One single magic marker without its cap. That’s what went wrong with my last order of art supplies. Nothing big. It arrived in the box with the rest of my order but it was dried out since the cap was off. I e-mailed the web site and they sent a replacement right away. So why am I pondering this now? I’m not sure. It could be that I found the whole experience absurd. The notion that the whole retail and delivery infrastructure that has developed in the world was being used to bring me a single magic marker was a little nuts.

The marker wasn’t even a “Need” purchase. It was one of the new Prismacolor brush markers that were released this year. A month or two ago I bought a handful of them to try out. I got one in each color of the rainbow (there is a selection of 100+ markers in the set) and they were pretty good. The only problem I had was that the red and the orange that I choose (from looking at a picture of them) were a little off from what I wanted. Oh, well, I was just trying them out anyway. No big deal. I moved on.

Last week I had to put in a “Need” order: paper. I was running low on 9×12 inch bristol and needed some more. I had recently tried out the new Dick Blick house brand bristol board and generally liked it. Since it is considerably cheaper than the paper I can buy at the nearest AC Moore I decided to put in an order. As with any order I put in with the Dick Blick web site I look around to see if there is anything else I might need or want. Shipping can be expensive so it’s better to put in one big order than a bunch of small ones. But money has been tight lately so that put the kibosh on me being interested on stocking up on anything but the paper I needed. Then I remembered those markers.

I hadn’t used the markers much since I had bought them. Part of the reason was that I didn’t have a good solid red or orange. Of course I had good reds and oranges in other marker sets but somehow that wasn’t enough. The old collector’s instinct kicked in and I wanted those two colors for the Prismacolr brush set. They’re only $2.50 a marker, which isn’t a whole lot of money since I was only buying two of them, so I picked out what looked like a purer red and orange than I already had and tossed them in my virtual cart along with the paper and a couple of random black markers. I’m always trying out new black drawing markers.

I’ve ordered plenty of pens, pencils, markers, and small art supply stuff from a variety of places over the years. Usually they pack things well. They put the small stuff into either small boxes or small bags. Often the pens and brushes come in small and narrow plastic bags that get stuck into a larger box. That keeps the pens and brushes from rolling or being thrown around the larger box and getting damaged. I never really even though about it before. Of course there was the one time that I ordered a bottle of ink in the winter. It froze, expanded with ice crystals, and cracked the lid off of the top. Fortunately the ink was still frozen when it arrived and didn’t get all over the place. I think that’s my only other art supply damage story.

So back to this one. My package arrived. A dozen pads of 9×12 inch bristol board and four markers. At first I though they forgot the orange one because there was a small bag with the red one and the three random black drawing markers. Weird. Then I notice the orange marker was sitting near the bottom of the box wedged between the pads of paper and the side of the box. Its cap was off. Not good. After I emptied the box I found the cap but it was too late as the marker was dried out.

What happened? There was plenty of room in the little plastic bag. The bag was folder over neatly and taped down so the marker didn’t fall out. I guess someone just threw it in the box at the last minute after someone forgot about it. Check the order sheet, whoops no orange marker, toss one in the box! That’s probably as far as the thinking went.

It wasn’t the end of the world but now I had to send off an e-mail to customer service saying that the cap came off the marker in shipping and could they send me a new one. I knew it would be no problem and they would but still the absurdity of the whole thing hit me immediately. One marker? This whole big vast operation of economic infrastructure was going to get going because of one marker? Not even a “Need” marker?

I know this isn’t really all for me. People would still be working, trucks would still be rolling, and planes would still be flying even if the cap had never fallen off of my orange Prismacolor brush marker. But somehow as I was standing there with the dried out marker in my hand it seemed crazy to start all that into motion just so I could get a working marker. I even hesitated for a couple of hours. I put the cap back on the marker as if that would help it marshal its forces and rally back to draw again. After all it wasn’t totally dried out. I could get it to make thin and halting orange marks on the paper. After a couple of hours of that denial I pulled out the computer and shot off an e-mail to customer support. No problem they were sending me out a new one. The absurd journey of my lone orange marker had begun.