Purses and Pockets

Written by  //  February 16, 2011  //  WRITING & POETRY  //  No comments


Written Spring 2003

Sometimes, when my pockets get cluttered, I wish I carried a purse. Even more, I wish that, as a male, it would be socially acceptable for me to carry a purse. You see, guys are not allowed the convenience of carrying around spacious containers for all of our various bits and pieces. To go a step further, society practically assumes that guys don’t even have various little bits and pieces to carry around. In some unsaid way carrying around a variety of small convenience items, such as gum, pens, loose change, a notepad, fingernail clippers, a comb, chapstick and whatnot (especially when these items are in a bag attached to a strap) is in direct violation of being a “real man.”

 The idea that guys don’t have many objects and items to carry around is a misconception. Even now, I am carrying in my pockets a wallet, my keys, a pocket watch, a pen, a notepad, and a zip disk. That may not seem like much, but the space is easily consumed as I feed more items in throughout the day. I often find my pockets brimming over with pens I find on the ground, chapstick, gum or candy, loose change, notes from girls (they’re all over me), paperback novels, envelopes, tic-tacs, and combs. At the end of a busy day my pockets ache to be emptied. And, when pockets do get full, retrieving a quarter or my student ID from the depths becomes next to impossible, requiring the systematic emptying of either side.

 Besides all of our belongings, girls often request us guys to carry their belongings, as well. These items can include chapstick, cell phones, lipstick, gum, and money; these are the lesser evils. The size and quantity of the objects is not always as big of a problem as the shape. I’m sure you know the pain of sitting down on a ring of keys or having a hair brush jammed up against your thigh (well, maybe not the hairbrush, but you get the idea).

 Often, the problem is not what is in the pocket, but the pocket itself. Pockets can be too big, too small, or badly manufactured. Certain textiles are hard to deal with: on a pair of well starched jeans you can’t get your hand in there without getting rug-burn. And girl’s pants, in the style, are so tight that getting any object into the pocket, regardless of how small, is next to impossible. If girls do manage stuffing chapstick into their pocket without ripping the seams, eventually retrieving the object is hopeless.

To make things worse, the unintentional and unseen emptying of the pockets through broken seams and holes is a well-known malady. How much grief has come from that pesky hole in the bottom of your pocket? Realizing that the $50 or the opera tickets that you had put into your pocket have fallen our through a hole is a horrific feeling. Quite often, when this happens, all hope is immediately lost.

 But, I am getting ahead of myself! Let me start at the headwaters of modern western society. In the days of the Enlightenment a man carrying a purse was no oddity. Purses back then were not what we carry today. Then, as Herman Melville tells us, “a purse [was] but a rag unless you [had] something in it.” The wallet and the bill fold didn’t exist. The bill didn’t either. So coins were toted around by good gentleman in small bags. As for the ladies, a purse or handbag was necessary back then, and understandably so; for it was not then acceptable for women of good society to wear pants.

When the bill did come into existence men stopped carrying purses and took up wallets and bill folds. Notice the societal implications of that! One might gather money to be the only possession of any importance men need to carry (even the size and shape of the wallet implies this). This is not true today and wasn’t then either. Back then, men carried snuff boxes, smoking pipes, watches, and countless other items. Surely some sort of externally carried compartment would have been as useful then, as it would be today.

 Carrying a purse has obvious advantages. You don’t have to be so selective about what you choose to take out of the house with you every morning. For example, men must strictly avoid putting certain items into their pockets (i.e. sharp pencils and scissors). A small bag or purse would be very helpful for that sort of thing. Also, you can take a great deal more with you. I often want to take a deck of cards or a camera with me (should a Kodak moment arise).

 As for the styles of purses, they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Industrial strength model purses have the capacity of a Toyota compact. These massive purses are frequently carried about by mothers. My mom, mother of ten, was known for carrying two. Of course, if a man is going to carry a purse that large, a briefcase would suit. Although, I realize that carrying a large purse would start to be more of a burden than a convenience. Certainly our arms and shoulders are not made to constantly carry around weight equivalent to that of a 9-year-old.

 I suppose that disadvantages to carrying a purse do exist, like the one mentioned above. Certainly one would think theft is more common. Of far greater concern, organization becomes all but impossible. What woman has not known the bottomless pit into which her entire life is conglomerated. A mass of credit cards, mascara, lipstick, hair clips, other accessories, pens, pencils, scraps of paper scrawled with indiscernible messages and phone numbers, boxes of mints and packages of gum, tampons, eye-lash curlers, pieces of chewed gum, and tissues (some fresh, some used and crumpled). All nearly impossible to dig through. The disadvantage here, other than not being able to locate that incoming text message, is that while blindly sifting through the plethora of objects you also find the gooey fuzz covered mysteries like that lint-mint or sun-melted life-saver.

 I once knew a girl who just adored Skittles. Every time she came across a bag she bought it and threw it into her purse. Although she constantly munched on them, her consumption could not keep up with her acquisition of the sweet treat. Not only were there several half-eaten bags in her purse, but also many individual candies had taken the opportunity to escape into the depths. Once we were standing and talking outside of a movie theatre when her purse lost its balance on her shoulder and out spilled about eight pounds of rainbow.

 So yes, the purse may be hard to keep organized, but is this not true of the wallet as well? The other day a friend of mine was consulting me on what exactly he should remove from his wallet; four-year-old business cards, an expired Costco card and unrecognizable pamphlets were among the choices. While I wasn’t too interested in what he ended up throwing out, I noted that his wallet was similar to the one my father carries: made of leather with a picture of a leaping deer on it. Mine, simple velcro and poor stitching. I also realized that you can tell a lot about a man by how he keeps his wallet organized (if at all). Some men file all of their receipts into their wallet, no matter how minute the purchase (men who wish gumball machines gave back receipts). I’ve seen these sorts of wallets that looked like bricks. And, regardless of how large, they do go into the pockets- always taking up that precious space. I used to carry mine in my back pocket (that is what I thought I was supposed to do, as a man), but the back pain is indescribably horrible. I still can’t figure out how most men can carry it back there.

You can tell even more about a woman by her choice of purse and how she chooses to organize it.

 Some women choose a small handbag, others a small pouch on the end of a strap. The more left-brained girl will buy a purse with all sorts of compartments, zippers, velcroed pockets, and little pouches. But, as organized as any girl would like to be, the purse has become less about storage and more about fashion. Purses come in every color and size (some too small to carry anything at all!). I’ve always poked fun at my good friend Jane. Her purse has barely enough space for her school ID and a small container of lip gloss.

 Notwithstanding the disadvantages, I would still like to carry a purse. Something not so fashion directed, but certainly larger than a wallet. In the 1980s a great compromise was found between carrying a purse or stuffing the pockets, but at the cost of all that is right and good: the fanny pack. Nothing about the idea of having a pouch attached to one’s belt is inherently bad or distasteful. It’s actually quite efficient. The problem with this little item arises from the decade in which it was invented and mass-produced. At the time, the two colors most in-style were neon green and hot pink. So, the fanny pack came in either of those colors, maybe both together, and if you were lucky a patch or two of black could be found in the pattern (or, if you were unlucky, a patch or two of cream-white). -“Wow… nice hot-pink fanny pack!”- Those colors and the name give reason for its negative image. Fanny?! Fanny. Fanny is a word used by 42-year-old soccer moms.

 Since, no happy median has yet been reached. For now I suppose that I will have to settle on pants with several fairly large zipper pockets. My pockets still clutter, but I think I’m more comfortable with occupied pockets. Having them full makes me feel complete and ready for life’s challenges. I always carry a pen in my pocket and bring it out with great pride in response to “Does anyone have a pen?” Thinking on it, one of my daily rituals as I leave my house in the mornings is to pat each of my pockets to make sure I have everything. Knowing that, feeling my pockets full, gives me comfort.

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