The Baggage of Life

You know those sitcom scenes where some doofus, like Joey on Friends or Screech on Saved by the Bell, goes up to a display of cans or boxes or somesuch, and he innocently takes one out and the whole thing comes crashing down, and you don’t really laugh—because one rarely if ever actually laughs out loud at anything that happens on TV—because you know what’s coming the second you see the pyramid of cereal boxes and it’s never really all that funny unless it’s taken to extremes and maybe the character gets his eye put out on the sharp corner of a Frosted Flakes box, blood spurting out in a fountain of red, he’s screaming like a woman, clutching his face, gore running down his shirt, he falls to the ground slipping in a puddle of his own blood thereby dislocating his shoulder or, perhaps, shattering his right fibula, the white of the bone ripping through the front of his jeans, shockingly bright against the deep navy blue that grows slowly darker now with even more of his bodily fluids, and the cereal boxes continue to slowly fall like Tribbles on top of Captain Kirk and then, maybe, just maybe you actually do crack a smile because there’s nothing funnier than someone else’s pain?

OK, so I was at this little travel boutique in my neighborhood, Flight 001, where they carry all sorts of little things to carry with you on your many travels, guidebooks, folding umbrellas, aromatherapy candles, eyepacks, in-flight pillows and so on. They also carry luggage, but not just any luggage. They carry Gravis and Mandarina Duck and Tumi, the good stuff, the well-designed stuff, with hidden pockets and real working wheels and zippers that don’t jam and all that. Bags and luggage made out of ballistic nylon in colors like tangerine and charcoal and sky.
Now, you and I both know that good luggage is a complete waste of money. Unless you’re always carrying everything on board with you, the luggage handlers will be tossing your carefully-packed bags into rain-soaked trolleys and piling it all up with everyone else’s duct tape-wrapped cardboard boxes. But you and I also know that good luggage, if handled properly, can save you so much time and trouble while travelling it’s ridiculous.
Think of all the crap you have to pack. Clothing, sure, but today’s on-the-go digital lifestyle also demands that you carry your laptop and its accessories, and your Palm or PocketPC, your cell phone, your iPod, headphones, power cords, and who knows what else that doesn’t like being jostled. Then we have to think about the extra shoes you need, the bathroom items… frankly, if you’re leaving for any amount of time more than a weekend jaunt to Montauk (and if you are then you need at least two pairs of sunglasses and a couple of bathing suits and your very own towel in addition to everything else) then you need a super little travel case that allowd you to have everything you need without rupturing your spine trying to carry it through the terminal.
So I’ve fallen in love with this extra cute and ever-so-daring tangerine Mandarina Duck rollaway which, if you know anything about design, means “oh my god look at that thing what the hell is it, it is so cool that I must acquire it for myself because, hello, jealous much?”
Now, Flight 001 isn’t a large store by any means. It’s boutiquey, like everything else in my trendy little neighborhood. It’s cute, it’s well-lit, the sale people ignore you, everything is arranged just so and after you touch anything, someone else comes along directly behind you whose job it is to make sure whatever you just moved that fraction of an inch is moved back were it belongs. So, you know, I’m perfectly at home there. In fact, I want to hire those people to live with me.
I have been visiting the tangerine Mandarina Duck “Frog” carry-on every other day. This is something I do until I decide that, hey, $350 is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for something I don’t actually need, because I already have a decent, nay, superlative carry-on bag made by Tumi that I purchased ½ off at Nordstrom Rack not two years ago. It has ample space in it, a separate area for the laptop, a deep pocket that snaps closed to keep power cords and headphones in, hidden shoulder straps that appear like magic so I can carry the thing on my back, handles that are soft and don’t make my fingers ache, including one on the end to tug the thing out of the overhead when someone else has decided that I don’t deserve as much space up there as I fucking know that I do, and it’s this sort of high-tech green color that looks like a jewel or some really expensive houseplant.
It’s perfectly fine. It has served me well, I can pack it with enough stuff for up to a week (assuming I don’t need a jacket or pants that need to keep a crease), it’s soft-sided so it’ll survive almost anything and it will expand via another hidden zipper to hold all the junk I end up buying wherever I happen to end up once I get to where I’m going.
But, God and Jesus, I really love that Mandarina Duck rollaway carry-on. There’s just something about it that says, “Hey! Everyone who sees you tugging this thing along after you at Charles DeGaulle will think you’re the shit!” which is all I ever ask for in a purchase.
So, I went in there on Sunday to drool a little more and contemplate what I would look like with the tangerine frog-designed beauty and decided, for whatever reason, to actually open the baby up and see what’s going on in there. I mean, besides the unusual and therefore cool color, what is that pocket on the front? Does the handle extend with a sleek, silken movement? How big is that space inside, anyway?
So I reached for it on it’s little platform and… the thing reached back for me, its wheels moving backwards, bringing in direct contact with the next piece of awfully nice luggage behind it, and the one behind that, and so on, so that in the space of an instant, in the time it takes to think, “Oh, shit!” there it all went, all the beautiful and expensive carry-on luggage, down and rolling.
Next thing I n=know, this overlarge and unwieldy Gravis forest green wheelaway was careening toward the next platform, where stood a collection of silver metallic military luggage made of the Space Shuttle Columbia parts and… down they went as well.
Me, I was struggling to make the Mandarina Duck obey me. The wheels, my god, they must have been lubed with some super-slick oil created in secret labs in Area 51, it was moving of its own volition and simply would not right itself and assume the position it was in prior to my touching it. The Gravis piece, meanwhile, had fallen over and given its life to make sure all that metallic luggage wouldn’t get dented as it, too, began slowly to collapse into a heap.
By that point, sirens were going off and an army of those rearrangers had appeared, grabbing me by the arms and spraying something into my face that both calmed and alerted me, making me move quickly away from the carnage I had inadvertantly created as my eyes scanned the wreckage for sign of my beautiful tangerine luggage dream.
There it was! Oh, Mandarina, are you safe? Are you okay? And the hands, the specially-talented people who do only this one thing, this arrangement of store interiors and luggage displays, they were quickly and efficiently rebuilding what I had so easily destroyed. The sirens were silenced and the flashing red lights died away back to the garish, uglifying florescence (never look at yourself in the window, the bags under your eyes should be on sale) and a salesperson, I’m not even lying, actually appeared and asked “Was there something I could show you?”
I suddenly knew, deep in the core of my shopper, that the bag was not meant to be mine. It had denied itself to me. “You,” it had said in silent but evident glee, “are not my owner. You can’t touch me. I am too much luggage for you, Lance. Go back to your discount bags and cut-rate, last-season luggage. I am Mandarina Duck!”
So, forlorn and with the renewed knowledge of my place in the universe, unable to even speak, I shook my head know, a tear in my eye, and I hung my head as I left, feeling that bag and it’s one yellow rubber wheel, it’s deep pockets, it’s oh-so-soft and probably stain-resistent exterior the color of fire and citrus, watching me leave, willing me away from it.
I may go back. One never knows. Now that it has been tamed and shamed by my touch, perhaps it will deign to be my bag. After all, I have a big European trip coming up in September. Paris, Spain, maybe even to its home in Italy, where it can see others of its kind and tell them of the world outside, of being packed full of Prada shoes and 2Xist underwear and jeans with small dictators imprinted on them. I would make it happy, that bag, as it tagged along with me on my life’s journey.
Oh, tangerine Duck, you will be mine. Someday… someday I will win your love.

June 10, 2003

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