Receptionist Areas Started Putting Out Clean and Used Pen Cups

Two receptionist jars containing clean and dirty pens
Artwork by Anthony Faust
Two receptionist jars containing clean and dirty pens

During the pandemic, a host of new behaviors and protocols emerged as people searched for ways to reduce the risk of transmission, especially when it came to shared surfaces.

One shared surface that is everywhere from doctor’s offices, to banks, to the DMV, to school receptionist areas, was the pen. Gone were the days of the single pen tethered to a desk with the mighty chain. A chain so mighty it could stop even the most eager kleptomaniac from pocketing a free Bic. In the era of coronavirus, that pen was more dangerous than the intentions of the would-be thief looking to steal it.

With the risk of transmission from surface contact still a concern, pens became a source of anxiety for many people, who were worried about the risk of contamination from touching the same surface as others. For some, the solution was simple: bring your own pen with you everywhere you go. The problem was solved.

For the rest of the population who didn’t carry a purse or pocket protector, we still needed somebody to provide for us. Some establishments replaced the one single pen on a chain with a whole new pen operation.

There were two jars, one marked very vividly ‘Clean Pens’ and it held more pens than you could ever steal in a lifetime. On the other side of the desk, far enough away that even the Carl Lewis of COVID-19 viruses couldn’t jump across, was the “Dirty Pens” jar. This is where pens would go when it was time to visit the big ink well in the sky. A visitor would take a pen from the clean jar, write down the time, the date, check a couple boxes, scribble their signature, and then cast that pen to its death. Or so it seemed.

Whatever became of the “Dirty Pens”? Who among us witnessed what happened when the “Clean Pens” jar got depleted? Maybe the receptionist painstakingly rubbed down each pen with a Lysol wipe. Maybe box after box of brand new single-use pens were getting dumped in the landfill. Or maybe, she waited until no one was looking, and just swapped the pens back to the “Clean Pens” jar without giving it a second thought. Similar to how your favorite Italian restaurant takes uneaten bread and serves it in a new basket to the next table. We may never know.

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About the Author

My life as a husband and father transformed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sent home from work in March 2020, I've yet to return to the office. Adapting to the new pandemic world proved challenging for us all.

However, we managed to find silver linings. Drive-by birthdays brought joy to my kids' friends. I'll never forget stumbling upon a heartfelt hand-painted rock during my jog, reminding us that we're all in this together. Regular Zoom happy hours with close friends created cherished memories.

While quality time with my family was a blessing, we also faced hurdles. Assisting my youngest daughter with frustrating math homework on a poorly designed iPad app tested our patience. Both girls struggled with wearing masks during sports and school.

Sadly, witnessing COVID-19 being politicized and witnessing the closure of small businesses while the wealthy thrived was disheartening.

I wrote this book to document our experiences, learning from them and striving for better decisions in the future. Join me on this rewarding journey of resilience and growth.

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