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The Column

Like Oil and Stuff That Hates Oil
10/13/02

There are very few things in this world that go together worse than backpacks and suits.

I was on my way to work today when I saw a young man coming towards me. I say young man because I am now a seasoned 23, while he couldn’t have been older than 22 and a half. And something was wrong with his shoulders – one of them was jutting sort of sideways, and the other was a full inch higher than the rest of him. As I got closer, I realized that his shoulders were not the problem – rather it was the giant black straps attached to them.

Backpack straps are not normal straps. Attachés, laptop cases, purses, these are things with normal straps. But backpack straps are thick and deep with a sewed pleat down the middle. Backpack straps go well with t-shirts and jeans and baseball caps. They do not go well with suits. And you may laugh that I said purse straps are normal, but he’d have looked more dignified if he were carrying one than lugging around a backpack

This was not just any backpack – this was a full backpack. We all went to high school with one kid who had a full backpack, and you’re picturing him now and laughing at how silly he looked. Or you’re picturing yourself and wondering why I’m making fun of you. But I’m picturing him, walking around with notes from tests he already took, textbooks to classes he decided not to take, and a whole watermelon. The watermelon part was never confirmed, but something had to have taken up all that room.

I wondered where this man could be coming from that required both a suit and a full backpack. What did he have with him that he could not have carried in a shopping bag or a rolling suitcase or a dump truck? So as we passed each other, I opened my mouth to ask him. But I quickly closed it, knowing how much more fun it is to speculate.

The obvious possibility was that he was coming from somewhere that required a backpack while going somewhere that required a suit. Therefore, he brought the suit with him, changed before he left, and put the extra clothes in the bag to take home with him. But he should have removed the watermelon first. There would have been more room.

Maybe he had more backpacks inside. They’d be like those Russian dolls, where each one was smaller than the one it came out of, until they got so tiny that the only person who could wear one would be a teenage girl from 1996.

He could have found the backpack on the side of the road, sitting there with a sign that said “free backpack with a lot of crap inside.” And while I’m sure he thought about how silly he’d look in a backpack and a suit, that’s the price you have to pay for a free backpack.

He may have been smuggling a jockey. This is perhaps the most interesting theory, since I had no idea that Boston had such a thriving jockey smuggling business. When I typed “Boston jockey smuggling” into Yahoo, there were over 200 matches. This is something I will have to investigate further. In the meantime, I will refer to everyone who annoys me as “jockey smuggler.”

It’s possible that he was returning from a wedding where they gave out full backpacks as party favors. Or maybe he was on his way to a wedding. You know how it’s bad luck for the bride and the groom to see each other beforehand? Well, she’s got to get there somehow.

Perhaps he was going on an interview as a backpack tester. He’d of course have to carry the backpack with him and fill it with bricks and watermelons in order to test its durability, all while in a suit because it was a job interview. And since Boston is renowned for its armada of backpack testers, this made perfect sense.

Or maybe, just maybe, the guy was simply a giant dork. A dork so big that he wore a fanny pack to the community swimming pool because hey – where else are you going to keep your nose plugs? A dork so big that his underwear was labeled from when he went to summer camp – this past summer. A dork so big that he posts calendars of his life online, and most of the nights include the Sci-Fi channel. A dork so big that he couldn’t even fit into his own oversized backpack.

But I bet one night he got so bored that he tried. Jockey smuggler.

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