At one point, long ago, I was monogamous. Unwavering in my loyalty. But all that changed -- as relationships often do. In the last 10 years or so, I've been on a somewhat indiscriminate search for just the right match. Just the right sort of handsome accouterment to sling across my shoulder in the most nonchalant way. A head-turner, sure, but one as understated as it is distinctive.
There's been a long string of handsome contenders: the floppy Kenya bag. The weathered un-dyed leather professor satchel. There've been mud-cloth totes and soft suede bucket bags. There've been modified hobos in pebbled leather; fisherman's creels re-imagined as rugged shoulder bags; a kimono stitched into a discreet quick-stop clutch. But alas, nothing has quite hit the mark.
Perhaps because I know the difference between for-keeps and mere fling: For nearly 14 years, I carried a classic Danish school bag.
Truth be told, there were three. The first, brown; the second, classic gray; and the third and last, black canvas (the better to hide fountain pen leaks). I fell in love at first sight, when another English major I worked with at a local bookstore walked in with a flashy royal-blue model slung over her shoulder. I studied it hard. As an undergrad, I'd grown unhappy with nylon backpacks or canvas totes with cringe-inspiring messages like "Music is my bag!" This bag said something else. Something that I more than likely would have to grow into, but no matter. Even the name -- Globetrot -- inspired grand aspirations. I welcomed the challenge.
Simple, understated, with a flat zippered flap that could be secured with either buckled straps or a snap, the bags were distinguished by a large cargo area that expanded like an accordion file with one forgiving zip. There were pockets and side sleeves and compartments within compartments. But the very special detail was the metric ruler stowed away in a snug pocket at the top of the bag.
Made out of heavy water-resistant canvas, they felt indestructible. And for the most part I treated them as if they were. They attended class, then graduated with me. Traveled to San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans and London with me. They carried my Norton anthologies. My overnight particulars. Lunch. My cameras and their various lenses. Later came the fat manila files, reporter's notebooks, cassette recorder and tapes. They even subbed -- in desperate times -- as swim bag or pillow. Then there were no more. The funky clothing store in Westwood where I'd religiously purchased them closed up tight. The mail order spot no longer posted ads in the back of one of my music mags. And the "just-in-case" East Coast connection dried up. Suddenly I was left without not only a replacement but a next-step plan.
I'm certainly not alone in my adoration or my longing. Rumor has it that J.D. Salinger used to order his Danish school bags from a New York boutique. Even when I carried my tattered, faded-to-almost-gray bag, I'd be stopped on the street, in line at the movies or at the grocery store by high school teachers, dancers, lawyers, photographers, chefs, graphic artists, journalists, CPAs -- all of whom wanted to know where they could get "that bag." People would pin me to a wall to share a memory jogged by the mere sight of it: impromptu romantic getaways. Travels through Madrid. The elaborate, circuitous tales of attempting to hunt down another.
A professor friend has tried to make do with all manner of messenger-style carryalls he straps across his body -- tangible evidence of his burden. He complains of shrinkage -- or, worse, "snappage" -- when the poor bag breaks under the weight of theses and dissertations. Woes he hadn't had with his old Globetrot.
Another has had her lip stuck out over the whole matter since the late '80s. "I had a black one. And a blue one. How many, total? Not enough. I used my old one when I started as a script supervisor. I could put everything in -- the script, pens, pencils, erasers." She's tried those "thin, weeny things. Shoddy American knockoffs." She's tried to move on. "It's like dating. They look really good in the store, but then you try them and they just don't work. I have an Eddie Bauer bag now, but I have to carry that and another bag, a totebaggy thing. Another is a purse sort of thing ... with Kermit all over. It's sort of fabulous ... "
She doesn't have to finish: ... but it's no Danish school bag.
For the last five years, I'd been scanning the Web, plugging in all manner of descriptors to prod the search engine forward. I'd come up with "Danish school style bag," which meant something in canvas, but much thinner and prone to wrinkle in a fine mist. Then there were the army surplus stores with their version of a school bag: flat flap, two pockets, long strap, but some weird briefcase handle on top. I even stuffed cash into the palms of traveling friends, hoping they might spy one on their journeys across the ocean.
A glimmer of hope