RED INK A STATE SECRET?
Written by Timons Esaias
"Why can't an American buy a decent red ink pen, that's what I want to know," asked James Monroe, our fifth President. The question still echoes today, whole bunches of years later.
George Kleighopper briefly considered making it the theme of his run for the Republican nomination this year, but he decided he'd rather build an imitation Classic Car from one of those kits. Still,it bothers him. "You can write endlessly with blue pens, black pens, purple pens and all that, but red pens get all clotty and then they dry up before you've hardly used them. Red is one of the colors of our flag. It's the color of patriot blood shed for the protection of Democracy. Not being able to write in it is a national disgrace!"
For years pen manufacturers have claimed that there's just a basic problem with red ink. "Our scientists have never isolated a compound for red ink that flows as smoothly and lasts as long as other pigments," insists the American Institute of Writing & Drawing Device Manufacturers. Despite the enormous advances that science has been able to make in every other direction, supposedly progress toward adequate red ink is just impossible.
"The government sure doesn't seem to have any trouble with red ink!" noted Will Work, a street person who agreed to discuss the issue. "But then, neither did my first wife."
Mr. Work may have hit on the source of the problem, though. According to the researchers on the Nostalgia Hotline (1-555-RED-FONE) run by the Cold War Memorial Foundation, the quality of red ink was a casualty of Anti-Communist strategy. "It's an artifact of the Cold War. We wanted to express the idea that red was inferior, even on an everyday level. So we classified all the successful red ink formulae. Fashion opinion-makers, in secret collusion with the FBI, convinced everyone that red dresses, shoes, and nylons were somehow 'trashy' and inappropriate. Biologists were paid to suggest that red algae are bad, while green algae are good. Even red potatoes, which were very popular before the '50s, had to take a back seat to Idahoes."
The American public, of course, pretty much went along with it. Oh, there were a few exceptions. Sports cars tended to be red, and even the family car might be red, but that was understood to be a sign of youthful rebellion rather than a lack of patriotic fervor. Children's wagons were even allowed to be red, "because they would come to understand that it was a second-rate form of transportation."
But even some of these harmless exceptions went by the boards as the Red Menace grew ever more dangerous. "When the Peace Movement got going in the '60s, J. Edna Hoover got desperate," claimed the Hotline researcher. "He ordered that even red lipstick should be given subversive status. It amused him that the hippie females fell for the propaganda first."
Now that the Cold War is over, not all Americans are eager for free-flowing red ink, though. "My teachers always used to correct my homework with red ink," said one survivor of the schools, "giving me all sorts of demeaning marks in the margins. Danged if I want to make it easier for them to do that to my kids."
Don't look for the secret formula to be revealed any time soon, either. As one observer of the Washington scene commented between microbrews, "They can't even pass a budget, and they're cutting back. The Federal Government just doesn't have the time or the resources to make life easier for us citizens."
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