Made in Japan

I pull a pencil from a jar full of them on my studio windowsill. Its point has obviously been sharpened with a knife, not with a sharpener like the rest. Curious...I don't generally use a knife to sharpen, except for big blunt carpenter's pencils. I pick it up and read the side. On black laquer in gold it reads

highest quality ~ TOMBOW <homo-graph> MONO

I turn it. On another side it says


Funny how the slightest shift in advertising language - along with that telltale "Made in Japan" - telegraph a decade gone by.

Then I remember. I acquired this pencil along with a bunch of poorly-washed brushes, which I never use yet which I don't throw out or give away to someone less choosy, out of a kind of stubbornness that I'll find some interesting or unexacting task for them; a couple of 1950's vintage books on anatomy and Chinese painting techniques, lovingly inscribed to Nora Greenberg by her thoughtful children ("Dear Mother, We know that you will enjoy this book as you are now engaged in the same art form." Love, Doris and Walter, Chanukah, 1979), and a few other odd studio tools from the estate of a woman I never met.

I was supposed to send in a small donation to the home where she lived but somehow I never got around to it. It's one of those vague guilty feelings I stumble onto every time I find one of her belongings. Of course it's not too late. I palliate the feeling. "She'd be glad her things were being used", the home assistant, a family friend, said to me.

I turn the pencil over once more and think, this hasn't been used in probably 30 years, since Nora last sharpened it.

I begin to draw. I erase and draw and draw some more, till the point dulls. I reach for the sharpener but set it down. I pull out my utility knife and slide out the blade.