Yesterday I carried someone else’s black bag to my car. She had left it in my boss’s office and since she lived near me, I was to bring it home and we would meet up over the weekend. The bag felt glamorous in my hand. Real leather, I thought. The woman who owns it is rich. I could feel it. “This is the type of bag I should buy,” I thought, imagining myself with it on a city street. The words “this is how they do it” kind of in my mind, always hunting for that recipe that makes certain people look so accomplished.
And I thought of the black bag I had bought almost 10 years ago that had given me the same feeling. I found that bag on 14th Street, in a narrow little fly-by-night shop. I was passing by on my weekly freedom visit, the one day of the week when – in the city and alone instead of up at the ashram – I felt like a new person: fresh, alive, young.
I was about to go on an ashram business trip and the black bag I spied would help me match up with all the young confident professionals I would mingle with in the airport, on my way to meetings. It had long straps, pockets, zippers and compartments for organization, all of it sleek, streamlined, and made of some kind of black nylon fabric. And it was cheap of course. That’s what 14th Street is for. Like others who shopped on 14th Street I had to live on almost no money.
I bought the bag and for years took good care of it. Whenever I needed a sort of briefcase, out it came, not a real pedigree, but not a bad stand-in. I pampered it, always unpacked it when I was done, laid it away til next time. It was only with this special care that the bag lasted as long as it did.
Then it became my teaching bag, the thing I lugged to campuses stuffed with files of student writing, books I wanted to read to them and videos I wanted to show. The black bag lost its trim lines. It sagged. Its true shapeless soul finally showed through.
One day just looking at it made my heart sink. Such a cheap piece of crap. It’s in a landfill somewhere now.