Item No. 3—No. 1 pencils—was my big score. An entire gross of the pencils arrived anonymously from some warehouse in New Jersey. Thank you, pencil lover, whoever you are. The reason I put them on my wish list is that the office-supply company that furnishes our needs at work doesn’t carry No. 1 pencils. They have the nerve, when I order, to send me No. 2s! So I buy my own (they're deductible), but they are getting harder to find. The stationery superstores don't carry them—art-supply stores are the only reliable source—and I live in fear that the No. 1 pencil will go the way of the incandescent light bulb, and two qualities that make life more worth living—of light and lead—will be unobtainable.
My exacting taste in pencils was formed when I worked in a job where my handwriting, in pencil, on galleys and page proofs, had to be transmitted by fax to a printing plant in Chicago. Actually, it wasn’t my handwriting that was the problem: it was my boss’s. He wrote in a very faint hand, which did not take well to facsimile transmission. The solution was to supply him with No. 1 pencils, which have a soft lead, and therefore require less force to make a darker impression. I got used to how they feel. I can always tell when I accidentally pick up a No. 2 pencil: the point feels hard and scratchy on the paper. With a softer lead, you can bear down when you’re sure of something and lighten up when you’re in doubt. No. 1 pencils are more expressive.
As for the rest of the wish list, until about an hour ago I'd have said it was a bust. No. 1, the iPhone, was actually taken off the market in New York City, because AT&T cannot supply a reliable signal for the masses. No. 2, the Smart Car, was perhaps a politically incorrect request: I should be asking Santa for a hybrid. As for No. 5, Congress is still working on an amendment to the new health-care bill guaranteeing every American the right to Hair Insurance. Surprisingly, there was action this morning on No 4, the Ciborium. When I came back from tending my parking spot—before the Mayor finally made up his mind to suspend alternate-side parking on the snowy eve of his inauguration for a third term, during which he apparently is not going to give anyone a break—the porter of my building said he had a package for me. The label said "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam" and the return address was Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, in Colorado Springs. Could it be? Had I downgraded No. 4 prematurely from ciborium to toothbrush cup? The box looked too flat to contain a ciborium, and it did not, but it did hold the next best thing: Cavanagh Altar Bread, a thousand wafers. It solved the mystery of a companion package, from Brewhaus, in Texas (no motto), that arrived two days ago: a bottle of Droolin' Devil gourmet hot sauce.
Amen and Happy New Year.