Saturday, July 9, 2011

Death of a Companion

I have owned a black, leather and canvas shoulder bag since 2001. I had originally bought it for my daughter who was attending college but she did not like the bag and tossed it in the back of her closet. After she and I parted company way back when, I found the bag she had left behind and made it my own.

It is a nice bag. It has a compartment for a small laptop – smaller than mine, anyway. It has a zippered pocket for pens, pencils and business cards, a larger center compartment for documents or whatever you might need to carry in it… maybe a laptop power supply and accessories? It has a back pocket that extends the width and depth of the bag, very convenient for keys, Kleenex and other small things one might need to carry. On the side is a mesh sleeve for a water bottle and on the front is a diagonal zippered pocket, perfect for storing sunglasses and lip balm. Its wide, continuous, adjustable shoulder strap makes for a comfortable carry and provides extra security as it is stitched to the canvas below the bag to prevent any loss due to malfunctioning buckles or other hardware.

I have taken this bag with me to Europe, China, all over the United States and to work. For ten years it has been my traveling companion and my daily companion except for occasionally, when I revert to a lighter, less cumbersome purse for my casual run arounds. It seems to bear me no ill will if I shunt it to the side occasionally; it is always ready and willing to go when I need it. All I have to do is transfer my things back into the various pockets and we are off again, to another adventure.

After the Great Mold Attack on my apartment and possessions while I was in Chengdu I never gave any thought to my bag. I had not taken it with me on the Chengdu jaunt because I used my wheeled laptop bag and carried a light purse. My black bag rested, carefully draped on my defunct computer chair in the living room, by the open window. As I cleaned inside and out of closets and walls, it never occurred to me that my bag might have been overcome by mold, until I needed to use it recently while the power was out.

The power goes out here frequently. I think I mentioned that in a previous entry. When that happens I grab my laptop and my book, and scoot off to a cafĂ© whose power does not continuously drop out. There, I spend the day reading and writing. My bag is perfect for carrying everything I need for such a day out. So, on this recent spate of power outages I grabbed my bag from the chair, ready to load it up and…

Oh, NO! My bag is home to a virulent crop of mold! Mold has attached itself to the supple leather and encroached itself onto the canvas! There are colonies of mold in every pocket! My beautiful bag now has a beard of mold growing from its underside! Even the carrying handle and shoulder strap was not immune!

For a moment I was ready to succumb to despair. After four days of steady housecleaning and mold scrubbing I could not face my faithful bag being besieged as well. I couldn’t think of how to clean the leather in such a way that it would not stiffen and become brittle, and it seemed that getting mold spores out of the canvas and mesh parts of the bag would take days of meticulous care that I simply do not have the supplies, tools or patience for.

That was just for a moment. And then, I got mad. REALLY mad. I was not going to let some fungus just take my bag! Not after it and I had been together for so long. It deserved a more dignified death than greenish fuzz and putrid smell.

After having run out of bleach, glass cleaner and Mr. Muscle, the all-purpose spray cleaner so popular in China, I hit the stores and bought what I could find in the way of disinfectants and heavy duty cleaners. I suspect my fight with mold is only just beginning and I had used up everything in my cleaning arsenal so I had stocked up. Among the solutions I bought was a bottle of Walch, a Lysol-like, Pinesol-smelling antiseptic and disinfectant. I don’t know what its properties are because the label is all in Chinese, save for ‘antiseptic and disinfectant’, written in English on the front of the bottle.

Giving no further thought and filled with determination I ran a sink full of the hottest water my ancient water heater could produce, added a third of the bottle of Walch and plunged my entire bag into the sink. Letting it soak only a few minutes, I donned my rubber gloves and took a scrub brush to it. I scrubbed every square inch of my bag, inside and out. The water went from milky white to sickly gray the more I scrubbed. I uttered triumphant grunts as I saw that the leather, and then the canvas was losing its greenish tint and reverting back to its basic black.

It only took fifteen minutes or so to clean my bag and then rinse it out. I still didn’t know if the leather would be damaged but, as the bag was ruined anyway I figured it didn’t hurt to try this radical cleaning method. Once cleaned, I devised a way to hang it up so that it would have the most surface exposure and dry thoroughly. Fortunately the weather was cooperating; the humidity in my apartment was down. It wouldn’t have mattered, for the love of my bag I would have run both air conditioners, which, by nature dehumidify.

No need for running up the electric bill. My lovely, beautiful bag, my companion in travels both big and small has been fully resuscitated and has convalesced nicely. The leather is still as supple as before its antiseptic bath and the canvas bears only ghostly imprints of where the mold took its roots. The pockets are completely mold free and the nylon lining glistens. My bag is again ready for adventures. I have placed silica gel packets inside it that I had purchased during my cleaning supplies shopping spree to prevent further growth and it now rests, unfolded, on the couch, ready to go on our next excursion.

Let me tell you: that was a close one. I’m OK with scrubbing mold off these impersonal walls, and I don’t mind the cough that follows me everywhere, but when my things are attacked, that is when I draw the line. That was the deciding factor, as a matter of fact. I had taken these pictures both to present you with a visual of how badly the bag was contaminated, but more importantly to show the school administration the extent of the mold problem. Victor and I then ganged up on Sam and told him we can’t live this way. Victor has mold problems in his apartment too, so he was a willing accomplice to my rant.

Driving the point home, I informed Sam that, although the furniture we have now is acceptable, if we move it into our new apartments with this mold riddled furniture, we may as well name the new buildings Fungus Condominium. Victor backed me up on that claim and we presented the pictures I had taken to the Administrators. Sam assured us that, most likely, when we move into our new apartments in the fall we will also get new furniture.

So, new things to look forward to this fall: a total curriculum designed for each grade I teach and prepared in advance, a new apartment and new furniture. That’s worth coming back to Wuhan for.

And, for the record, I DO mind that persistent cough. I hope it goes away soon.

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