January 1st, 2013

Every Blasted Hour

For the New Year, my wife gave me a new daypack. It was time.

The old one, by North Face, served me during the research for The Routes of Man and beyond – more than ten years. It traveled thousands of miles on planes and boats, in cars and coaches, and many trips as well on the New York City subway.

I abused it horribly – overloaded it with books, camera gear, clothing, food. It never let me down. Not a single tear or stuck zipper. Recently, though, the padding inside one of the shoulder straps began to break down and get lumpy. For the past few months, I’ve looked upon my son’s sleek new North Face knapsack with envy.

So today, with a touch of regret, I swapped the old for the new. I hadn’t really dug through the old one in some time, and was surprised by some of the things I’d been carrying: Sudafed tablets, a thumb drive, a highlighter pen, Dominican pesos, eyedrops, mint candy in cellophane, earbud splitter, earplugs, safety pin, binder clip. Most of those I’ll toss – out with the old! But two items I’ll keep.

One is a business card I was given back in high school after I stopped to help a neighbor who was having car trouble. The man’s name was Pannebaker, and his kids were at my school. All I knew about him, beyond that, was that he was a printer. He mailed me a brief thank-you note and the card. It wasn’t a business card – it was harder to throw away than that. It was pink, and said simply: I REALLY ENJOYED OUR TALK. Then below, in smaller letters, EVERY BLASTED HOUR OF IT.

I loved the curmudgeonly impulse that the printer gave expression to in this card. And I loved his nonchalance in sending it to me – for all he knew, I might have been offended. Instead I was slightly perplexed … and delighted. How anti-Dale Carnegie! I was unable to throw it away. When it made the move to my old backpack I don’t remember. Now it’s worse for wear.

The other thing I found was the twisted piece of stick my wife gave me near the beginning of my roads book research. It’s literally that, a fat twig. She picked it up off the ground when we were on a walk, declared it good luck, and handed it to me.

The lucky twig

A police chief in Lagos, Nigeria, happened to notice the stick when I visited him at home. In The Routes of Man I write about how he then told me about a road accident he had witnessed. One driver had died. The driver who survived, upon reaching into his pocket for identification, saw that the shell he carried on a string for good luck had broken. The man tossed the shell into the grass.

“You see,” the chief explained to me, “it was his good-luck charm. And because he was still alive, he gave credit to the charm. But obviously it had broken in the effort to save him, and had no power left.”

I will transfer the stick to my new bag, and knock wood.

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