Friday, July 23, 2010


I was purchasing some beach reading for my upcoming vacation at Barnes & Noble and needed a pen to sign the credit receipt. I asked the cashier for one. I might have had one on me, but I knew I could never find it easily in the giant bag I was carrying.

How did I get to this point?

In college I did what was expected of me and ditched the traditional purse for the more utilitarian backpack. While walking around campus I didn’t need to be carrying anything other than books, pens, notebooks, and my key. When I wasn’t going to class, I never needed more than my room key and ID card, both of which would fit nicely in my pocket, provided I was wearing clothes with pockets. My ID card holder/key fob combo could also hold small amounts of money and driver’s license if need be. Things that didn’t fit in my pockets and didn’t need to be transported via backpack were rarely necessary.

Post college I took on the same attitude. When I went out, I much preferred to carry things like a man. The wallet went in one pocket and the keys in another. I never needed more than that. Wallets were smaller and thinner in those days because they didn’t hold much. I always felt so liberated to not be carrying a purse, and then always be worried about where to put it or being victim of a purse snatcher.

So why is it that twenty years later I’m carrying the biggest, most burdensome bag ever?

First of all, the wallet just can’t fit in a pocket anymore. Wallets don’t just carry a driver’s license, some money, car info, and single credit card. Now my wallet holds my personal credit card, my company credit card, my HSA credit card, and a debit card. It carries my insurance cards. It carries the various preferred shopper’s cards from the places I regularly shop. Forget photos of loved ones. The only other photo in that wallet is the one of me on my ID card for my New York office building. The wallet is so thick that it doesn’t even fit into some of my smaller bags.

Beyond the wallet, I now have to carry more than just keys and the emergency tampon along with my necessary lip balm. Nope . I have to carry a cell phone, a note book, pens, lipstick for post-lunch touch-ups, and, four out of 7 days, a laptop computer along the power cord. If I’m visiting clients, I have to carry around company literature to hand out. When I’m commuting on the train, I also like to have a book or magazine to help pass the time. If I’m with Kevin, it’s likely that he may ask me to put his books and papers in my bag as well.

Did I mention keys? My keys are an entity unto themselves. In college it was just my room key. Then I graduated and I had a single house key and a single car key. Now I have the key to the outer door of my building, the key to my apartment, the key to my mailbox, a key to my mother’s place, an electronic fob to get into my office building after hours, and the key to my actual office door. My car keys don’t even fit on the same ring and I have to carry them separately.

I never liked carrying a purse. I always hated the burden of always having to keep a hand on a bag to avoid theft or simply to avoid having it bang against my body while I walked. In college I had the revelation one day that it was really dumb to carry a backpack one-shoulder style. I might as well go back to carrying a purse like I did in high school. I found that if I wore my backpack the way it was meant to be worn and actually slip my other arm through the second strap, I could walk upright and have both hands free. It was the most liberating thing ever, especially when it showed everyone that I really didn’t care what they thought of me. I was making myself more comfortable and thumbing my nose at conformity at the same time.

It was also during the collegiate and post-collegiate years that fanny packs came into fashion for a brief time. Talk about liberating! As the stuff I needed to carry was beginning to outgrow the confines of my pockets, but was still not enough to fill a backpack, I could put that stuff in a fanny pack and still be able to walk straight and tall and have both hands free. Too bad fanny packs had their day in the sun and then became too dorky even for me to want to be seen with one. I confess I will still use them in amusement parks and other excursions where I will be walking around all day (they are a godsend on long trail rides when you need a place to store both cameras and toilet paper), but I’d never be seen walking around the streets of New York City with one.

So I have come to a point in my life when I have to not only carry a purse, but I have to carry a big purse. Having a big purse is a big pain. It’s heavy (when my laptop is in it), it’s awkward. I have trouble finding things in it. I don’t really have much choice though. I can carry something smaller on weekends and vacations, but I when it comes to work, it has to be the big bag.

At least I have a beautiful new bag. My mother bought me a lovely Dooney & Bourke bag for my birthday. It’s the kind of bag I would never buy for myself because I would never be able to justify the expense. I don’t have much truck with designer bags (another non-conformity thing), but this one is very elegant and understated. I just don’t like splashy logo bags that scream, “I’m a Coach/Louis Vuitton/Gucci/Etc. My owner paid a lot of money for me. Aren’t you impressed that my owner has that much money?” I don’t want to carry the same bag everyone else is carrying. It doesn’t appear that I currently am.

So is being forced to carry a big expensive bag a sign that I have grown up? God I hope not!

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