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In the Bag

LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION

You ever notice how purses gain weight? Real slow and gradual, just like people do. Then one day you wonder why your shoulder is dislocated. Because you’re carrying, everywhere you go, 20 pounds in pennies, three pounds in gum wrappers, two pounds of used Kleenex, keys to houses you don’t live in no more, a broken calculator, your grandson’s sippy cup half-full of apple juice and various unmentionable personal hygiene items.

This is because purses are black on the inside. You can’t see nothing in there. To find anything, you need the groping talents of a TSA screener. (I even tried putting a little flashlight in there, but I never could find it again.)
Purses should be lined in Day-Glo orange, but the purse manufacturers have their reasons for not doing this. They know what you’ll do once your purse gets too heavy.

You will buy a new purse.

Then you’ll transfer your cell phone, wallet and keys into it (which you’ve been carrying in your pockets so you can find them). And you’ll leave the old purse and all its contents to molder in your closet and walk away.
I realize this while I’m rooting around in my purse for a breath mint, sitting at the bar in the Sloth Lounge with my brothers-in-law Leech and Lurch. Leech says “That purse is the definition of black hole. Matter is crushed to infinite density. It cannot be viewed directly because light cannot escape it.”

“Somebody has been watching the Science Channel,” I say.

He says, “Nothing else to do.” And that’s true. February ain’t a great month. That is why God put Mardi Gras there: to cheer us up. And it should stay in February. It ain’t natural when it comes in March, like this year.

Just then I pick up a heart-shaped Sweetheart candy in my purse, and I say, “Ew. Has this been in there a year?

Since last Valentine’s Day?”

Uh-oh. I shouldn’t have said the V-word.

These two don’t have no discretional money whatsoever, but they do have girlfriends: Chicklette and Trinkette. Usually, Lurch and Leech present them with Valentine’s presents personally caught at parades – some of the more tasteful beads and a couple stuffed animals. This year they got nothing.

Thank God my gentleman friend, Lust, who owns the Sloth Lounge, arrived just then to take me to dinner, so I haul my purse up on my shoulder and we leave. But I feel bad about Leech and Lurch.

They have been betwixt and between jobs since Katrina. They already spent the money they made playing Santa Clauses; it’s too early to mow lawns; and Lust probably won’t need them to help out at the bar until next month, when Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Day all crowd in on top of each other.

I guess in other places, it’s churches that are full on religious holidays, but this is New Orleans.

They get some income from their mama, Ms. Larda. She makes decorative muumuus for trashcans, and now she’s expanded her business to door wreaths and garden flags. She pays the boys to deliver her decorations promptly because her customers are the type who go into a frenzy ripping down one wreath and flag and garbage-can muumuu, and throwing up another one.

But this is small pickings, even with tips, and these ladies aren’t too free with tips.

The next day they deliver a Valentine’s wreath to one lady, but she says it’s unacceptable; she wanted the 15-inch, not the 14-inch, so they can just take it back; no “thank you,” no tip, no nothing. On the way home, they pass St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and Lurch notices that there, in front of a tomb, is a vase with long-stemmed roses. Probably a nice grade of plastic, too.

So they wait until dusk, and then they slip in with the wreath and switch it for the roses – 24 of them, 12 for each girlfriend. They slink out the gate.

And they run into me.

In case you didn’t know, I’m a professional tour guide and I happen to be just finished leading a group of Irish priests around this cemetery. I see Lurch and Leech and the roses and I know immediately. I passed that tomb and saw those roses a dozen times already.

Well, I tell them, I can’t believe I’m related to people who would steal from the dead. Here I was worrying about them, but now I’m tempted to pass on what Lust came up with: a convention from Illinois is celebrating Lincoln’s birthday at the Sloth, and he needs them to help pick up glasses and trash and napkins and drunks. They could make enough to buy real roses. But, I tell them, they got to give these roses back.

They hand them over.

I stomp back to the tomb, too mad to notice somebody following me. I am arranging the roses in their vase when I hear a noise behind me. Then somebody touches my shoulder. I screech and rear back and swing my 10-ton purse; Father McComskey goes down like a sack of Irish potatoes. Thank God for the Irish part. A couple hours in the Sloth Lounge, drinks on the house, fixes him up.

Father had been in my tour group and evidently he was trying to return my cell phone, which had fell out. I explain about the purse problem and would you believe, he says I should just dump it out and start over again. With the same purse! Ain’t that just like a man.

Anyway, I bought a cute new purse, which has no weight problem.

With luck, it will last until I talk Ms. Larda into creating glow-in-the-dark purse liners.
 

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