An old battered briefcase triggers a flood of memories.It reminds me of great times, great friends and the good fortune I've had to have had so many of both over the years.
I was cleaning out my office the other day and behind a large old copy machine there was a cardboard box full of stuff I meant to throw out but just hadn’t got around to carrying out to the dumpster. On top of everything was an old black, scarred and very dried out briefcase. I looked at it for a moment. Remembering that I had retired it many years ago I felt surprised that it was still hanging around and I nearly asked, “What are you doing here?” Instead I reached down and lifted it out of the box and holding it up before me, regarded it.
I remember the day I had bought the briefcase. I don’t recall the actual date but it was in the summer of 1986 and I had wandered into a high-end luggage shop on Nathan Road and was killing some time before going to the airport to pick up a client. It was sticky hot as it was nearly every day in Hong Kong and I had gone into the shop to escape the heat as much as to look at luggage. Nosing around I spotted this beautiful black briefcase and I was immediately drawn over to the shelf where it resided. For me, it was everything a briefcase should be, butter soft, wonderfully supple leather, a sturdy riveted handle, a zippered muslin clothed compartment inside along with two separated compartments large enough to carry contracts, files, newspapers, film cans, legal writing pads or whatever might be my need. And most important, as the French might say, it had a certain je ne sais quoi. This was not the type of briefcase carried by a mere functionary or middle manager, no, no no it was meant to be carried by a person of distinction and style, a person of substance, a person…. Well, by a person like me.
I bought the briefcase and was almost happy it was so very expensive. After all didn’t the price of the object reflect the object’s value and by extension, my very good taste? Certainly it did. I rushed back to my office and transferred things into the new briefcase and basked in the envy of my local staff before I left for the airport.
So over twenty-five years rushes by and there I stand holding the old discarded briefcase up and wondering why I hadn’t already tossed it out? The leather was dry, desiccated and scarred with tears and punctures all over. But…. it had served me well and I felt a pang of sadness at the thought of just dumping it in the bin and walking away. When, I wondered had I fallen out of love with this once beautiful object? I couldn’t remember.
It had flown around the world many times at my side or stuffed in a bin overhead. We had traveled together in tuk-tuks, jeepneys, trains, boats, buses and taxis not to mention on dozens of different airlines, many now long defunct. I had stuffed rolls of film, camera lenses, crossword puzzles, do-dads, presents for my wife and son, and who can remember what else inside it, and then over the years the briefcase had slowly turned from a loved and pampered steed to a poor old burro, good only to lug around a bunch of crap.
Holding the briefcase up for a few moments that day brought back a wave of memories, nostalgia I suppose. The old briefcase made me think about times past and people and events that were all scrambled, some eventful while others were just random slices out of time.
Looking back, holding that old piece of leather I thought it amazing how so much of my life had been formed around the connective tissue that came from working in animation. I suppose plumbers could find an old pipe wrench in the back of their workshop and undergo the same sweep of feelings as they held it or maybe a musician picking up a forgotten instrument…. Who knows? I do suspect that the older you get the more you are prone to feeling nostalgic or sentimental – Hard for an eighteen year old to long for the good old days or lost friends or recall with fondness something he or she did twenty years past….
I remembered the first time I flew into Manila. I was producing 13 of the 26 episodes of a French–Canadian series titled “The Smoggies”. A cameraman named Bob Jacobs who had worked for me here in the States had been sent by Franco Christofani to meet me at the airport. Franco’s company, Burbank Animation was producing the other 13 episodes and we had agreed to meet in Manila to form some production procedures on how we might share assets to our mutual benefit. I had flown in from Hong Kong on the short flight and arrived mid-afternoon. Bob had quickly found me and told me that we were going into Makati to meet another old friend, Chuck Fleckel who at the time was working for Jerry Smith at Fil-Cartoons.
Catching a taxi to Makati we ended up at an establishment owned by a Brit Expat named Nigel Hodge. Nigel had a Richard Burton type voice and worked all over the region doing voice-overs but Manila was his home. Chuck and Ernie Schmidt were waiting for me at Cafe Magambo and I was happy to see familiar faces. Sitting above an Italian restaurant on a small rise, Magambo was a favorite hang out of the local animation crowd and we sat around a table on a small porch and shot the breeze while ordering a round of cold San Miguel’s, just moments before a massive storm hit. For the next two hours rain came down in buckets and we talked, laughed and drank frosty cold beer served by a smiling waitress by the name of Elvie. It was one hell-of-an afternoon and although nothing actually momentous happened, the memory of our laughter and the joy of just sharing that time with one another in a Monsoon – has stuck with me over the years.
Another time I recall with a particular fondness came after a very nice dinner with Alan Livingston, Jacques Pettigrew, Mitch Lemire and my wife at Père Bise, a wonderful little auberge set up in the hills above Annecy. We had finished our meal and there was a group from Saban Paris a few tables over, so we invited them to join us for an after dinner drink, an invitation they happily accepted. Leaving the others at the table my wife and I went outside to take a stroll and heard music coming across the small road from Hotel Abbey de Talloires. It was beautiful and we walked around the corner to see a string quartet playing in the courtyard. There was a wedding celebration being held and then suddenly fireworks began, rockets soared and exploded in a profusion of colors above the lake. It was breathtaking and we just stood there together and watched – It was the perfect close to a perfect evening.
I could go on and on as the longer I debated what to do with the old beat-up briefcase the more memories returned. I remembered so many old friends, so many laughs and so many good times over the years I lugged the briefcase from one hotel to another, from airport to airport and eventually back home again.
After all was said and done I couldn’t make myself throw the old briefcase out in the trash. So it sat for several weeks on a table in my office and I kept looking at it wondering why in the world was I keeping it? Finally I decided to go on the Internet to see if I could find someone in the area that worked with leather – Lo and behold there were scads of places listed, all relatively close that claimed they could repair anything leather… I read a few reviews and decided to take the briefcase to a small shoe repair shop in Toluca Lake that had rave recommendations for coats, purses, shoes and even diaries.
Now comes the end of my tale- I picked up my beautiful black, reconditioned briefcase last week and it looks as if it were new. The handle was repaired, the leather conditioned, dyed and patched to the point I have no idea where all the punctures, tears and rents were before it was repaired.
Of course I don’t really have the need to carry a briefcase. Smart Phones have become today’s briefcases – we can carry hundreds of pages of documents, albums of photographs and videos all in an instrument you can put in your shirt pocket. So what good is an old leather briefcase really?
Simple for me – It’s still a beautiful thing and it reminds me of people and times that although nostalgic and sentimental and though even sad, are worth remembering. Franco Christofani, Alan Livingston, Chuck Fleckel, Bruno Bianchi are no longer with us but recalling that day in Manila and that evening in Annecy makes me think of them.
And besides, it gives me a place to carry my fountain pens and crossword puzzle.
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