Commentary

Snow: Much ado over men’s wallets vs. women’s purses

April 6, 2013 

Paying my bill at a local restaurant, I reached for my wallet. Although I tugged and tugged, I couldn’t dislodge it from my back pocket.

With considerable embarrassment, I stepped aside so other diners could pay their tabs.

It’s not that I’m flush with cash. In fact, I carry very little legal tender. It’s the other detritus that has fattened the cowhide beyond reason.

At that moment, I vowed to be less critical of women who hold up exit lines while searching seemingly bottomless handbags for change, checkbooks, credit cards or keys.

Recently, I shifted from foot to foot as the woman ahead of me carefully studied the cashier’s receipt, before plunging her hand into her bag in search of her wallet, from which she withdrew a few bills. She then went surfing for the change, which came forth a penny at a time. When the last cent was handed over, I felt like cheering.

To their credit, many women overcome the handbag handicap by getting their act together before they reach the cashier, waiting with pen poised over checkbook or with credit card extended as their purchases are totaled.

There is a particular mystique about women’s handbags, which, to my mind, should always be off-limits to spouses.

I doubt there is a “typical” handbag, when it comes to contents. Every woman stocks hers for what needs she thinks the day may bring.

Our friend Dot Preston, retired Meredith statistics prof, once consulted her doctor about a persistent right shoulder pain.

The doctor immediately noticed the size of her handbag, big enough to transport a nest of squirrels.

Picking it up, he said, “Here’s your problem.”

In addition to normal contents, the handbag contained several hand-held calculators she always carried for students who forgot to bring theirs to class.

The modern woman, I am told, might, in addition to the usual items, carry a screwdriver and a penknife. If she works at night, a can of mace or rape whistle might be in order.

At newspaper editors’ conventions I have attended, it was customary for the president or some other high government muckety-muck to address our group.

Secret Service employees required the women to empty their purses for inspection. This frequently resulted in much mumbling and grumbling about invasion of privacy, along with demands that we men be required to empty our wallets.

I found myself sympathizing with the women, a feeling probably stemming from a long ago night when, as a young police reporter I covered my first traffic fatality.

I watched as the investigating officer, seeking identification, dumped the contents of the victim’s handbag on the pavement.

Her tube of bright-red lipstick, photos of her young children, a monogrammed key case, a stamped letter ready to be mailed and other personal items heightened the tragedy for me. I almost felt I knew her personally.

After the embarrassing incident at the restaurant I went home and inventoried my wallet’s contents:

• Five supermarket discount cards. One from my hardware store. My N&O ID, library cards from Raleigh and Pine Knoll Shores.

• Medicare and prescription drug cards, three photos of grandchildren.

• An eighth-grade snapshot of me, a favorite because it doesn’t reveal the first-class case of acne I was fighting at the time. A photo of me at 15, hugging my collie, Shep, my best friend and confidante.

• A photo of me in a business suit astride a motorcycle, an improbable perch indeed. After making a speech in the little town of Nashville, N.C., the program chairman, a cycle enthusiast, persuaded me to pose on his machine. I carry the photo to startle friends into thinking I might once have been a member of the “wild bunch.”

• A pocket guide on how to administer CPR. A photo of my wife holding our first grandchild.

• My driver’s license, two credit cards, along with AAA and AARP membership cards.

No doubt you’re surprised by my wallet’s capacity. So am I. But such are the demands of a card-carrying culture.

Too much ado about handbags and wallets? Probably so.

During these musings I’ve concluded that even though I hear “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” I vow to be more patient and less prejudicial toward my fellow creatures, no matter in what lines we are standing.

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com

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