Ode To A Backpack
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
You’re a dirty, hungry, scaly bag of timbers
And you’ve seen the last of your deepwater days
But by god I’d cut us free and we’d go astray together
And we’d try one last long voyage, me and you.– Threeboot Philbrick’s Lament, Gordon Bok
A number of years ago I opened a fortune cookie in Boston’s Chinatown to find this message: “Stop your searching, happiness is in the chair next to you.” I was sitting at a round table; there were two chairs next to me. To my left was my then-girlfriend, who instantly appreciated the laugh I gave at the situation: On the chair to my right was my backpack.
I bought that pack when I was 13 years old, using all but a couple dollars of the gift certificate my uncle Manny and aunt Barbara had given me for my Bar Mitzvah. I think they also gave me a clock radio, but I don’t recall. What I do remember is the sturdy, green EMS pack – a daypack by today’s standards, but one from which modern designers could learn a thing or two.
Between junior high school and that Chinese restaurant, that EMS pack carried my books, my clarinet, my props, my clothes and became as much an emblem for me as anything else I’ve ever had. In high school it contained whatever was needed. For the guy who had asked the question, “How about a tuna fish sandwich?” it so happened that I had one in its top pocket, which I triumphantly offered to split with him.
During the year I lived in Israel, it was always the first thing I reached for at the start of any outing. Over its tenure with me it has been pillow, footrest, divan, tool bag, picnic basket, and writing desk. It has absorbed dirt, sand, sweat and water from the Dead Sea to the Grand Canyon, and has travelled by bicycle, car, bus, train, ship, airplane, camel, and, of course, by human.
I love that pack dearly and have felt myself wounded every time it needed repairing. Once a talented lady with a powerful sewing machine reinforced every seam twice – twice, because the first time, she had reassembled it with the straps on the wrong side (she also washed it and announced afterwards that she imagined hints of my life were seeping out from its pores to be seen by her).
Another time it was a man who gave the zipper a deft squeeze with a pair of pin nose pliers and
announced it fixed, free of charge (that zipper has since become a bellwether for how the pack is feeling, the way an old injury might ache when it’s about to rain).
Every other time it was me, with a heavy needle, doubled thread, and very little skill. Despite this fact, the pack is still with me.
A couple of years ago I bought a bigger pack for bigger trips. I took this new pack to Greece, and it brought me to the village of Litohoro on the Thermaic Gulf. I stowed it in a back room of the Hotel Aphroditi, and my brother and I hiked many-storied Mount Olympus with my dear old daypack on my back – just the right size for my four days-worth of clothes and gear. I didn’t use my razor while on the mountain, and a spare flashlight bulb would really have come in handy. Other than that, it contained everything that I needed.