Back in Compass, Drunk on Pen. Pants Quest: CONCLUSION

You can dry your socks more quickly by wearing them and sitting on your feet. This utilizes the body heat of both foot and ass, working together, to dry your socks. You probably won’t find yourself using this method until you are completely out of dry socks. As is so often the case with this little Sherpa.

I was in Le Kef, Tunisia; I’d packed light for the short trip, and it was much colder and wetter than I’d planned for. It was cold enough that I was simply wearing everything I’d brought, and the little raincloud1 that’s been following me for the majority of the year made sure that my feet were wet for almost three days.

It was not a short trip back to Tunis, and I was still quite wet when I intercepted my friend, who needed some help bringing materials to her office.

Somehow, within an hour, I found myself sitting next to her in the back seat of a taxi on my way to the police station. The cabbie was in handcuffs in the passenger’s seat, and a man with a gun claiming to be a cop was at the wheel. My friend, a little confused. Myself, more than a little frustrated.

I was tired and hungry and had a bloody nose. I was still damp from my previous trip, and I was still wearing really wet socks.

But that is a story for another time. Before I got back to Tunis I was taking refuge from the rain in a café while i dried my socks with my bum. I have to say that I was pleased to be doing this. While my bum can do most of the things a bum should do, it really fails to cushion my sit bones in any meaningful way. I was therefore glad to add “can dry socks” to its repertoire. Anyway, at some point in Le Kef I had broken my only pen. My other pens were in Tunis. And here I was, wet and cold and hungry, and with no pen. Not since I got ripped off by Sarah White was I so utterly without pen.

And so, in the cold and wet, I endeavoured to go out and acquire a new pen. a blue one. And so followed the acquisition of a crystal blue bic, it’s familiar dimensions comforted me, and it wrote so smoothly — I was all but intoxicated with it.

This pen lasted a reasonable amount of time, but eventually began to sputter. I don’t know why blue pens seem to have such a short life span compared to black ones. One might assume that it is due to the magnetic field I emit that causes compasses to work poorly in my vicinity. And since north is cold, which is usually coloured blue, pens sharing this colour must be affected similarly. Another explanation is that the blue ink in ball point pens simply does not keep as well as its black counter parts; perhaps because it is composed of a less stable chemical compound.

So for some time, I was again without a blue pen. And then one day in Hungary, on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I acquired two blue pens. One was a gift: gleefully stolen by my friend from her former place of work (She had already been fired when I met her, but not because of that), the other I purchased, and is what I call a short-pen — ideal for pockets.

The other two pens I’ve been carrying are black. One is a NASA space pen — that’s right, the product of all those millions of dollars so that astronauts could have a pen in space — the United States’ answer to the Soviet Union’s Pencil. It is an excellent pen — a very clever size, it can write upside down and in extreme pressures and temperatures. It was a gift from Yanette’s father, and one of my most treasured pieces of stationary. The other black pen was a gift from the owner of my favourite café in Guatemala.2 It is housed in a handmade sheath with tassles.

My newest pen — a gift from a friend of mine who is a materials engineer — is made of recycled plastic and biodegradable materials.

To have such wonderful instruments at one’s disposal leaves one elated. When I think of them I feel bold and empowered; comfortable and at home.

It should here be noted that all four new pens were obtained on a Thursday, which some of you might consider spooky (others will point out that such an occurrence simply occurs with a 1/343 probability3). Kind of like how I only acquire new hats on days that I eat pizza, or how it rains if I step outside.

As for pants, I’m not sure what strange pattern the universe has chosen for me. I indeed made it out to the store in Prague and tried on those pants I had fancied. The pockets were on the verge of too small, but were still acceptable. These pants were completely adequate, but I decided to continue looking for one more day before settling on this pair.

The next day I made it out to a shopping center on the edge of town to browse the Fjäll Raven store — but when I arrived, I found they also had a Decathlon! The place I bought my favourite knife, my first working compass, and the hiking boots that I tried to avoid wearing! It was here where I found a pair of pants. They convert to shorts with zippers above the knee, have front pockets adequately-sized, plus much appreciated side and back pockets, and the price — a quarter what I had been considering paying for the perfect pair elsewheres.

The Pants here depicted, in this blurry photograph, represent the conclusion of the infamous Pants Quest

And so, on my good friend Heavy’s birthday, Day 294 of this trip, the Pants Quest came to a satisfying end. In fairness, the pair I’d been wearing while looking for these ones are starting to fall apart as well. . .

It is perhaps a small item of interest that the name of the shop that had the promising pants I did not end up buying was called ‘Hanibal.’ It is because of my interest in the Punic Wars that I decided to head to Tunisia on this trip. On the day I bought my pants — from a store that was not ‘Hanibal’, it was the same day, 2215 years previous,4 that Hannibal Barca was defeated at the Battle of Zama — which happened about 35km from Le Kef, where I got my new blue pen. And as long as we’re talking about numbers, I got that pen on the 73rd day of the year near Zama (where Hannibal was defeated), and bought not pants from not-hanibal when only 73 days remained in the year. (Play spooky Hallowe’en music >>here<<).

For most of my life, I have walked around without a compass. For some reason when I hold a compass the needle doesn’t move or the needle never stops moving. Both defects render the device useless, and so I didn’t see the point in carrying one.

But when I was going to walk through Spain on foot, I wanted to make sure I kept walking west.

For a little over a month I used this compass all the time and treasured it dearly. It quickly became as valued a member of my pocket society as ever there was one. But just like a caveman wife who realizes her husband can’t find his club, it abandoned me one day in Croatia; I spent hours looking for it, but to no avail. I liked to think that it was found by people in need, but it is more likely it was cut to pieces when it was run over by a lawnmower.

I searched for a replacement for months, and ended up getting one the day before I bought my new pants. And now I am Back in Compass. Nothing can stop me. Whichever direction I choose to go.

Ironically, after looking for a specific brand of compass for over 3 months, I found a store carrying it, the day after I’d bought a new one. It’s like finally going out on a date with the girl you kind of like, but finding out that the girl you really like suddenly moved back into town. At under €5, you can afford to have both. Some women might take offense to that, but I’m not sure the compass will care. Maybe if they find out about each other there could be a problem. Or else they’ll become friends and run off with each other. There are never perfect solutions with women. If someone tells you otherwise you should run away, or cover your head.

Wearing Pants. Holding a Compass. Pens and Pencils Everywhere.


1. To be discussed at greater length on another occasion, to be sure.

2. Inexplicably, when we received this pen, Yanette and I quarrelled over who it had been given to. It was the only time we ever contested the ownership of anything that wasn’t a cookie.

3. Some of you will suggest it is 2401 (1/74 instead of 1/73) — but keep in mind that the four pens were obtained on 3 different days. The probability I am interested in is that if you just tossed those days up into the air and let them land on the calendar, what are the chances that they would all land on the same day (not necessarily Thursday)?

4. Although I admit, a given date on a calendar corresponding between the time of the Gregorian Calendar vs the Julian or even pre-Julian calendar may be an arbitrary matter.

originally sent November 3, 2013

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