Backpack zipper headache

Today I followed through on a fix that I’ve thought about every single time I’ve used the day pack I’ve been carrying around for at least the last twenty years. Whether empty or full, the bag is a repository of memories, as I realize in setting down to write around the photos below. So we’ll start with memories, and go on from there.

I have a rough idea of the backpack’s age because I remember buying it at the “Big 1” (ビッグワン) discount store on the road between Hirabari station and the University family residence that was our first home here in Nagoya. The experience of that time is drilled into memory. For the move from London to Nagoya, our plan had been for me to make the jump first in the Spring of 1998, and for Mieko to follow after arranging for sale of the flat and shipment of furniture. But after I had moved here, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Further, after completing surgery and radioactive iodine therapy, the downstairs neighbor and owner of the ground lease did her best to obstruct the sale. Any role that I might have played was nothing against Mieko’s sheer strength in standing up under the stress of it all, and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude when I think of the friends in London who provided her with backup and emotional support through that hellish and uncertain time. We both reaffirmed that feeling in our conversations during her final convalescence.

Mieko returned to Japan in the year 2000, and I well remember her quiet words on crossing the threshold into the small apartment in the Hirabari residence block: “This is worse than I expected [思ったより酷 いわ].” We soon moved to a rented house in Tōgō. And that brackets the date of the backpack. The Hirabari branch of Big 1 closed in 2008, and the chain itself folded in the following year; but we stopped shopping there much earlier, when we moved to another neighborhood.

The backpack has seen service that few of its discount-store brethren will have done. Stretched to bursting with clothing, strained to distress under the load of books jabbing at its zippers, abandoned for a time to sun and rain, then washed like a feral creature to be housebroken and pressed into service once again. Yet when I thought this morning of stepping down to the sporting goods store for a “proper” replacement, I realized that despite the sun-bleaching, the grease stains, the patches to seams and the tattering of straps, it’s perfectly serviceable but for one single annoying detail: when the zippers are opened or closed, they tend to catch and freeze on the rain flaps covering the seams, and it can take a hell of a lot of finger strength to pry the damned things apart again.

While I absolutely hate having zippers freeze like that, the tailoring magic that might make it less likely is unknown to me, and another backpack could be equally frustrating. For several years I’ve had the idea that a bit of velcro to hold rain flaps away from zippers until they’re actually needed would solve the problem. That’s actually a simple job for the Juki Spur 98 industrial sewing machine that Mieko used, and a good excuse to put it to work after it came back from the shop for repairs last month.

In a holiday reorganization of Mieko’s workroom, I came across her reels of velcro, and it was a quick thing to cut pieces to size and stitch them to the bag. Mieko was a trained seamstress. I’m a hack, and it shows, but the Juki is such a solid piece of equipment. It just works.

The velcro tags work as advertised, holding the rain flaps out of the way for normal, sunny-day use. You can see in these last two photos just how much the bag has faded!

So there you have it. We’ll see how much further the story of the Big 1 Backpack can be made to run into the future.