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Friday, May 29, 2009

What's in Your Book Bag?

What’s in My Book Bag is the game we play in which we reveal the contents of our book bags, backpacks, satchels, briefcases, purses, and man bags. I just noticed that “manbags” written as a compound word looks like something dirty, or is sound dirtier as two separate words? What do you think?

My own choice of carrying container is a bike messenger bag that I have had for some years and is my almost constant companion when I am out of the house. I was going to buy a new one just before I came to Spain two and a half years ago but they seemed to have not been in fashion any longer and I couldn’t find one. Sic transit gloria Gap or however you would write that fashion retailer’s fickle tastes. I always found one or two flaws in the Gap bike bags I used to buy. When a new model was introduced it had a feature the old bag lacked but left out one of the things I liked in the model that was usurped. I always felt like I could have designed a perfect bag but I was never asked. So I can be seen cycling or walking all over Valencia with my old bike bag, warts and flaws and all. Why do I need it and what is inside?

If backpacks are simply fashion accessories then they are the most useful item on this list of vanities. The trend of carrying backpacks began with American college students, I would imagine. Very soon students from kindergarten to doctoral candidates were hauling their crap around in small nylon packs. Although no longer officially enrolled in any accredited institution, I have been a student my entire life. I call my life the Harvard of the real world. I think it was William F. Buckley who said that he was terrified to leave the house without a book for fear that he wouldn’t have a useful way to spend the few moments it takes for traffic lights to turn when he is walking about town. I would have to go along with that sentiment and add that I also don’t want to be caught without a pen, paper, and my Spanish/English dictionary. Let me dump out the full contents.

In a handy pocket on the shoulder strap I have my cell phone. In the small front pocket I have an assortment of pens: a red one for highlighting unfamiliar Spanish words in the book I happen to be reading, another ballpoint for writing notes, and a permanent marker. I have a disposable lighter which I bought a couple of nights ago. An African guy came in the bar selling all sorts of trinkets. I have seen him dozens of times and he is always pleasant and smiling. I felt guilty because I had never bought anything from him. I asked for a lighter as I dug a euro coin out of my pants pocket. He said they were three for one euro. I decided to haggle so I said I would give him one euro for two lighters and I wouldn’t pay a centime more. Faced with my strong bartering prowess he immediately relented. I gave one of the lighters to someone sitting next to me. What I find to be completely incredible is that not only is it possible to manufacture three cigarette lighters in China, ship them to Spain, and sell them for 1€, but that the African middleman who roams the bars hawking this stuff can make a bit of money for himself in the deal.

Along with the lighter, as sort of its fraternal twin is a cigar cutter. I used to just bite the end off of cigars but this cutter was really cheap and it works really well. I generally only smoke cigars for big football matches. Unfortunately—at least as far as my lungs are concerned—there have been a lot of big matches lately and I have been smoking like a chimney which is in direct contrast to my quest to be the oldest man to enter the Tour de France this year. Football season is over (at least if you are a Valencia CF fan) so I can probably remove these two items from my bag. On second thought, I will keep the lighter because I am often asked for a light for someone’s cigarette and I hate to say no to a pretty woman, no matter what the request. I guess I’ll leave the cigar cutter in there as well since it doesn’t take up much room.

I have a mini Leatherman® tool that I got “free” from REI a few years ago in Seattle. By “free” I mean that they gave me this tool after I probably spent $10,000 in other outdoor products during that particular fiscal year. The tool has pliers and a cork screw so that gives it the right to permanent residency status in my bag. I also have a three and a half inch Gerber® lock blade pocket knife. There was a time when you were allowed to carry one of these on an airline flight. Now I wouldn’t be surprised if I could end up in Guantanamo for walking around with this in my bag. I would leave this at home except I have heard too many stories of people getting jumped and robbed at knife point by groups of young men, usually immigrants. I don’t like the idea of unilateral arms reduction, at least not on a personal level. I also know how to fight with a knife as I have had lots of instruction during my jiu-jitsu years. On a happier note, I also have a tube of 15 SPF lip balm. That’s it for the front pocket.

In the main compartment I have my Nikon® Coolpix camera—not that I can be bothered to use it much. Next to the camera I have an eight inch (21 centimeters, to be exact) spiral notebook. On the front of every page I have Spanish vocabulary words that I have looked up and written down. This is the fourth of these notebooks I have filled thus far during my stay here in Valencia. I don’t know if this is a good method for memorizing words but I can’t think of any other way. On the back of each page I just write notes on whatever the hell I write notes about. I always joke that when I die I want someone to please burn all of these notebooks because if anyone were to take the trouble to actually read these notes they would think that I was completely out of my mind. In my defense I have to say that just about anything you may read in one of these notebooks will be taken out of context, the context being the rather odd way my brain seems to work.

Along with my Spanish/English dictionary that is so often in my possession that it is almost organically attached to my body, I have the book I am now reading. It is Pregúntale al Polvo (Ask the Dust) by the Italian-American writer, John Fante. I stress the Italian-American part because I was introduced to this great writer by an Italian friend not too long ago. I had never even heard of Fante and I think that I am fairly well-read by anyone’s standards. Fante now ranks among my favorite American writers and I may even condescend to read him in English some day.

The last thing in my bag is my MP3 player which has a computer-generated audio book of the Mario Vargas Llosa novel Travesuras de la Niña Mala. It sounds like R2D2 is the reader but I understand it perfectly well. I get a kick out of the way in which the computer voice gets fooled by certain words. Instead of saying siglo veinte, or twentieth century in English, it pronounces XIX as “six” as you would say xix in Spanish. For further kicks try writing a comment on You Tube in Spanish and then have the audio preview read it back to you. It has the worst Spanish accent in recorded history. Stupid computer voices. I read the book about a year ago and I have already listened to the whole thing in Spanish. I still have it on my MP3 player because I haven’t found a book in Spanish to replace it so I’m just listening to it again (and again). I have tons of audio books in English but they don’t help me with Spanish.

What’s in your book bag?