Some things (like my Mont Blanc) are perfect or nearly so and are costly. Some things (like my bike) are just about perfect and cost a fair bit. And some are just cheap. Today’s NP fits into that category.
I’ve always been a bit of a bag fanatic. It started the year I graduated from high school. My parents were big readers, and so every week The Magazines came. But we never got Time or Newsweek or even Life. We got the Saturday Review and the New Yorker. It was the latter that gave me whatever sense of style I could muster during high school. I had started reading it for the cartoons, but the essays (I particularly remember one about lifting body aircraft entitled “The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed”) soon caught my attention, and since I was an aspiring poet and actor, it just seemed natural to read it every week.
So, I was flipping through the magazine one day when I saw it.
The ad was one of those tiny ones along the edges of the pages in the back of the magazine, and it showed a squashy gray bag (I assumed it was gray; the New Yorker was published in black and white in those days) popular with artists, writers, photographers, etc (I suppose it was marketed in much the same way Moleskines are today). It was sold by a New York shop called “The Chocolate Soup” (this appealed to my would-be hipness; it was years later I found out that it was actually a toy store) and I built my self-image (well, what I planned for myself, anyway) around that bag. It was going to be my Bag for College. I think it cost about $20 (shipping included). I persuaded one of my parents to write a check and I sent it off and in due course received a large envelope containing my bag. It was wonderful, it was everything I had hoped for, and I loved it. Sometimes, in later years (but rarely) I would see someone else with the same bag and we would (I imagined) nod knowingly at one another.
Eventually, of course, it died. The plastic edging gave out one day, dumping my philosophy, chemistry, and Hebrew textbooks onto the street in front of Falwell Hall; I had it repaired by some friends who owned a leather shop. The strap started to go next, billowing a surprising series of colors out of its gray structure. I trimmed these. Finally, the cotton canvas started to give. I kept it for this purpose and that for years and years, and finally got rid of it about four years ago in a fit of housecleaning.
Once I retired it, I was always looking for replacements, and even though I discovered a couple of years back that these bags were still available (now running $200 or so), I remembered my “textbook” experience and by now I must have spent some ridiculous amount of money trying to find a worthy replacement. No, seriously. It’s embarrassing the number of bags I tried.
The bag pictured at the top of this post has come closer than just about anything else. I got it, well-used, for $3. I enjoy stopping by Goodwill every couple of weeks to look for ties (some of them are really quite nice–most are appalling) and any small technology items I may need. On this particular day, I found a good tie and a couple of other small things. I wanted some way to carry them back to work, so I went over to the bag section, and found this. It was sold by The Gap, apparently in the Fall of 2001, if I read the label correctly. I thought at the time just to grab something to carry my goodies, then return it to Goodwill later (and write off the $3 as a contribution). But it grew on me.
What I like: it’s gray, and like its predecessor, carries no identifying logo. The strap is soft (though this may be from wear) but sturdy enough not to collapse on itself and twist in its attachments (and it will not likely fray). The strap is sewn onto the bag (I once had a clipped-on strap unclip when the bike I was riding hit a bump, and there was a heart-stopping moment trying to prevent my employer’s laptop from crashing to the pavement). the pockets under the flap hold my headphones, charger, and USB cable, and the cell phone pocket is just the right size. The pen pockets are too small for my fountain pens, so they hold pretty disposable ballpoints and mechanical pencils. The main pocket holds everything else. It has no handle for carrying as a briefcase (handles are nice on briefcases, not so nice on bags that aren’t stiffened somehow).
The more I write about this, the more I think that my notion of perfection has something to do with nostalgia. It’s not the bag itself that’s perfect, but it’s the similarities it has to something else that was near perfect. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Perfection can be cheap.