Strange to admit, I used to look forward to the arrival of the old Banana Republic catalogs. Remember, this was back in the Eighties, before/as the Zieglers sold the name to Old Navy and Banana Republic degenerated into the overpriced urban fluff it is today (and in my experience not very well manufactured fluff at that, although I gave up on them a long while back, perhaps about ‘93 when I tried looking for a vest in the downtown Chicago store [not the main one, three floors right on the street, but the one in Water Tower Place] and was carefully avoided for being probably too old and too bald and too Iowan by their hip, urban metrosexual—although that term was still at least a decade into the future—carefully coiffed and manicured twenty-something staff).
But I Digress…
—Wow, some sentence there. Sorry. I guess you can tell: I don’t care much for the direction the Gap, Inc. (actual owners of Banana Republic and Old Navy) headed the brand once they acquired it. Ah yes, American capitalism, realm of the woefully mediocre (and so hugely supported by us corporate serfs with our hard-earned bucks). —One Gap-era Banana Republic vest I purchased started unravelling at the seams within a week (sure, it was on sale—that’s about the only way I ever bought anything at Banana Republic), and several shirts and shorts of the later era barely survived a year, if that; and none of them had pockets (the really useful kind).
Early on the new ownership stuck to the same stuff the Zieglers had sold. When Janet and I were in Honolulu in about ‘85 or ‘86, I bought a pair of button-fly canvas-khaki pants for five dollars (on sale, of course; if you used to shop at BR, you know about the sales area hidden away toward the rear of their stores) that I love, even though they were size 36+ at the waist (useful for me in these later years…). In Carmel in the mid-Eighties I picked up cotton pocket-Tees in about three earth-tone of colors (later augmented with blues and purple and green…), all of which are still sturdy and still worn, although the green one, on which I dropped a cigarette while running lights for Peace Pipe Players at Kirchhoff Theatre about ‘88, has become the “clean, smooth cloth” I use to wipe my glasses around the house—since it hangs so nicely on the knob of a door for easy access, much to Janet’s chagrin, I am sure). But possibly we should return to the subject, the Zeiglers’ memorable catalogs…
What Were We Talking About? Oh, yes, Catalogs…
Those catalogs were a trip into adventure (before adventure and eco-tourism became jargon) in strange and distant, exotic lands I would like to but probably will never be able to afford to visit. The Zieglers even went to Macchu Picchu! (And that was before it became the overrun site my sister Margaret and brother David tell me it is today.) Ever since I read about the Andean ruins in high school (complete with cover photo on L. Sprague and Catherine C. de Camp’s long-forgotten Ballantine Books paperback Citadels of Mystery, originally entitled Ancient Ruins and Archaeology. (There’s a lengthy and unfavorable review of the book available if you click on the scanned image.) I had received de Camp’s Lost Continents as a graduation gift a month earlier from the then-girlfriend (thanks still, Ruthie—a great gift, recently reread) and had begun a lifelong quest for de Camp’s science writing and his historical novels.
Archaeology and distant places have haunted my imagination and my life before and since. One of the first books I spent a whole night reading as an adult (I’d done that with ERB and other wild fiction as a kid too many times to recount) was the American heritage Discovery of Lost Worlds (and later two companion, and very similar, volumes) that same summer of 1975 in Ft. Madison, in the spaceship-over-the-city upstairs apartment on Avenue D. From all that came purchases of the Time-Life Emergence of Man series (all nineteen volumes), Golden Books’ Echoes of an Ancient World series (nine volumes), most of the Facts on File Atlas of.. series (i.e. Atlas of the Jewish World—currently consulted for my Sepharad heroic fantasy story/series—and Atlas of Mesopotamia, Atlas of China, Atlas of North American Indians…) and through the Nineties Time-Life’s What Life Was Like series (eighteen volumes) and… Not to mention the science-in-general stuff and subscribing to far too many magazines (including Archaeology—I even joined the Archaeological Institute of America as a full member for thirty years) for most of my life.
I think the archaeology interest began with Indians/Native Americans, all the way back in elementary with the Fleetfoot character I told you about before and other nonfiction kid-books I acquired at the Rock Island Public Library to which I clearly recall biking on summer days and awkwardly returning, laden with books (but also including a fondly remembered book on Old Ironsides and a novel about the Mongols invading everywhere and butchering everybody that I first encountered read-aloud in fourth grade,and another book I wish I could still find among my possessions about lone man adventuring against evil Communists in the Himalayas, in which I first encountered the words “jerry-can” and “petrol”…) and possibly almost-infant memories of Mesa Verde with my family. Strange how it all connects and intersects in one’s mind and personality…
But Isn’t the Real Subject Pockets?
—Ummm, I guess you can see that the Banana Republic catalogs fit into an already established interest. Janet arriving in my life in 1981 provided the impetus to travel and begin to see at least some of those faraway lands and lost cities (although none of de Camp’s… yet). I first flew in an airplane with her to Texas to stay for several days on vacation with friends in Brownsville, and although our Bermuda honeymoon the next year evaporated into a week in Minneapolis (a lovely week, never forgotten), we started real travel in 1983 with three weeks in Europe. (Is there are series of posts ahead on our travels? Hmmm…) —And he’s off on a tangent again!
Banana Republic photojournalist’s vests vanished for me by the early Nineties. But fortunately, two factors kept me in pockets and travel gear (although Janet might not agree about how fortunate it all was). I can still wear one of the second-generation BR vests today because I stockpiled them, and one is still in decent shape. The one I wore through the late Eighties and into the Nineties, however, although I will throw it on to carry stuff (like a notebook or a wallet or some books or a camera or whatever; perhaps those ors should be ands) when I go out on my bike, is in pretty poor shape. Note the picture. Can you see the collar with the white padding material hanging out? Fans of the blue denim vest should appreciate the baggy left, lower pocket(s) where paperback and my smaller notebooks resided.
Oh, the second factor is the subject of our next pockets post—another travel-gear company arriving just in time in the early to mid-Nineties: TravelSmith.
The Twenty-Two Pockets: an annotated and analytical listing
The Banana Republic original vest had a plastic window on the upper right side, where you can see two D-rings hanging in the picture to the left. That pocket was divided into two, a front area (for the journalist ID and a rear area for stuff (like a packet of Kleenex, which is still what I put in the newer version of that pocket). On the pictured vest, that pocket is one, large expandable container. I nowadays keep my tissue packet (infrequently used), a small pocket calculator and a plastic holder for a spectacles cloth and whatever business cards I collect (they make great bookmarks). Beside that one, right on the lapel is a zippered pocket extending underneath and down into the lining that usually goes empty but on vacations holds our passports and other vital documents or stuff like foreign cash. Below the Kleenex pocket are three velcro-topped pockets, one on top of another, the lowest fronted with mesh. Intended for film and lenses, I store a baggy of aspirin in one, packets of lens-cleaning wipes in another, and in the mesh Listerine pocket packs of dissolving mint papers and a flash drive (you never know…).
Below those is a horizontal zipper into a hidden side pocket (sometimes used for books, sometimes for something valuable; usually empty). In front of that pocket are two expandable pockets covered by a shared flap closed by separate velcro snaps. One often holds my checkbook while the other always contains my sunglasses (or the regular ones if I’m wearing the sunglasses, pretty obviously).
On the left side (your right in the picture, of course) at the top is a zippered pocket with a key ring hanging out in the picture. My digital camera can fit there along with other not-too-bulky smaller item (a deck of cards, not usually carried by me, would be the ideal size). Below it is a large bellows pocket that can hold pretty big items, if I wish (like a couple of paperbacks or souvenirs bought on vacation). On its lower right side of the big expandable pocket is a long, thin pen pocket (it can actually hold three pens and usually does for me—a black ballpoint, a blue ballpoint and a fine-line felt-tip). Toward the bottom is a complicated arrangement of six pockets—a book-sized large bellows pocket closed with a velcroed flap (normally empty except sometimes on vacation) in front of two open-topped pockets of the same size (into which go my notebook and a paperback novel normally). Three small narrow pockets sewn on the front of the bellows pocket (which reveal the vest’s origin as a hunting vest—those would be where shotgun shells went) always hold: a highlighter, two Chapstick (one on top of the other) and my Swiss Army knife.
There are two long inner pockets on each side, like in a man’s suit jacket, only larger, that work well for a variety of books and other things. I usually carry a volume of poetry on one side (currently the Bonnard dual-language translation of François Villon’s complete verse; I am trying to work on a novel about Villon) and some days another novel (just for variety/avoidance-of-boredom’s sake).
Inside and outside of the lower back of the vest are two wide and deep horizontal pockets. The outer one closes with snaps, while the interior one, which can only be accessed from the inside of the vest, is zippered. I keep a cloth bag (compressed into itself and zipped up as a small square) and two cheap plastic rain ponchos inside, while the outer one works well for extra travel guides on vacation (the most used travel guides go in the lower left book pocket and one or both of the interior pockets while vacationing with too many guidebooks).
Finally, two handwarmer pockets fit underneath the other pockets on the lower right and left, and my hands go in them often. (I think I remembered to mention all of the pockets.)
The zippered pockets are lined with a silky waterproof material, as is the lower left-side bellows pocket, and that waterproof-lining has been of value often (and explains why I put the passports where I usually do).
On the later versions of the BR vests, I guess considering that we consumers are idiots (which is of course how corporations treat us), the company printed on the interior pockets maps of the pockets with suggested uses, as you can see in the pictures. People other than me get fascinated by the instructions.
And we have exceeded 2000 words for today. Sorry about that. I got excited, I suppose. I have later vests and other stories of pockets to discuss, but later. This weekend you get more (if not all the rest) of The Book of Seasons draft, meaning chapter 4. Will you ever read more of “Mantorville” (I really don’t like that title—thanks for nothing, folks)? I have been writing my first Sepharad story mostly of late, but I do have at least one post almost done extending the story of Quetzal County past Frank Long’s football “accident.”