Pockets are a problem. Whoever came up with the idea back in 18th century England was doing too much snuff. Pockets are especially a problem for writers. Because, in addition to keys, loose change, wallet, eyeglass case, and cell phone, you also need a pad, pen, glasses, digital recorder, napkin that you’ll throw away even though it has some really good ideas on it, and, of course, an unabridged dictionary. (Not to mention masks. Two years ago it was hard to find them. Now they appear in every coat I put on.) Admittedly, I make things worse by dressing in layers—an increasing number of layers as it gets colder. So, between jeans, fleece vest, sweatshirt, and the occasional windbreaker, I could be walking around with anywhere from four to ten pockets. And I’m not even counting those weird hidden zippered ones. You put something in one of them and it’s history. All those pockets, combined with a barely detectable attention span, means it’s unlikely I’ll find my phone before the person hangs up, a pen before I remember what I wanted to write, or my keys anytime in the near future. So I end up spending most of my time in public patting myself in ways that many people would find disturbing.
For several years, my wife Wendy would mildly suggest—and that’s putting it mildly—that I put myself out of my misery by getting a “man bag”. In addition to the phrase’s troubling connotations, and political incorrectness, I didn’t see how I’d benefit from a public display of pockets. Besides, I’ve known people who have spent half their lives looking for the perfect handbag and the other half trying to find the things they put in them. Me? A man bag? Forget it. It’d raise a few too many eyebrows in Brattleboro and would give my favorite “gentleman” farmer way too much cynical fodder. So, it came as a surprise to both me and Wendy that, one day, when we were walking through a crowded outdoor market, I absent-mindedly tried on a few man bags and made a vaguely positive comment about one of them. Before I could object, she’d bought it.
I spent a few weeks trying to wear the thing. I successfully designated two pockets for the essentials—one for my phone and another for the pad, pen, and glasses. I didn’t even panic when I discovered two more tiny side pockets that were crying out for toothpicks, aspirin, or a Swiss-army knife that would get confiscated at the airport because I forgot it was in there. In fact, I was almost starting to get used to wearing it until I met our daughter for lunch a week or two later. Emily has the same acute design eye as Wendy, albeit with a different generational aesthetic. “Look, Em…Mom finally got me to buy a man bag,” I said, bravely flinging it over my shoulder. She tried not to blink. She wanted to be supportive of my new fashion statement, but her hesitation said it all. “Not working is it?” I said quickly. “It’s just…” “No, I totally agree with you,” sensing this might give me a way out of this increasingly uncomfortable experiment. She proceeded to make all the points above and more until she finally suggested that perhaps I needed something bigger; something more mail– than man– bag. “Well, then I might as well just use my computer bag again,” I said hopefully. “No, smaller than a computer bag,” she said thoughtfully. I looked at her. She looked at me. “It’s a problem,” she said.