As prelude, please indulge me in a brief, personal, history of the book bag:
In first grade, I carried my books (all two of them) in a nifty little scotch plaid satchel that went quite nicely with my green, velveteen winter coat. In third grade, I traded up to a handsome, chestnut colored, leather (OK, probably vinyl), brief case that had me looking more like I was heading to the courtroom rather than Parochial school (the de rigueur business chic, school bowtie no doubt added to the affect). These first two bags were a classic example of form over function. Neat looking, but – with too few compartments and very little flexibility – not very practical.
By middle school I graduated to what was then the cool book conveyance: a duffel bag slung over the shoulder and held shut by a ropey drawstring. It was nothing more than a laundry bag in navy blue and only met the minimum requirements of function. As for form, well, form was completely thrown out the window. The duffel bag had none.
By the time I got to NDP in 9th grade, the trend was to simply carry your books – all of them – in your bare arms. The only bag on the scene was the Bermuda bag, a small, popular hand purse that couldn’t even hold a hairbrush, much less a book. Hand carrying a tower of books, stacked according to size – largest on the bottom, smallest on top – dismissed both form and function altogether. Aerodynamically speaking, the items on top were destined to fall off as you rounded a corner or slammed a locker door shut with your foot. I remember the perfect storm one day in sophomore year when my eyeglasses fell from their perch on the top of my handheld pile just as my friend, Margo – late for Algebra (again) – hit full stride towards class. As my glasses tumbled to the floor and straight into Margo’s path, her left foot came forward with determined speed, sending my glasses spinning and careening off the walls like an errant hockey puck. When they finally came to rest, halfway down the long hall, they were in 2 pieces and one lens was missing entirely. I hadn’t seen my father so upset about an unnecessary, extra expense since my baby sister put a crayon up her nose and had to be rushed to the hospital for an emergency extraction.
When it comes to carrying one’s books, today’s NDP students are much more sensible, brighter, and practical. With the introduction of the versatile backpack as the current bookbag of choice, introduced sometime back in the mid 80’s, give or take, they have ushered in a new era of smart functionality. A backpack, as most of you know, is a study in space optimization and resource allocation. A kind of 8th wonder of the world, a girl’s backpack is to her material world what her laptop is to her virtual world. Basically, there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. There are compartments within compartments and pockets within pockets. There are side pockets, pouches, zippers, snaps, drawstrings, loops for water bottles and hooks for extra attachments. If used properly, it’s nearly impossible to lose anything in a backpack. Of course, it is up to the individual owner to take advantage of all the features a backpack has to offer. The group of NDP juniors I interviewed for this post do so, umm, uh…more or less. On and off. Depending on the time of year. Or day… Or student. The point is, they totally threw themselves into the interview and contributed greatly to my research.
Bluenote: “So, tell me about your backpack…”
Kaity Chaikowsky: “Oh! I love my backpack. I mean, I practically live out of it. It’s like a sleepover bag…”
Bluenote: “May I take a peek?”
Kaity: “Uh, well, if I had known you were coming, I would have straightened up a little…”
Bluenote: “What’s that in the bottom?”
Kaity: “Uh, a snack.”
Lying in the bottom of Kaity’s bag, loose – like a chipmunk might store food in a hole – was what looked like a rather large pile of trail mix.
Bluenote: “Never know when you might need a pick me up, huh?”
Bluenote: “You’ve got all these extra pouches and stuff. Have you ever considered…
Juliana Bauerle: “Wanna see what’s in my backpack? ” Juliana asked, coming to Kaity’s rescue.
Though food seemed to be a common item in all the backpacks, Juliana did store hers more, uh, securely.
Juliana: “I always keep two tea bags in this little side pocket, right here…”
Bluenote: “Nice. And what’s in there?” I asked, pointing to a nifty little pouch next to her pencil case.
With that, Juliana produced a banana. Written on its peel in black magic marker was the warning, “Don’t eat me!”
Bluenote: “Who’s the message for?” I asked, concerned that there might be a banana thief in our midst – a matter that certainly should be brought before the honor board if true.
Juliana: “My younger brother. He’s just 13. And new to the game.”
Bluenote: “What game is that?”
Juliana: “You know. The teen years. Making your own lunch. Stuff like that. It’s every man for himself in my house.”
Bluenote: “I see.”
Sensing how stressful it might be to have to stake out your lunch the night before, I turned the attention back to Juliana’s bag.
Bluenote: “Nice pencil case…”
Juliana: “Thanks. It’s new. I used to have a Monster Case…”
Bluenote: “What’s a Monster Case?”
Juliana: “A case with a picture of a monster on it…”
Bluenote: “Of course…”
Juliana: “Anyway, I used to have a monster case but a pen exploded in it, so… ” Juliana sighed, lost in reverie. “I loved that monster case…”
I had forgotten how traumatic life could be at that age. Leaving Juliana to her reminiscence, I moved onto the next junior, Quinn Goodspeed. Quinn had a kind of safari chic, utilitarian cool khaki backpack.
Quinn: “It’s like the cargo pants of backpacks,” Quinn explained proudly. It doesn’t have any zippers. I hate zippers. Plus, it’s easy to find in the auditorium.”
Upon further investigation, I learned that the auditorium is the place where girls often park their backpacks in between classes or during lunch break. Having a backpack that doesn’t look like everyone else’s is a distinct advantage when it comes time to retrieve yours. Take Emma Hart’s, for instance. Emma’s backpack is purple and she has had it since third grade. She would know it anywhere.
Emma: “I’d be lost without it. I pretty much keep everything in it,” she said. And with that, proceeded to pull the entire contents of her bag out for show and tell. “Right now, besides my books, laptop, and pencil case, I’ve got shorts and gym shoes, my new calculator and…” Emma reached deep within the recesses of the bag and pulled out…
Emma: “…My charger. My new calculator needs a charger. Can you believe that?”
Gia: “Who has a calculator that needs a charger?” her friend, Gia Wohlfort mocked.
Emma: “I know, right?” And then she did what any normal teenage girl would do in that situation. She threw her mother under the bus. “”My mother bought it for me. What can I say?”
Diverting attention away from Emma’s poor mother who wasn’t even there to defend herself, I asked:
Bluenote: “What else ya got?”
Emma peered into the, by now, cavernous backpack.
Emma (herself, puzzled): “Um, looks like I’ve got some pictures of seniors from last year’s graduating class.”
Gia (more mocking): “That’s not wierd at all, Emma.”
Apparently last year’s senior class is so, so…well, so early 2013. Moving down the line, fellow junior, Paige Gordon showed me her tasteful, North Face bag in a dusty shade of pink.
Paige: “It’s not likely to be mistaken for anyone else’s, but just in case, I added this orange and pink braided cord to its strap as a sort of identification accessory.”
Bluenote: “Nice touch. And very creative.”
Paige: “I think so,” Paige concurred with a confident nod.
Despite the spilled trail mix and the fading senior photos, I was actually impressed with how well organized each girl’s backpack really was.
Megan Bollinger: “That’s because it’s only September. By spring it may be a different story. Lots of crumpled papers tend to settle to the bottom.”
Bluenote: “Nothing of any real importance, I hope? Like notes your parents are supposed to sign or college applications?”
Their mutual silence told me they were each making a quiet ‘note to self’: get a three ring binder for really,really important stuff.
If there is a specifically “cool” backpack to have, it is not readily apparent. When pushed on the topic, the girls will concede that, like luggage, many girls have a classic, all black, North Face bag. But really, as I looked around, the variety of colors and patterns seemed pretty expansive. And even if you do own a black North Face, chances are you will eventually personalize it in some way.
Juliana: “Right now, people are adding colorful, neon piping to their black backpacks. It’s sorta like ‘Backpack 2.0. The next level,’ ” Juliana explained with authority.
Megan Bollinger admitted to having a black backpack.
Megan: “It’s true. My backpack is black. But it’s a Callaway. My grandfather gave it to me. He won it in a golf tournament or something. I think it’s completely different than the North Face, don’t you?”
Megan: “Plus, I keep my Red Cross Life Guard Pocket Kit attached to it so I can tell it’s mine. Or, if I ever have the occasion to, you know, rescue somebody.”
Bluenote: “I like the way you think.”
Megan: “Thank you,” happy for the validation.
Bluenote: “Speaking of rescuing…you know, one thing I’ve noticed is that these backpacks look awfully heavy. Do you ever factor in weight distribution or worry about, I don’t know, scoleosis?
Paige: “Scoleosis. No. Not really.”
Bluenote: “Well, would you ever consider using a rolling backpack? You know, one on wheels. Like luggage.”
My question was followed by hysterical laughter and general snorting.
Apparently, even an independent, free thinking, NDP girl has to draw the line somewhere. She will do what it takes to get a quality education, including carrying around a bag full of books so heavy, it bends her over like, well, like the true hunchback of Notre Dame. And she is confident enough to set her own style when it comes to personalizing that bag. But a wheely bookbag? C’mon. I mean, where’s the challenge in that?