As You Like It: Do you have an Advil?By Joan Florek Schottenfeld
You wouldn’t think that that is the question I’m asked most by coworkers, friends and family, but I think it is. Followed by, “Do you have a tissue, hand cream, safety pin, a pen or a mirror?” And the answer to all those questions is, “But of course I do!” And why am I always so admirably equipped? Because I carry a handbag around with me at all times. In fact, I can no longer remember a time when I didn’t carry a bag with me, and suddenly I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Last week Boston Globe columnist Jennifer Graham wrote: “A woman needs a handbag like a fish needs a fedora.” I enjoyed her article and heartily agreed with her up to a point. Handbags can be a real nuisance. I also agreed with her that it was a bit strange that whereby they started out as a unisex thing, and even an upper-class phenomenon — people carried them to hold money and only the rich had money — they long ago became a woman thing. Graham goes on to claim that:
They stopped making sense in the 1960s, when women started wearing trousers with pockets — pockets that, for decades, had ably met the carrying needs of men. Purses should have fallen into disuse then, but alas, the emergence of women’s pockets occurred around the same time as the demise of common sense. So purses evolved from something useful to something silly.
That’s where Jennifer and I part ways, because I don’t often wear clothing with pockets so I would have to hold everything I need in my hands. Yet even as I write this I realize that the word “need” is the crux of the issue.
I look at my beloved husband, Steve, who leaves the house every day without a purse. He always wears pants and his pants always have pockets. In one pocket he puts his handkerchief and his keys and in the other his wallet. His glasses are on his nose. His wallet holds everything he will need for his journeys in the world — credit cards, cash, even a pill or two. The only other thing he carries is his phone, and that is smartly clipped to his belt. So why can’t I do that?
My travel supplies are divided into three categories: need, security and vanity. I need my phone, my wallet, my glasses, my keys (which carry their own little set of jangling mini cards), and a pen. My vanity insists that I carry a mirror, comb and a lipstick. Security covers all the things that I might just need like the aforementioned Advil, nail file, safety pins, tissues, hand cream, Tide-to-go stick (I am such a slob), and mints. It never fails — whenever I decide to downsize my purse to the bare essentials, I inevitably, desperately need something I’ve left behind.
Unlike Oprah, who actually managed to attract sympathy and even outrage when she was prevented from spending $38,000 on a purse at an upscale Swiss boutique, I don’t spend big bucks on bags. In fact, when I first read about the whole brouhaha concerning Oprah’s bag, all I could think of was why do we live in a world where a $38,000 purse even exists, and how in good conscience could anyone ever fork over the money for it when so many people desperately need food or clean water or a safe place to live? But I digress.
An old TV episode illustrates my conundrum. There are two sisters; one is amazingly put together, and the other couldn’t organize her breakfast if her life depended on it. One morning they accidentally switch bags. The disorganized one goes on a job interview, and thanks to the contents in her sister’s bag (stockings, an umbrella, mirror and comb, a pad and pen) aces the interview and gets the job. I loved the look on her face every time she needed something, looked into the bag only to find it. It was as if she were looking into a gift from the gods — the never-ending supply of wine that pours from a pitcher. The other sister, stuck with the schlub’s bag, has a miserable day because her purse is filled with useless crap.
I try not to fill my bag with useless crap. I don’t store my entire life in my purse — only things that will help me through a day. And if I can help out someone around me who needs an aspirin or a tissue, I chalk it up to good karma points.
Over the years I’ve gotten the purse type and size down to an art. It has to be small enough so that I don’t feel like a Sherpa, yet big enough so that I don’t spend precious minutes desperately shoving things into a finite space. And it can’t have too many zippered compartments — then I spend my days playing hide and seek with my wallet or glasses. It also can’t be one of those bottomless unstructured sacks. I inevitably lose everything that I throw into those as the items become an integral part of the purse itself. It’s a fine science let me tell you.
So on reflection, much as I envy friends who travel the world purse-free, I won’t seek that path. I will continue to shlep my security blanket. And if you need an Advil, just call me.
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