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 Texas : Features : Columns : "The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything"

Bag Lady

by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
It is not too many years, I think, before I will need to buy my very own shopping cart. Nope, not long now. I was getting ready for work this morning and was looking for some chewing gum. I like to have gum in my pocket when I go to work. There are reasons for this. One reason is that I love gum. Love it. Lu-uh-vv it! Another reason is that I am basically insecure and worry that I stink. I have a whole morning regimen to avert any preventable stinkiness. I wash and dry my uniform first thing in the morning. I shower and wash my hair. I use a small arsenal of anti-stink products. And I chew gum. I have tried to embrace my essential worthiness, love myself, give myself positive affirmations, but none of that is as effective a reassurance to me as my little rainbow of lotions and deodorant and powder and toothpaste. Right or wrong, healthy or neurotic, that's just the way it is.

So, I was looking for chewing gum. This used to be easy. Now it is not. I have one child still living at home and it seems that he shares my insecurity over odor. He showers, wears clean clothes, spritzes his shoes with Febreze, brushes his teeth, drenches himself in some manly, manly spray guaranteed to attract cheerleaders. And then he swipes my gum. There would normally be enough gum around for both of us, but he goes through an entire pack every day. I think he wants to be ready in case some girl goes nuts and starts kissing him unexpectedly. You never know when this might happen, and a guy has to be ready for it.

I have carried four different purses in the past couple of weeks. When I change purses I take out the essential things; wallet, lipstick, tape measure, stamps, pocket knife, coin purse, hand sanitizer, tissues, sewing kit, tire gauge, dental floss, swatch of living room furniture fabric (because you never know when you might find some cute throw pillows and you cannot trust your memory when it comes to colors), notepad, favorite pen and second favorite pen, address book, planner. Just the essentials. I leave the extraneous things in the purse I am emptying. This includes mail, grocery receipts, little scraps of paper with unidentified phone numbers, other scraps of paper with the names of books I want to read or songs I hear on the radio that I like, "to do" lists, loose buttons, paperclips, empty gum packages with seeds I scavenge from here and there, camera batteries (I think they breed in the bottom of my purses because I am always finding them and I never know if they are new or old). You get the picture. Flotsam and jetsam.

I knew I collected an extraordinary amount of junk. Trash. I knew that. But since I don't usually change purses quite so often as I have been doing the past couple of weeks, I didn't really realize how much of it there was until this morning when I was digging through all four purses looking for gum.

I was shocked! It was almost as bad as keeping a food diary. I knew I had hoarding tendencies. But this was ridiculous! I only gave it a passing thought (wow! What a lot of junk I have accumulated in a short period of time!) this morning because I was focused on finding some gum and leaving for work. I did find one little bedraggled, sticky, moist piece, popped it in my mouth and headed out the door. I forgot the whole incident until this evening.

I was getting ready to leave work. I had given report and put my notes away in my work bag. I save them. In nursing school they told us to keep little notes on our patients in case we ever had to reference them at some time in the future. An ounce of prevention. Then the charge nurse called me to get report on my two new patients. I began to fish for my notes. Of course I had all my other notes from the past two months, my 401K report, my pocket ACLS handbook, paperclips, business cards, email addresses, pens, pens, pens, pens and pens. And I realized that I had four purses full of TRASH, plus my work bag full of essentially TRASH! It's awful! I suddenly had an insight and understood a little those cars you see parked at the grocery store sometimes which are so full of old newspapers and clothes and junk that there is only room left for the driver, or those people you see pushing grocery carts piled high with who knows what. I had always assumed that those people were homeless or had some kind of mental illness. Now I know. They simply outgrew their purses. And if I don't change my habits that's what's going to happen to me.

I won't let this happen. If it is hard to find one lone, humid stick of gum in the bottom of a purse, think how much harder it would be to find one in the bottom of a grocery cart. I just don't think I can deal with that.

Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
"The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything" September 13, 2008 Column
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