Why Bill Clinton uses so many pens to sign a bill

Idi Amin shopping at Safeway in Saudi Arabia, Papa Doc eating burgers in Paris

As thanks for a job well done, the prez hands out little gifts after the ceremony.
  • As thanks for a job well done, the prez hands out little gifts after the ceremony.
  • Image by Rick Geary

Dear Matt: Saw Bill Clinton on TV signing his name to a stack of documents. There were at least a dozen pens lined up on his desk, and he used a different pen for each signature. Why is this? Are they high-quality pens or cheapos? Also, how badly must paper currency be defaced or mutilated before its value is negated? And whatever became of ldi Amin? — Deputy Director of Intelligence, Decentralized Intelligence Agency, Oceanside

Is the prez pilfering from the White House supply cabinet? Or maybe after a particularly satisfying bout of document-signing, he sits in his prez chair with the First Feet up on the big prez desk and tries to get Bics to stick in the ceiling. Maybe he draws fake tattoos on his hand or throws pens at Socks

If none of those scenarios prove to be the truth, how about this one. Behind every piece of legislation are dozens of worker bees who’ve seen to its passage — congressfolk, Cabinet members, lobbyists, other cheerleaders and wheel-greasers. As thanks for a job well done, the prez hands out little gifts after the ceremony. But rather than throwing one pen on the floor and chuckling as everybody bites and kicks and pulls hair to get the prize, the prez uses as many pens as there are worker bees, then hands them out ceremoniously with a big grinny handshake.

The presidential pens are made by Parker for the Democratic National Committee, which pays for them. They’re inscribed with his signature and the White House seal. Formulabs in Escondido makes the presidential ink, which must be eternally fade-proof, of course. Never trust a president who uses those quick-fading felt-tips. George Washington probably didn’t give away presidential goose quills, since Franklin Roosevelt is generally cited as the instigator of the big pen giveaway.

Does Idi Amin prefer ballpoint or fountain? If you’d like to ask him yourself, hustle over to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He’s not likely to answer his villa door, but according to a slew of news reports, just look for somebody who’s 6'3", 300 pounds, dressed in Saudi robes, and possibly driving a Chevrolet Caprice. Idi, the muy loco Ugandan dictator and mass-murder poster boy, hustled out of Africa in 1979 after a coup. The 71-year-old father of 43 does his own shopping at the local Safeway. You didn’t ask, but while I was at it, I checked on Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, former dictator of Haiti. He and Mom (Mrs. “Papa Doc”) are in a Paris flat eating burgers, watching TV, and dodging creditors. If you believe everything you read, his lifestyle took a severe beating when Mrs. Baby Doc walked out with the secret Swiss bank account numbers.

Clearly this is no problem for Jean-Claude, but a dollar bill’s value isn’t ever “negated,” no matter how funky it gets, as long as it’s still recognizable as legal tender. Paper currency is pulled out of circulation by our local banks, who trade it in to Federal Reserve banks for the fresh, crisp stuff. The criteria for rejection are subjective (unless a bill’s torn), so just think about the grubbiest bills you commonly see in circulation, then figure it’s something slightly worse than that.

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