In 1962 I bought a canvas gas-mask bag in an army surplus store in New York for two dollars. Just a plain khaki-coloured thing, rectangular in shape with a shoulder strap, flap and a couple of brass snaps to keep it shut. It was about a size big enough for a hardcover book, a pack of cigarettes, two notebooks, some pens, and a large paperback, the Evergreen Review, say. I suppose a small pistol would fit in there, too, but I never had one. In retrospect, I wish I had.
I saw the bag in the store and thought it could be very handy for carrying things around such as those items mentioned in the previous paragraph. I often had a book with me. I also carried notebooks and pens around because I thought I was a writer. So I bought it. I don’t recall how I paid for it because all I had was Canadian money and the clerk wouldn’t accept it, even though it was worth more than U.S. money then. “What am I supposed to do with that?” he said. I explained it was worth more that the 2 he was asking and even offered to pay him 3. No dice. If I’d offered him a million Canadian dollars for that worthless piece of shit he’d have thrown me out of the store. I guess I must have gone to a bank or something because I wound up back in Montreal with that bag.
Not a day went by for the next few years when I wasn’t stopped by the police because of that bag. I was a suspicious looking character, all right. Only girls carried shoulder bags. If they’d thought I was a homosexual they wouldn’t have asked about the bag – they’d simply have beaten me up. They couldn’t have thought I was a terrorist because the terrorists didn’t show up for another year or two. They didn’t know what to think. So they did what cops everywhere do when they have to think. They acted tough. In Canada, in peacetime, with Lester Pearson lined up to win the Nobel Peace Prize, cops were hauling me over to their squad cars and writing my name in their notebooks, night after night after night. For carrying a bag.
How things have changed. Now, every day, I see dangerous looking bags on the backs and shoulders of every person on the street. Something must be done!