When I started out as a young lawyer, the first thing I needed to buy was a briefcase. This was long before anyone but hikers used backpacks, and the idea of carrying one’s briefcase on a shoulder strap was akin to wearing a dress to court. Real men carried their briefcases.
Generic leather briefcases abounded. They were cheap looking and common, the sort of thing a commissioned salesman might carry on his way to the bar after work to make it look like he was above a Samsonite hardshell case. The old style lawyer’s bag was stodgy and boring, And ugly. It was functional, but looked wrong for anyone born after the Great War.
My bag had to be tough. Not just big enough to hold what I needed to carry to court every day, but rugged enough to stand up to being tossed on the bench, carried in the rain, scraped on the sidewalk and withstand vermin on the subway. There was no doubt in my mind that it would have to be made of harness leather, the type that got better with age and abuse. I couldn’t bear any fussy leather, where a scratch would make it look “damaged”.
One day I saw it. It was that belting leather that was meant to be scraped and scratched. The style was the old messenger bag, the type that couriers used when bringing news from the generals to the men who might not survive. It was . . . perfect.
I’ve now carried this bag for more than 25 years. It’s seen courthouses across the country, and more than a few foreign cities. It’s been through rain, snow and brilliant sunshine. I’ve stuffed it beyond capacity, making things fit when they clearly shouldn’t. It was stretched in odd ways, but always held whatever I asked of it.
It’s old now. The leather is cracked, dry and worn. The corners have worn out, revealing the old broken marker that I used at trial in the early 90s, the remains of a roll of peppermint lifesavers. In the pocket are business cards going to back to my office in the Woolworth Building, and my old firm, Meyer & Greenfield, before Howie passed. There are a couple of decks of cards in there, in case I come across an errant inchoate poker game on a train. There’s even a handmade deck on post-its, created in a moment of hilarious desperation.
In the last few years, people have asked me when I was going to get a new briefcase. As if this was an idea that should have occurred to me. A client actually bought me a Louis Vuitton case, which he thought would be more becoming my station. I hated it. It was so metrosexual. So not me. But after the question was raised a few times, I looked into getting a new bag.
My briefcase was made by a company called HH Brown, which has since been bought by Berkshire Hathaway and no longer manufactures bags. They now manufacture profits.
If I could find a new bag with the soul of my old one, I would consider changing. It’s not that I’m stuck in my ways. It’s just that I haven’t found anything that I would consider to replace an old friend that has served me so well for so long. And to tell the truth, even though other people see an old, beaten-up briefcase, it still looks damn handsome to me, scars and all.