Shoulder Strap Style

There are people who push the boundaries of the norm. They belong to a group that wears their book bags with one shoulder strap. I prefer to call them single-strappers. However, most people blindly follow the conventions set before them by their peers by wearing their book bags across both shoulders. They are the double-strappers.

In the fall of 2002, I stepped onto the Auburn University campus for the first time as a college student. It was a day that was to be filled with excitement, joy, and nervousness. However, the butterflies took rein of my body for the better part of the day. This wasn’t caused by the enormity of the campus or the two hundred person history class that I was enrolled in, but by my lack of a conventional shoulder strap style. I was in a strange, new world, one in which students strapped on their book bags with both shoulder straps in place, firmly over both shoulders. However, I only had the right strap loosely holding on, ready-to-slip-off-the-edge-any-second style. I wondered why everybody wore their book bags correctly. No one told me about this. I didn’t get a pamphlet or e-mail instructing me on book bag style before I got there. Nevertheless, I couldn’t just throw the left strap in place now; I was halfway to class. If someone saw me, he or she might notice that I was trying to fit in by strapping my other shoulder strap in place.

I thought the shoulder strap thing over, ultimately deciding that I didn’t need to wear both shoulder straps. I didn’t have to be like everyone else. Surely, other people out there didn’t conform to a certain book bag style just to make it from one class to the next strapped in like everyone else. I could be friends with that group of people. My three-year-old book bag worn on one shoulder could be worn in the company of those people. I never found that minority group. There were some people that solo-shouldered their book bag, but they didn’t hang out in groups with one another. They were generally just walking along, going about their own business, alone.

I had always worn my book bag with one shoulder strap; there was no reason to change except to fit in. In high school, I belonged to a large group of single-strappers. Practically everyone belonged to this group that wore their book bags on one shoulder. I had never given it any thought until I reached college. I began to wonder why people single-strapped their book bags in high school. Maybe it was the “cool” thing to do at some point, and eventually it became the norm. Somebody must have started, what had become increasingly obvious, this fad in the way students wear their book bags. It had started before I reached high school. This style was never called into question. It was the way things were. However, walks between classes took only one to two minutes in such a small school. The era of the single shoulder strapper could have risen because of this short distance. I suppose a few people double-strapped their book bags, but I never tok notice back then.

I stood my ground for an entire year at Auburn, without changing my shoulder strap style. If I was going to be that weird guy who wears his book bag on one shoulder, then so be it. Yet, that overbearingly strong will power that I thought I had started to wean. I was hanging onto the edge of a bottomless pit where the masses below were double-strappers. I tried hard not to let my fingers loosen from the edge. If I let go, I would have to become one of them. They would force me to go on forever wearing my book bag with both straps correctly in place. Then something happened; the weight of my book bag was pulling me down. I had a reason to become one of them. Pulling three classes a day, three times a week, with a ten-pound world history book could do some damage to my right shoulder. Without changing my book bag wearing habits, I would become that weird guy who leans sideways when he walks.

I wished hard, to God or the powers that be, to spin the world into an alternate universe, a utopia in which everyone belonged to the same shoulder strap club. No one would have to worry about his or her book bag style. There would be no question as to whether the book bag would be single or double-strapped. Whichever style would be preferred in this world would be irrelevant, simply because everything would be uniform. Although, I believe the double shoulder strap style would be used, unless some committee deemed it necessary to create a race of people whose upper-body titled to one side. In fact, style would not even be a word. It would be erased from the English language. Students wouldn’t have to spend hours pondering over how to best wear their book bags, at least I wouldn’t have to. They could simply go about their day and enter class with a mind ready to absorb knowledge.

I was never granted this utopian universe of uniform book bag wearing. However, I still had my excuse to be a part of the norm. Before going to school one day in the fall of my second year of college, I slipped my left shoulder strap into place, only to notice the unevenness of the book bag. One side sagged inches below the other. The problem could not be corrected by adjusting the shoulder straps accordingly. The right strap’s padding had deteriorated after years of pulling the load. Its life was gone, and along with it, my fantasy of being a normal college student. I couldn’t afford to buy myself a new book bag. My only option was to wait for someone in my family to notice there was an absolute need to purchase me a new book bag.

I’m now in my fourth year of college. I am also one of the double-strappers that blindly follow society’s rules on book bag style; at least I appear that way. I know what it’s like on the other side. It’s scary. I still see the occasional single-strapper, but there is an increasingly declining number of this rare breed. I often wonder if they tried to strap both shoulders only to find the padding gone from the used strap, if they are ignorant of the shoulder strap style of their fellow students, or it’s quite possible that they seek to breakdown the borders of social convention and wear their book bag whichever way they choose. I had to wait an agonizingly long semester before I received my new book bag as a Christmas gift. I stepped onto campus the following semester with “JLT” stitched into my multi-pocketed, multi-functional book bag and a feeling of security that I had not known for a year and a half. I was a normal college student. I could wear my book bag with pride, both shoulder straps firmly in place.