So, I’m on a new thing I call System 12. What you do is, you cut your hair short. Then, at night before going to bed, you turn the air conditioning in the bedroom on to full blast. While that’s getting up to speed, you go take a really hot shower. Then you go to bed in the cold air conditioning. While you sleep, the evening’s combination of extreme environments forms what I refer to as a lockdown; that is to say, the hot shower kills germs, the cold air-conditioned bedroom keeps more from forming, and, to put it in layman’s terms, you wake up completely clean. You pull on clothing quickly (you’ve set it aside the night before), and you’re out the door within minutes of opening your eyes. You’re instantly making your way down busy morning streets chock-full of go-getters. They all stare at you because you’re like a newborn child; you just got here from some other dimension that the others have already forgotten they came from. They can see there’s something different about you, they all stare into your eyes for answers, and you feel the world finally reacting to you in a different way.

Anyhow, it’s late now, and I’m typing to you from the living room. Hey, before we get started, I want to clear something up: In the last paper column, I called you all amphetamine addicts steeped in denial. That wasn’t right, and I apologize. Those were complicated times. Let me make it up to you by solving your problems with paper!

Let’s act like it never happened, you guys—

- - -

From: Elise S
To: Dan Kennedy
Subject: paper problems

Dear Dan,

Is it acceptable to write thank-you notes on plain notebook paper? I like to send out prompt thank-you notes, but don’t always have cards on hand. Is it the thought that counts or are my attempts at good etiquette hopelessly gauche? Also, I think I might be in love with a paper-advice columnist. What kind of paper would be best to use to express my feelings? Any help with this would be greatly appreciated.

(630) xxx-xxxx

Hi, Elise,

First of all, I made an embarrassing mistake in the past when a young lady told me she was in love with a certain paper columnist. “Holy God,” I thought to myself, “this gig is finally paying off.” I laid out my best “Well, if I know this guy like I think I know this guy (wink, wink), you should blah, blah, blah.” Anyway, yeah, I played it pretty cool, and then all I did was wait for her reply in e-mail. Which ended up being something like “Oh, I’m sorry, I should have been more clear. It’s a newspaper advice columnist here in Portland that I was referring to, although I’m sure you’re a great guy, too.” So, I’ve been burned, Elise, and I’m not going to come right out and play into the trap again—although, I do have your phone number. That was a mistake. It’s 4:19 a.m., I’m alone and bored, arguably bitter and slightly more disillusioned than I was at this time last year, and there’s a phone six inches away from me. You can thank God that these days diet pills and gin don’t figure into that pretty little picture I just painted, Elise. As far as your question about thank-you notes, I’ve sent them along written on everything from old maps to parking tickets, a videocassette of some tearjerker football film called Rudy, expired passports, subpoenas, and blood tests. If you’re really living this life, “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I’ll pay you soon, I swear” are almost always urgent sentiments, so you needn’t ever feel bashful about expressing them by any means within reach. If you’ve got hang-ups about writing on personal litter, there are always Crane’s blind embossed thank-you note cards (3 13/16 × 5 5/16 inches; catalog number CT1635).

- - -

From: Peter CW
To: Dan Kennedy
Subject: Paper product advice


At what point in a young man’s life does personal monogrammed stationery produce respect, and stop provoking laughter?


I stand here in my apartment wearing a smoking jacket and a monocle, with a walking stick at my side, looking out over this city and wondering the very same thing. You and I, we have what we’re supposed to have, I guess. Who cares if the others will never understand?

- - -

From: Graham Jordan
To: Dan Kennedy (paper expert)
Subject: Paper issue

Mr. Kennedy,

Somehow I managed to make it all the way to college refusing to use pencils in math classes. I never saw the logic in erasing mistakes when erasers make as big a mess as simply scribbling over my mistakes with a pen. However, one of my professors is likely to hold my grades hostage unless I submit my work in graphite. Since fighting “the man” is no longer an option in academia, I have no choice but to purchase a pencil. My question is this: What kind of (affordable) paper & pencil combination erases the cleanest?

Graham Jordan
Arizona State University


Before I answer your question, my question is this: Why is fighting “the man” no longer an option in academia? Jesus, does anyone remember not so long ago when there was that ad campaign for Apple Computers? It moved me to tears. It was all in black-and-white and they wheeled out all of these icons like Picasso, James Dean, Bob Dylan, Einstein, the keyboardist from Pat Benatar’s current touring band, and whoever else. And there was this totally heartfelt voiceover that was all, “Here’s to the rebels, the reprobates, the hookers and garbage heads, the used-car honkies, the oddball librarians who save their urine in glass jars with complicated labeling systems, here’s to the drifters in semen-flecked denim jackets with no pants on who are sleeping under tarps and drinking ouzo they stole from the bellboy they knifed …” etc, etc.

I’m not getting the commercial right, but the point is, the damn thing basically moved me to tears every time I saw it, and it was simply a reminder to do what feels right to you, because that was precisely the difference between greatness and just fitting in to get by. And not long after that campaign, Steve Jobs made me choke up again when he spoke at Stanford’s commencement and talked about staying hungry and foolish and following your heart and not paying attention to what other people think.

Do you see where I’m going here, Peter? You were fighting the good fight, using a pen as you preferred. And then something snaps upstairs in Crazy Peter Land, you’re convinced you’re in a hostage situation, and you come to me saying you suddenly have “no choice” and that you need advice on the best type of pencil to buy, the one that erases the cleanest. Well, let me lay this line of advice on you—and I wouldn’t be surprised if it became the spirited refrain of a new generation of folk song, or maybe even the next tag line for an Apple ad campaign: The best kind of pencil is a pen, brother.

Get foolish, be lonely, and hoard groceries—