The Mystery of the Pens
In the building where I have my office (as well as a seminar class once a week), I used to find a pen on the lobby table every morning.  To call the writing on this pen cryptic would be an understatement.  Since it was so odd, I brought it back to my office to show to the other grad students with whom I shared a space.  We thought it was weird, but we put it out of our minds.

Well, day after day this went on, a new pen showing up each morning.  I haven't seen that any pens in the last couple years or so, but they could still be appearing for all I know.  I just don't have a schedule where I pass through the lobby most mornings.

I have no idea who to suspect was laying these down.  In general, the staff of my building is pretty much agnostic (it's a basic research building), although we have a fundamentalist Christian who works in the front office.  Of course, she's way up in years, and aside from some intense beliefs, she doesn't seem the type to leave out something like this by way of passive propaganda.

At present I still have 40 pens in my possession.  Try not to read anything Biblical into that number.  I used to have even more than this, but I've misplaced many and/or used them or loaned them out.

At first I thought they were all the same text, but a closer reading proved otherwise.  In fact, I didn't realize all the subtleties in the differences until I took the trouble to transcribe them all. Of course, I could have missed some details, considering the difference between some variants is as little as the presence or absence of a space or the location of a quotation mark on one line versus another.

The Messages

I transcribed the text from the pens and tried to find some system to them.  I made an effort to try to keep track of even the presence of the spaces in the text in case those differences held some significance.

Below, I tried to organize the varieties in a logical sequence in which the changes can be sorted with the least mental effort (Everything on my site is done with the least mental effort in mind!).  However, there is little logic involved in these that I can discern, so whether I have achieved any semblance of a taxonomy is questionable.

I can't remember which one came first, but this one will do.  Note the haphazard use of spaces around the numbers.  Sometimes there are spaces between them and the operators, sometimes not. "CHRIST PROTECTS KIDS FROM DRUGS WORLD
MATTHEW 10:25 = 22+5:9-13 & ROMANS 16:11"
Similar text, but now the operators are switched around on the third line. "CHRIST PROTECTS KIDS FROM DRUGS WORLD
MATTHEW 10:25+22 & 5:9-13=ROMANS 16:11"
The second line now has new content.  Here the "chapters" have been reversed, with Romans coming first.  Also, note that "22" and "25" have been reversed.  This is also the first appearance of the "KJ."  Are these initials?  Another Biblical reference?  Who knows?! "CHRIST PROTECTS KIDS FROM DRUGS WORLD
ROMANS 16:11+MATTHEW10:22&25+5:9-13"KJ.
The second line changes again in this one.  And we're back to the Matthew-before-Romans version, but the "22" and "25" are still inverted.  There are practically no spaces on this line as well.  Also, what's up with the ampersand at the beginning of the line? "CHRIST PROTECTS KIDS FROM DRUGS WORLD
& MATTHEW10:22+25&5:9-13&ROMANS16:11" 
And the ampersand exits, but it is otherwise essentially the same. "CHRIST PROTECTS KIDS FROM DRUGS WORLD
MATTHEW 10:22+25&5:9-13=ROMANS 16:11"
This is similar to the other "KJ" version above, but the second like is different.  Also, note that "Nonbeliever" is sometimes plural, sometimes not. "CHRIST PROTECTS KIDS FROM DRUGS WORLD
ROMANS 16:11+MATTHEW10:22&25+5:9-13"KJ.
Return of the ampersand! (Though otherwise different than the version above.) "CHRIST PROTECTS KIDS FROM DRUGS WORLD
& ROMANS16:11+MATTHEW10:22&25+5:9-13"
Now the first line is different and the quote ends at the second line.  What gives? "PROTECTS KIDS FROM DRUGS WORLD CHRIST
MATTHEW 10:25 = 22+5:9-13 & ROMANS 16:11
Similar to the above, but the operators are switched. "PROTECTS KIDS FROM DRUGS WORLD CHRIST
MATTHEW 10:25+22 & 5:9-13=ROMANS 16:11
Same as the above, only last quotation mark moved. "PROTECTS KIDS FROM DRUGS WORLD CHRIST
MATTHEW 10:25+22 & 5:9-13=ROMANS 16:11" 

Who can say what it all means?!

As I read them I ask myself things like, "Does the equal sign mean that two things are equivalent?" or "Does '+' mean the same thing as '&'?"

The numbers look like chapter and verse identifiers for various books of the Bible, but if so, then the passages they refer to are gibberish (admittedly, I am inclined to say most of the Bible fits this description!).

Here's what the Bible says:

From Matthew 5:9-13...

5:9  Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

5:10  Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:11  Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

5:12  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

5:13  Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Even though it doesn't directly reference all the verses between Matthew 10:22 and 10:25, I checked those as well and will include them here... just in case.

10:22  And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.

10:23  But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

10:24  The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.

10:25  It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?

And here's Romans 16:11, not that it will make any more sense.

16:11  Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.

I don't know what any of the above has to do with writing utensils.  Um, nope.  Doesn't mean anything to me either!  Even a thorough search of the web doesn't turn up anything relevant.  Indeed, I come up with zero results when I search for portions of this text as phrases (i.e., using quotation marks).

A suspect?
At first I thought this phenomenon was restricted to my building, but then I started finding the pens in other places.  I even found one of them in the Post Office downtown.  Unfortunately, I didn't take it to see if it differed from the rest of my collection.

The strangest thing yet was that I ran across a guy wearing a t-shirt with some version of this garbage written on it.  The shirt was black and XXL, with the writing in large, plain white letters that covered the entire front, back, and sides, such that you couldn't even read it... not that it made any sense anyway.  But the oddest thing of all was the wearer.

I first saw him in a grocery store on the north end of town.  I usually don't end up on that side, but I had errands to run in the area that day.  I was just picking up a couple items when I ran across this really tall guy, maybe 6' 3" or more.  He was kind of thick as well, though not overweight.  He was Caucasian, probably in his late fifties with really bad teeth, as I recall.

The most noticeable thing about him though (well, other than the shirt) was that he had a serious speech impediment.  It was difficult to determine whether this had a physical or a mental basis.  I wondered if the fact that his words were so jumbled was connected to the fact that the text of the pens was so jumbled.  I wasn't able to commit the text of the shirt to memory either, obviously.  Why couldn't I have brought my camera with me that day?

Update #1 (2010):
Site reader Tom Kun wrote me the following:

What is the damn deal with this guy and his pens?

The "suspect" you mention at the bottom of your page... you want to see him again?  Go to the McDonalds at 380 & Locust on pretty much any morning.

I used to see that nut every time I ate breakfast at McD's back in '02 and '03 when I was a UNT student.  One time he walked up to me while I was eating and handed me one of those white pens.  There were always others lying on the counter, just like the ones in your picture.

I left Denton in Dec. of '03.  I came back through a few times since then, but not into that McDonald's... until today.  I walk back in there this morning --in 2010, seven years later!-- and that man is still hanging out there, sitting at the same table, wearing the same damn shirt!  "NONBELIEVER ARMY AGAINST THE DRUGS" and a whole bunch of other gibberish.

It was a real trip (pun intended) seeing that guy again.  I had totally forgotten he even existed.

His pens are different now.  Now they're black and you push a button to make the tip come out.  I took one from the front counter, partly because I always lose pens and can never have too many, but mostly for the entertainment value.

This is what it says:

The hell?

I replied:

Oh, that is too awesome!  I wish I had saved all the pens I found.

The fact that all the pens were different from one another was as big a mystery to me as anything else going on here, such as what they were supposed to mean in his mind.  Unfortunately, the source was not only unapproachable, he was verbally incomprehensible.  I remember hearing him speak once, and it was this jumbled mush of mumbles.

I just ran a search and came up with these:

I can't believe some daring student reporter hasn't braved their fears in return for this most awesome scoop and told his story.


Update #2 (2012):


I just found a random pen on my counter at Walmart.  A riddle, I thought.  Googled what "drug world the narc" might mean and discovered your page.  I started reading and found it very interesting that my pen had one line yours didn't.  And then I saw try we're all from Denton.  Me too!  So, here's what it says:

The last line is underlined.  So maybe there's some guy somewhere spewing out random bible code gibberish.  Sounds fun!  Anyways, I just thought you'd be interested in the appearance f a pen different than yours.


I replied:

Amazing news!  This has been going on for ten years at least.  I'm sure the guy is simply a schizo, although perhaps with a language disorder of some sort that garbles both spoken and written language.  Obviously he's living on disability income, but I wonder what portion of his check goes to whatever printer is able to comprehend enough of his instructions to print up pens and his custom t-shirts.  Or maybe he only owns that one shirt, in which case, eeeewww!


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