June 18, 1927

By Gregory Clark, June 18, 1927.

Mr. Bodkin, who works in our office, carries a handbag.

He has carried it for years, and with his handbag, umbrella and his rubbers on, he is so serious and dignified a personage, none of us has ever ventured to jolly him about the bag.

As far as we know, he never carries anything in it. It just seems to be a habit of long standing, and he would as soon go out with no collar and tie on and come to business without his faithful old handbag.

Now it so happens that he parks his car three blocks away from the office, half a block from one of the new liquor stores.1

And that handbag has taken on a new and horrible significance.

The first day liquor was on sale, Mr. Bodkin came down Church street and saw the line-up. And being an old newspaperman, the instinct to stop, look and ask naturally halted him.

He is a shy sort of man, however, who depends on his powers of observation rather than his tongue, and he stood about for all of five minutes before he spoke to one of his neighbors in the crowd, to ask what the line-up was for and where everybody was going, because everybody was carrying a bag of some description.

“Booze,” replied the neighbor. “This is the opening day.”

You can imagine Mr. Bodkin’s horror. He has been a prohibitionist since birth, a tremendous worker for the dries, the author of many a strong article and influential pamphlet on the liquor traffic.

And here he had been standing, bag in hand, in the liquor store line-up for five long minutes while curious crowds of onlookers stared.

He got out of there so fast, he was limp when he reached the office.

We helped him out of his coat, and he flung the old handbag to the floor.

“If it hadn’t been for that!” he cried, with a mortified air.

We gathered around him.

And he told us of the tragedy.

“Five long minutes I stood there!” he wailed. “Goodness knows who saw me. Hundreds and hundreds passed by and paused to look. Amongst them must have, been scores of acquaintances, and probably the telephones wires are at this moment being burned up with the scandal that Bodkin, the great prohibition worker, was amongst the first to line up for his liquor!”

We soothed him.

“Boys,” said Bodkin, “do me a favor. Help me out of this mess, will you? Pass the word around amongst your friends that I was standing there in all innocence, as a newspaper man. That’s good fellows!”

“But,” said Jimmie, “that handbag. It will be hard to explain away that handbag.”

“Oh, dear!” sighed Mr. Bodkin.

For two days, he came to work without the handbag, but he was like a lost soul. He wandered around like a man who has forgotten his pipe. The rest of us could do no work, with him wandering around. He would sit and stare moodily at the place beside his desk where he used to park the handbag.

“I don’t enjoy the walk anymore.” he confided to me. “I have carried that bag for twenty years, and I think it has become part of me. Little did I dream the liquor business would ever strike me in a vulnerable spot. Its ramifications are so insidious, reaching into a man’s most sacred life. Curse the liquor traffic, I say!”

Jimmie had the inspiration.

“Look here,” said he to Bodkin, “just have the words ‘MSS Only’2 inscribed in gold letters on the bag, good and big.”

So Bodkin has his bag again and all is well. He has the words “MSS Only” in letters two inches freshly gilded on the faithful old bag. And he comes down Yonge instead of Church street now.

“It’s a much finer way to come anyway,” he says.

There must be hundreds and hundreds of people who have been made self-conscious since the liquor stores opened, lawyers, doctors, salesmen, who have to carry bags in the daily vocation.

But they can all follow Mr. Bodkin’s lead. Doctors can quite excusably work in a little free advertising for themselves by inscribing their name and title on their bags in large characters. Lawyers can put “Legal Documents Only.” Travelers can have the name of their firm or commodity emblazoned.

Or, to put another interpretation on the idea, although this is hardly fair to Bodkin, now that he has employed the idea in self-defence, could not those who do line up at the liquor stores camouflage their bag’s contents by all sorts of disarming inscriptions such as “MSS Only.” “Dr. Smith. horse doctor,” “Use Squkm Gramophone Needles,” “Hokem and Pokem, Barristers, Etc.”

The clever concealment of the true function of a handbag that is solely employed for the purpose of carrying two crocks from the liquor store will now be one of those things that will tax the ingenuity of a necessarily ingenious section of the public.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. The Liquor Control Act overturned prohibition as legislated in the Ontario Temperance Act and established the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), through which the province managed liquor distribution with government-run stores taking effect on June 1 1927. ↩︎
  2. MSS is an abbreviation for manuscripts.  ↩︎