Everyone had one and I wanted one too. It was called a Trapper Keeper. A plastic binder with sliding plastic rings and a flap that folded over the front, so that all the notes were “trapped” inside this latest assault on parents’ school budgets.
I remember when I sat my parents down and told them I wanted a Trapper Keeper. “So it’s just a binder with sliding plastic rings and a Velcro flap?” they asked.
“No, it also has a picture on the front. Jimmy has one with a Ferrari and I’d like to do something similar. Not the same exact thing, of course.”
I chose a Trapper Keeper with a Ferrari on the front. I liked to sit in class and flip the switch that slid the plastic rings in and out of each other. The Establishment didn’t understand what an innovation that was. The metal rings in regular binders snapped together with a loud and irritating snap—if the rings snapped together at all! After a few days the male and female parts of the metal rings would fail to line up, and you would have to use your finger to bend the metal and force the rings closed.
The Trapper Keeper closed with a whisper. I would sit in class, opening and closing the plastic rings like a latter-day telegraph operator. I also liked to work the Velcro. Over and over again I would rip open the Velcro flap, open the front cover of the Trapper Keeper, open the plastic rings, close the plastic rings, close the front cover, and seal it with the Velcro flap.
“Mark, do you need to sit in the back of the room?” my teacher said, “Why don’t you choose one state for your folder and join the rest of the class? We are listing all the different uses of manila paper.”
I thought I could give her one pretty good use of manila paper that was not on the list, but then I remembered something Oscar the Grouch once said on Sesame Street: “Discretion is the better part of valor.”
I rejoiced in the feeling that my notes on the Civil War—also known as the War Between the States and the War to End Mutton Chops—were secure in style. The Trapper Keeper even accelerated my transition from carrying all my books in a backpack to the far more efficient method of carrying all my books in my arms, as I wanted all the world to behold my glorious plastic portfolio emblazoned with a red Ferrari. And as I traveled throughout my little school, I imagined that I too was that Ferrari, fast and sleek, until I was yelled at for running in the halls and had to appear in traffic court.
At home my infatuation with my Trapper Keeper was no more subdued. I would sit on the couch with the pretense of working on my thesis on the influence of Casio watches on youth culture. But all I did was open and close the Trapper Keeper, open and close its silent plastic rings, remove and inspect and reorder and replace its folders with the pockets on the sides, and sit and look at the way its plastic cover captured the glint of the twilight sun coming through our bay window.
And then one day the unthinkable happened. One of the plastic rings did not line up. I quickly realigned the ring-halves, but it was only the beginning. The other two rings started having their problems, too, and I noticed that the beautiful folders with the side pockets were getting mushy at the corners. Even the plastic cover had started to tear, and the Velcro on the front flap had a coat of orange cat hair. Father Time had not forgotten my Trapper Keeper.
I looked to my classmates for support, but they had all moved on to ever more efficient ways of keeping their notes together, such as folding them up into little squares and shoving the little squares into pocket books or duffel bags.
It was time to say goodbye to my Trapper Keeper. I opened and closed the plastic rings one last time, gently using my fingers to help them lock with dignity, folded the flap over, the Velcro fibers barely catching anymore, ran my hand over the Ferrari as a final salute, and laid the Trapper Keeper to rest in my parent’s basement where it could spend eternity next to Candy Land.