; cluttered with years of sporadic acquisition of both bric and brac; and smelling strongly of years-old cigarette smoke, that morning's bacon and eggs, and an itinerant cat or two. In a heroic effort to stand out from its neighbors, this house boasted both a street-level driveway into the basement and a finished attic with a low-ceilinged extra bedroom.

Throughout Kindergarten, this was my babysitter's house, the place where I went every day after school to, well, exist until my mother got off work and brought me home. As I was the youngest in the babysitter's care, she would often want me to take a nap while the rest of the kids played. However, I wasn't much for sleep, so she would let me draw pictures instead.

I would pad into her kitchen, opening the narrow and oddly deep drawer next to the refrigerator, lined with the de rigueur faded shelving paper with elegant little yellow flowers - curled at the edges to expose an errant paperclip, three peppercorns, and several crumbs of indeterminant origin - rustling through until I found (in this instance) a bone-standard BIC ballpoint pen that was missing that tiny blue plug that fits the top end of the barrel.

The incident

Armed with the BIC pen, as well as a handful of blank papers, I would traipse up the stairs towards that extra bedroom, plopping myself on the pillows so I could look out at the street while I doodled away.

A standard Bic ballpoint pen

(A quick sidebar at this point. The standard BIC Crystal ballpoint pen was introduced to the world in 1950 and has since sold 100 billion units. Among other design features, it has a small hole in the body of the pen which allows the pressure inside to equalize with the ambient air, avoiding leaks from the small tube that contains the ink.)

As I lay there on the bed watching the older kids play in the front yard, I was trying to come up with something to draw. Eventually the top end of the barrel ended up in my mouth, as happens with little kids, and I pulled in a tiny breath thanks to that pressure hole on the barrel.

Interestingly, that little breath actually tasted like something: kind of sweet, a bit complex, and a bit like the smell of recently-drawn pictures. So I take another little sip of air, and another, and another.

The aftermath

Until suddenly that tiny white bit at the top of the cartridge popped out, immediately emptying the entire cartridge of syrupy, viscous blue ink into my mouth and throat. As I coughed and spat, ink ended up everywhere: the windowpane, the wall, the pillows, the bed linens, my clothes, my hands, my drawings, everywhere.

I made enough noise that the babysitter came up to see what happened, and horrified, she called poison control to see what to do. Fortunately, there was nothing to do other than wait for it to go through my system. I spent several days with a blue tongue, teeth, and (ahem) divestitures.

To this day, I have never met another person who has firsthand knowledge of the mouthfeel and flavor of an entire cartridge of BIC blue ink.


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