The road to hell was paved with handbags

Published March 2, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

All my life my mother has carried one or another large purse, full of many remarkable things. I have often marveled at her confidence that everything a person might need -- Band-Aids, lipstick, folding hatchet -- is in her purse, and at the incredible difficulty in finding it where it lurks among the ticketstubs. Her purses, despite being large, festooned with noisy keys and adorned with colorful doodads, have a poltergeist ability tovanish utterly from human ken and then suddenly appear grinning inthe middle of the hall floor, or on the table in a pool of mysteryfluid, or across town at the garden center.

Despite the wonderful mysteries of my mother's purse, I have chosen to forswear the magic and repudiate purses altogether, forthey come with too many accompanying curses.

First of all, if you have a purse, you have to carry it.You have one less hand free, or one less shoulder free, and it limits your range of movement, making it awkward if you suddenly need to leap in the air and click your heels together. Sure, youget used to it, but so do people with malevolent dagger-wieldingdemons on their backs -- I am generally fed up and I do not want to have to get used to one more thing.

A purse is easy to steal. Visible, recognizable, detachable.It might as well have a target painted on it. Picking pocketsis a skill, but purse-snatching is an entry-level job.

Even the gaudiest purse is easy to lose. When I was given one, in seventh grade, I took it to school. There I set it down and lost it every time I had a thought, which meant several times a day.

But most of all, a purse represents the first step on the slippery slope to loveliness. Why don't men carry purses? Becausethey aren't trying to be lovely. Purses are needed mainly to carry cosmetics and what are known as "sanitary supplies." It's the cosmetics that scare me.

Cosmetics are meant to make a person lovelier. As an obsessive individual, I long ago decided that if I were to try to pursue loveliness, there would be no end. I would never be able to stop applying foundation at the neck. It would be whole-body loveliness or nothing. As for beauty being only skin-deep, I don't know if I could accept that. I'd probably have to get my internal organs prettily tattooed. So years ago I determined to consider loveliness beyond me and work on my personality. Or at least on passing as a native of this planet.

Thus obsessive attempts to control my obsessiveness have ledto no need for cosmetics. Also, because of my obsessiveness, I don't get out much, hence, even less need for a purse. Also if I had a purse I would have to decide whether to call it a "purse," a "handbag" or a "pocketbook," choices of significance -- how can one leave the house until that's been hammered out?

Having no purse, I jam stuff in my pockets. This means wearing things with working pockets, limiting the attire options,but I have already mentioned abandoning loveliness. Occasionally I feel compelled to wear superficially lovely, pocketless garments in order to pass as a female earthling, but one can always put a key in one's stocking, next to the mad money.

I admit that I have cheated. Backpacks and book bags have flitted through my life and have attempted to become Big Purses.Sometimes I have weakened and slipped a wallet into a backpack or keys into a book bag (or, most depraved of all, into the pocket of a companion), but always I have drawn back from the cliff, realizing that the next thing would be groping around in it for lipstick and then I would be going to sleep with slices of kiwi on my eyelids and I would be lost to a world of loveliness.

Once you have a purse, of course, there is a natural desire for completeness, a desire felt by residents of all planets I know, not just my mother, and if you are not careful you may end up witha satchel so loaded with penknives and road maps and hankies and police whistles and glue guns that you need a small wheeled cart to transport it all.

In the golden technological future, we will all be followed by robot retinues toting our stuff for us. There will be nodistinction between girly girls with big purses and manly men with bulging pockets. Everywhere we go, we will all have the comfort of being accompanied by lots of our nicest stuff, including devices to repel pirate robots hijacking our own robots, so it will be necessary to wear blaster pistols and personal jet-packs and futuristic tight-fitting clothing (why does one never dress baggyin the future?) with big flanges on the shoulders, but I still donot expect to have time to waste on loveliness.

By Susan McCarthy

Susan McCarthy is a San Francisco freelance writer and the author, with Jeffrey Masson, of "When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals."

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