by Janis Patterson
Many years ago I was living in an apartment on the east side of town. I had been typing (yes, it was that long ago!) a manuscript and the ribbon I had been hoping to nurse along for another day or two simply gave up the ghost. The impressions on the paper were so faint they were almost invisible. I had already tried refreshing the ribbon with glycerin, which had worked fairly well for a while, but there simply wasn’t enough ink left to refresh.
Giving up, I jumped in the car and ran to the nearest drugstore. This was an independent store that carried a little bit of everything and, as it was fairly late at night, I was so grateful they carried a selection of typewriter ribbons.
Next to the ribbon display was a basket full of thin, 3x3 square yellow pads wrapped in cello. I’d never seen anything like them. Obviously they were scratch paper, but the pads could not have been over 10-15 sheets thick. They were called Post-Its. The price was ten cents.
I’ve always liked strange things, so I picked up a couple of pads and went to pay. Over the years I shopped there the store owner had become sort of a friend, so I asked her about these new things. She sniffed disdainfully and said something about them being a market test of the newest thing from 3M, but she was sure they’d made a very expensive marketing mistake. Who would buy a note with sticky stuff on the back?
Truth to be told, I kind of had to agree with her. I had a corkboard beside my typewriter, and a small chalkboard, and a roll of tape with which I could hang notes from other surfaces. Besides, who would pay good money for scratch paper? I had grown up in my parents’ office, and as far as we were concerned, scratch paper was the inside of the envelopes that came in the mail. Matter of fact, one of my very first jobs (I think I was seven or eight) was to take the discarded envelopes, cut them to roughly the same size and stack the resultant slips in a shoebox in the supply closet. Then whoever needed scratch paper could come in and grab some. Recycling did not begin in the ‘80s or the 90s in our family!
Fast forward to today. That wonderful old store has been closed for at least a quarter of a century, typewriters and their ribbons are almost antique artifacts, and sticky notes – now brought out by a myriad of companies under various names – are ubiquitous. From a lukewarm first usage I have come to love them to an almost fanatical degree. I have different colors for different things. Different sizes for different usages. On some days there are so many sticky notes covering my desk it resembles some sort of rainbow-scaled sea creature.
When an office supply store near us closed not too long ago, I bought almost their entire stock of sticky notes. One entire drawer of my desk is devoted to a sticky notes collection of unimaginable variety. There are the shapes – an apple, a daisy, a star, and more – and of course the classic 3x3 square, but it doesn’t stop there. I have long thin ones, little square ones, round ones, some half the size of a sheet of typing paper. Some even have lines or whimsical designs. Some are pastel, some are violently neon. The only color I have never seen in a sticky note is white. I have also discovered one of the great secrets of the universe – a quick print shop has a big paper cutter that for very little money will cut these pads in halves or thirds, giving you a custom size. You can even buy preprinted ones that say “Sign Here” or “Note Change” and other industry-specific things.’
Sticky notes are nice, convenient and have myriads of uses, but they aren’t the end-all or be-all. As with most modern luxuries we could live very well without them, however much we might protest. Cork boards and chalkboards and cut-up envelopes still work, but they are nowhere near as colorful – nor as fun.