It was 8am and I was listening to my instructor drone on about something mildly important and not at all interesting. Bleary-eyed, I tried to take notes, my special pen in hand.To my right sat an Air Force captain spinning his pen. On break I put mine down and engaged in conversation with others. The captain, who is apparently very proud of himself, says, "Nice pen. Ever see one of these? It's a Cross."
I love my pen and it's special to me. I even wrote two stories - one about losing it and one about finding it. But I don't need to get into it with him. So, I say, "Yes. Very nice" and leave it at that. He asks what mine is and I simply say, "Mont Blanc" and, again, leave it at that.
Here is where he gets shitty. "Oh. Well this one is pretty pricey. Would have set me back about 60 bucks, but it was a gift when I got my commission." I fought the urge to get sarcastic. It was a battle. I lost. My response was, "Oh? $60? Wow" with a definite tone of being less than impressed. He says, "That's a lot for a pen." I eked out a "Yeeeeaahhhh. I guess." Now he's feeling challenged and his quills go up and he says, "Well how much did that...what's it called?""Mont Blanc" "Yeah... Mont Blanc cost?" Oh boy. Here we go.
"Well, SIR, I didn't pay for this hand-crafted, serialized, lifetime guaranteed/cleaned/polished, writing instrument made with accents of platinum. It was a gift by an employer when I designed and supported computer network infrastructures for the New York Stock Exchange. Had I paid for it, however, it would have set me back $285. Of course, that price is from when I was 20... thirteen years ago." While he stared at me, agape, soaking it all in, I said, "Oh, the instructor is talking again. Nice pen though."
I know what you're thinking. I was being an arrogant, pretentious, pompous jerk. And maybe my response warrants that title. I still maintain that I tried to be polite. I didn't incite this interaction. I was minding my business, taking notes with my pen because it goes everywhere with me. He rattled my cage and pulled the "my pen is better than yours" routine without having the slightest clue what he was talking about. I don't flaunt my pen.
He's a captain. That means he's a commissioned officer. That means he finished college. That means he's in a leadership position. By his collar. I am enlisted. By my sleeve, I am low-middle management. I may or may not have finished college. I could be some bumpkin that enlisted to escape a fate that consisted of a Wal-Mart register for all he knows. Then again, maybe I finished college and joined to serve my country. Maybe I have more experience and knowledge than my stripes tell. You don't know me. Do not assume that my uniform is all of me. Since he's an officer I respect the rank and position he holds, but that rank says nothing of character or personality. And his personality does not speak highly of his leadership.
At the end of the day, you may out rank and out earn me tenfold today, but you don't know where I come from or where I'm going. You have not earned the right to judge me. Keep in mind the only other interaction I had with this man was his snarky comment about gambling with my future when someone asked me if I was still separating from active duty and I answered to the affirmative, yesterday morning. This pen incident was the last time today he'd acknowledge my presence.
Your rank or pen do not make you special. I earned my pen and subsequently lost EVERYTHING. I have spent the last 10 years working back up to it and my transition is nearly complete. I'm not gambling with my life and even I am, far be it from you to judge my decisions.
By the way, on the very next break I wrote this entire story in my notebook with my pen while he scowled at his as if it had let him down on his quest to belittle people nearby.