Crushed Under Their Tons of Books, L’il Wonks Put Wheels on Backpacks!

First there was the scooter. It was silver. It was shiny. The kids loved it. Now the latest obsession of New York City’s school kids is the rolly backpack, a backpack with rubber wheels and a retractable plastic handle so it can be towed around. All over Manhattan, students are pulling their rolly backpacks like miniature business travelers, tripping up passers-by and wiping out on sharp turns.

At Macy’s, where the Olympia backpack-on-wheels is available for $19.99, a sales representative said that his department has been selling well over 100 a day. “They’re selling like gangbusters,” said Pam Stoesser, a spokesperson for Kiva Designs, makers of the Rolling Scholar. “The demand is 200 percent more than we’re supplying-we sold out by the third quarter.” A manager at the Civilized Traveler, said that sales of rolly backpacks are up 30 percent since last fall.

Like the scooter before it, the rolly backpack is simply an update of a conventional piece of school equipment. But unlike “scooter,” as it came to be known, the demand for rolly backpacks arose out of a crisis among today’s students, namely too many school books and not enough kid to carry them.

“My old bag weighed about 45 pounds,” said Chris Dietz, a sixth-grade student at Hunter College Elementary School. “I was carrying around all my textbooks, plus two or three Calvin and Hobbes books, and it strained my back a lot. My new backpack is way more convenient.”

Thea Filappatos, a third grader at Hunter, said, “We had heavy, heavy books, and my backpack used to hurt my shoulders. I used to have to borrow my mother’s back massager.”

“I decided to get one because my old bag made my back ache,” said Alexandra Malfitano-Berenbaum, a sixth grader at the East Side Middle School. “It was really heavy because I had to carry two composition books, one reading book and three textbooks.”

Unlike a lot of new fads, this one comes pre-approved by the adult authorities. Elaine Sarfati, Hunter’s school nurse, said, “Considering the amount of weight they carry, these backpacks-on-wheels are probably saving their backs in the long run.”

But for every trend, there will be some people who just don’t get it.

“Rolly backpacks are annoying because when you’re rolling them, you can’t use your hands,” said Angelica Rodriguez, a seventh grader at Trinity School with a blue rolly backpack. “I was trying to roll mine down the street and eat a bag of chips, and it was really hard.”

Her classmate, Andre Simone, got a rolly backpack at the beginning of the year, but switched back to a traditional design. “I hated carrying the rolly backpack up and down stairs,” he said. “When I tried wearing it as a backpack, the wheels poked at me, but when I pulled it down the stairs, the handle snapped off. That’s when I decided to get a regular backpack.”

Ricki Weitzen, a seventh grader at Robert F. Wagner Middle School, also made the switch back. “When I wheeled it through the halls, too many kids would walk behind it and trip over it,” she said. “They’d yell at me for bumping into them.”

Bumping and other hazards like jostling and roughhousing may just be the price that any rolly-backpack owner has to pay.

Megan Nashban, an eighth grader at Hunter, said: “I know this one kid, Morris, who runs through the halls and actually tries to knock people over with his.”

“Someone rolled theirs over my new shoes,” said Hunter student Chris Dietz.

“Then we got into a fight, swinging our backpacks at each other,” he added. “Rolly backpacks are more fun to swing around than regular backpacks because of the long handles.”

Gwynnie Rock

Bounce is a poor man’s Jerry Maguire : There’s the brash young salesman (Ben Affleck as Tom Cruise) humbled by love; the wry gay sidekick character who plays a key role in the leads’ courtship; and the bespectacled moppet, birthed improbably from Gwyneth Paltrow’s pre-adolescent hips. Renée Zellweger was way more convincing as a young single mom. But there’s one thing Ms. Paltrow has that Ms. Zellweger didn’t: her very own Vonda Shepard.

Ms. Shepard is that annoying, toothy blond woman who comes on during the (frequent) plot lapses of Ally McBeal to bleat renditions of soul classics. Ms. Paltrow’s Vonda? Dido. The Lilith Fair veteran and namesake of the mythical queen of Carthage was on the Sliding Doors soundtrack, singing a song called “Thank You” that was later sampled by that creepy rapper, Eminem. And here is Dido on the Bounce soundtrack, warbling a ballad called “Here With Me”-the perfect backdrop for Ben and Gwyn’s misty lovemaking. (Also, it so happens, the theme song for Channel 11’s Roswell . But no matter.) As with Ms. Shepard, Dido is a somewhat more physically substantive stand-in for our spindly heroine, voicing those innermost, ineffable yearnings that even strenuous acting can’t convey. As does Calista Flockhart, Ms. Paltrow sometimes takes to the mike herself, with mixed results (see Duets ).

Hear the sweet, coy, fey, folksy, Indigo Girl–ish strains of Dido and you are meant to think “windy,” “wispy,” “wistful,” “winsome” and all the other W words that conjure up your favorite loathsomely ethereal Oscar winner in high-thespian mode. In short, hearing Dido should be a big red flag in your head that says: “Brace yourself, here comes Gwynnie.”

-Alexandra Jacobs

The Guy Who Started It All

Andre Fladell was the first person in Palm Beach County, Fla., to file a lawsuit over the so-called butterfly ballot. Since Election Day, he has been on CNN six times and on Good Morning America and Canadian TV. He’s spoken with Larry King and Charles Gibson and with reporters from Time, The Philadelphia Inquirer , even the London Daily Express . “I would like to vote for who I want to vote for,” Mr. Fladell told Mr. King. “I would like to vote for Gore, and I would like to vote for Lieberman. I don’t want to vote for Pat Buchanan. He may be a nice person, but he’s not my vote.”

Mr. Fladell is a 53-year-old chiropractor who spent the first 30 years of his life in Brooklyn and Long Island before settling into a beach-bum routine in South Florida. A graduate of Hofstra University and the New York Chiropractic School, he came of age in a rigid Republican corner of Long Island where he rebelled against just about everything. He organized anti-war demonstrations in the 1960’s. More recently, he has taken to wearing only sneakers and dressing up for formal events in wacky, some might say goofy, outfits.

On television, Mr. Fladell seems like an average, albeit well-informed voter. He wears T-shirts, fidgets a lot and says things like, “I went into a place expecting a simple, fair ballot. I got a crossword puzzle with some configuration no one had ever told me about.”

But not everyone’s buying the act. Last Friday on CNN, Tucker Carlson said: “If there’s one person on whom we could pin this entire fiasco, I think it would be Andre Fladell.” Some Republicans have even accused Mr. Fladell of being a Gore operative.

While Mr. Fladell is certainly not a Gore operative, neither is he your run-of-the-mill voter. What reporters outside Florida don’t seem to have picked up is that Mr. Fladell is one of the most politically connected men in Palm Beach County.

“He wasn’t any confused voter,” said Mary McCarty, the Republican point person for the Bush-Cheney team in Palm Beach who is a good friend of Mr. Fladell’s. “To have him show up on Good Morning America saying, ‘Well golly gee, I’m just this bumpkin who doesn’t know what he’s doing’ is just ridiculous. He’s making a mockery out of the media.”

In the early 80’s, Mr. Fladell-who once ran unsuccessfully to become the mayor of Delray Beach-organized the fractious, mostly Jewish condominium community into a cohesive Democratic voting block. This year, Mr. Fladell mobilized the Haitian and dairy-farming populations to help Democrat Bill Nelson defeat a Republican incumbent in the race for the United States Senate.

In 1985, the County Commission bestowed on him the honorary title “The Prince of Palm Beach County.” Last December, he appeared in The Palm Beach Post ‘s rundown of the 100 people who have had the most influence on the county in the last century. Contacted by phone from New York, Mr. Fladell said: “I wasn’t real happy. I don’t like being with 99 other people.”

Mr. Fladell, who is independently wealthy, donates all of his advice free of charge. Although he’s widely perceived as a Democrat, he sometimes infuriates his political pals by backing Republicans, including George W.’s brother Jeb. “Let me tell you what kind of Democratic operative I am,” said Mr. Fladell. “I have three shirts with buttons on them; the rest of my shirts are T-shirts. I don’t own a pair of shoes. Everything I’ve got is sneakers. I don’t have a pair of slacks that aren’t jeans, and I’ve got opinions on everything.”

Mr. Fladell is a character. He has a closet full of costumes-spikes and leather and Arab headdresses-that he breaks out for special events. He was married, for four years, to Darlene Javits, the niece of Senator Jacob Javits, who was Miss New York in 1978. Now he dates women he meets on the beach. He sees patients early in the mornings three days a week. His father’s money has allowed him to spend the rest of his time at the beach, or at the race track, or stumping for a particular cause or candidate.

Mr. Fladell thought his political activity for the year was concluded after he voted early on Nov. 7 in Delray Beach. But after talking with friends he realized that they had had problems deciphering the ballot. That’s when he decided to take action. He called up his friend Henry Handler, an attorney for a number of condominium associations, and the following morning he filed a lawsuit. Since then, the media hasn’t stopped calling. And Mr. Fladell hasn’t stopped answering.

-Jay Cheshes

Crushed Under Their Tons of Books, L’il Wonks Put Wheels on Backpacks!