Alert readers will have noticed the stunning blue logo for HEAR ME NOW STUDIO Podcast Production atop the column since January 1. Alerter readers will even have clicked on it to visit the company’s website.

I’m very proud to welcome HEAR ME NOW and owner-founder-producer Jeff Holden as a new co-sponsor of The Goldman State column and podcast. In addition to producing my weekly rant, the company focuses on creating podcasts for businesspeople, as well as sports and entertainment figures. “Podcasts are appointment, on-demand listening that have eclipsed traditional radio listening,” Jeff told me for a column late last year.

Make an appointment ASAP. Your story needs to be told.

Jan 22, 2024

Sharpener Image: A Dollar Tree Tale

When an errand goes errant

By Ed Goldman

If you want to commit yourself to doing a complete makeover of your work space, start as I did: Buy a new pencil sharpener.

For Gen Z readers (an oxymoron if I ever heard one):

  • A pencil sharpener is a device used to shave some of the wood from your pencil, allowing a little more of the lead encased within its cylinder to emerge.
  • A pencil is principally an implement for writing.
Edgy Cartoon

Getting the Lead Out

  • Writing with a pencil is an ancient form of communication invented in 1795 by a scientist named Nicholas-Jacques Conte. He was in Napoleon’s army. 
  • Napoleon was a guy who looked so much like the actor Joaquin Phoenix that he played him in a late-2023 Ridley Scott epic, which you could begin watching on your smartphone moments after it was released to theaters. 
  • The movie reportedly cost about $200 million to make and market. Financial analysts say this means it will need to gross from $500–600 million to break-even. 
  • To bring this full-circle, that doesn’t exactly pencil out.

As you might have surmised, I still use a pencil to write and to draw. If I could, I’d even use it to write and endorse checks. (For Gen Z readers, a check is—oh, never mind.)

Pencils are low-maintenance communication tools and pencil sharpeners are usually low-maintenance supportive devices. But if you happen to relocate a pencil sharpener in your office by yanking it out of your wall because you forgot it was an electric one—and your action was so unintentionally violent it caused momentary sparks and your smoke alarm to not only go off but also to scream “Fire! We’re all gonna die!” (I have a very dramatic alarm system)—no amount of prayer or repair can remedy the situation. Ergo, you need to purchase a new one.

I did this, with some coaxing, at a local Dollar Store. Or maybe it was Dollar Tree or Dollars ‘r’ Us. Hello, Dollar? (I was too delirious from how much I was saving to pay attention.) I opted for a manually operated one, made by the good people at X-acto, the slit-forefinger specialists. 

Fun fact: According to the sometimes-correct Wikipedia, the X-acto knife was invented “in the 1930s by Sundel Doniger, a Jewish Polish immigrant to the United States. He started a medical supply company in 1917 producing medical syringes and scalpels with removable blades.” I’m sure it was only a matter of time before a surgeon said, “I’d sure like to jot down my excuse for why I just removed that patient’s spleen when he only came here for a fu shot before his attorney arrives. But my doggone pencil needs sharpening! Do you suppose … do you think… the X-acto people could help?”

—You’re probably thinking, This is getting us nowhere. Well, I never said this column was a destination experience. But hold on a moment. We’ll see you get your money’s worth.

When I got my X-acto pencil sharpener home, I was shocked to find it wasn’t a stand-alone device. It would need to be attached to a wall, a desk, a bookcase or a highly stoical (and humanely drugged) service animal. This explained the three tiny screws that popped out of the box, as well as the three tiny “sleeves” which would presumably allow me to fasten the sharpener to a stud-less section of a plaster wall.

Just out of curiosity, have any of you ever successfully hung up something using screws-and-sleeves and not have it come crashing down a few weeks later? It usually happens in the middle of the night—and may even set off or your smoke alarm. (Since a fallen coat hook sconce usually poses no real peril, this makes my dramatic alarm only scream, “Spring for a handyman, Stupid!”)

Anyway, as I was finding a place on my work table to screw in my new pencil sharpener, I noticed that my office was a tad messy—”tad” as in, a scrapyard after being simultaneously hit by a tsunami, volcano, hurricane and ADA inspection. So, six or seven hours later, all my “suspense” files were sorted, a quarter-ton of half-completed manuscripts as well as credit card bills from December (of 1997) had been tossed, the wood floor I forgot I had was swept and mopped and I sat down to work on the drawing for today’s column. My pencils needed sharpening and I gleefully took to the task. Except I had yet to install it. Worse yet, in my burst of reorganizing, I may have thrown out the screws that came with it.     

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).