ByFRANKLIN P. ADAMS
No ornithologist I, I know a hawk from a handbag when the wind is southerly. No woman is so needy that she can’t afford at least one handbag. In subways I have seen women who otherwise were shabbily garbed, but who carried good — or at any rate good-looking — handbags.
I have made a study of t hese receptacles and their contents, as well as of the habits of the marsupialish women who tote same.
Remember, please, that I am not sinless enough first to cast a pebble. I recall perfectly how we in school who rattled when we walked were asked to empty our pockets. I carried, as did my companions in my days of youth, in my joyful schooldays, many marbles—glassies, falsies, chinies, and a canick shooter; two tops — one to play stick-top with on the wooden sidewalks of Chicago, and one to spin with a string; a knife; a pair of stocking protectors to wear when you played marbles; a few jelly beans encrusted with pocket lint; a piece of chalk stolen from the blackboard groove; a pointless pencil; and maybe a list to consult in the event t hat such a question might be asked in the geography examination. Like “Trine, prod. S.C. tob cot & rice N.C. tar pitch turp”; and sometimes a girl’s name written over and over again - this was embarrassing to the lovesick boys who carried such things, though I always left at home my practicing the names of girls to see how they’d look: Bessie Knight Adams, Laura Matthews Adams, Evelyn Hayden Adams, Hester Ridlon Adams. This, by the way, if these Douglas School girls will take their glasses out of their handbags, may be their first intimation that at the age of even twelve years I was uxoriously, if variably so, inclined.
But it was in the nineties, erroneously described as gay, that boys had brimming pockets. And those were the handbagless nineties, too, when woman’s Place Was in the Home.
It was on a bus — a crowded bus is redundant — that it redawned on me that women’s handbags are carryalls. This woman was first on the bus at this stop. She opened her handbag when she was at the driver’s fare-repository, searched, found a half dollar, got her change, put it all back, closed the bag, and then allowed six other waiting passengers to board, all of whom had their nickels ready (two women and four men).
We have learned to do without many articles of food; we in the East can’t drive a car enough to keep the battery charged; we know now that we don’t freeze to death when the warmest room in the house is 55 degrees — if 1943-1944 is as cold as 1942-1943 in Connecticut, I am going to be frozen, which may please the OPA, which wants to freeze everything, or Fuel Administrator Ickes, who delights in seeing my children shiver. But there is no dearth of handbags.
I am the handbag confidant of two women. They have emptied their handbags for me. Neither thought that there was anything fantastic about the contents.
3 match books
4 loose cigarettes
case containing comb, compact, rouge, lipstick
2 office keys
pads for face cleansing
shoe repair check
4 three-cent stamps
note with social security number
2 house keys
She emptied the bag on the desk. “Where else can I carry all that?” 1 didn’t know. Of course, if a woman lives in an apartment, it seems to me that she can get along for days wit hout going home; also she can get along with one room less.
The other woman — maybe the mother of my children won’t like to be called that, but there’s always the consolation that she won’t read this; (Another of Your Diatribes Against Women) — is a victim of galloping handbagitis. (She still has one, by the way, that I bought her nearly twenty years ago in Naples; known as My Fine Italian Handbag). Handbagitis is incurable, and take it from this family physician, it is also non-operablc. For she has many handbags — that white one for evenings, and three or four others for daytimes at home and for trips to the city.
3 receipts for cash fares, there never being time to buy a railroad ticket
6 newspaper clippings: —
2 Samuel Grafton, Sept. 10, 1941, and June 17, 1943
1 Dorothy Thompson, Herald Tribune, Nov. 4. 1940
2 Walter Lippmann, no dates
1 review David L. Cohn’s Love in America
2 letters from Timmy Adams, 1 from Puffy Adams, 1 from Jacky Adams
1 clipping from the June Atlantic, with article by Rebecca West (slightly worn, she having read it about a dozen times)
3 photographs— 1 of Mama and Papa and the 4 children; 1 of Papa and the 4 kids and a dog; one of 4 kids
1 lipstick; 1 rouge compact; 1 mascara brush
1 fountain pen that has to be dipped in ink
3 unnumbered blank checks, which, if used, never are entered in checkbook
combination telephone and address book
1 notebook to record dreams
4 three-cent stamped envelopes
8 sheets writing paper
1 pencil 1 extra pair of gloves
1 pair of glasses 2 handkerchiefs
1 pair nail scissors 1 pair earrings
1 nail file 1 billfold
driving license odd keys
gas ration book ignition key
key that opens trunk receptacle
These car keys always are in the handbag, and often the bag is far away when the car must be driven by somebody else. The ignition key matter arouses my indignation — expressed, foolishly — that when we are where it would be impossible to steal the car with the key left in it, she still will remove it, put it in the handbag, go to dinner (we don’t drive far these days), and when we leave, look through the handbag for ten minutes.
“What did I do with that key?” “In the handbag?” “I couldn’t have. I simply can’t find it. Go up and see if I left it in Dorothy’s bedroom.” . . . “No.” “Never mind. I found it in my handbag, where I always put it.”
Of all the sexes that roam the earth, as George Ade said, least modest, I think, is the feminine. In any public restaurant, women at table will take, from the omnipresent trunklet, lipstick, rouge, and powder puff, and, without pudency, go through all the business of make-up or, if you will, beautification. It has been my desire, always thus far suppressed, to take from my pocket a shaving kit, dip the brush in the water tumbler, and shave at the table. In lieu of doing it, I hereby offer the idea (50-50) to a writer of stage sketches.
Well, some of my best friends are women, and while I never have heard one say, “If I had as many pockets in a dress as you have in your suit, I wouldn’t have to carry this unwieldy thing,” it is sound stuff. The 1942 suit that I am wearing now has five pockets in the pants, five in the vest, and five in the coat. Let’s see.
In the coat I have toothpicks, a nail file, a card a man from Sacramento gave me (“Be sure to look me up if you ever get there”); a quarter, three dimes, four nickels, twelve cents, and a few mills received in Oklahoma. Also four cigars, four match safes, one Parker fountain pen, two pencils, a pair of glasses, four unanswered letters, a checkbook, and a card from the tailor that hereafter coat hangers will be charged for at one cent until returned.
In the vest a calendar notebook, two match safes, a pencil, three unpaid bills, a No. 12 pill that I forgot to turn in in the last Kelly pool game, a beautiful photograph of our beautiful children, and a report card of one of them.
In the pants: one key envelope with four keys; one Pullman receipt stub, now thrown away; three onedollar bills; a wallet containing money, insurance cards, hospitalization card, receipt from the Fairfield County Farm Bureau, operator’s license, gas ration book, Army registration card (always carry this, it said), a picture of my daughter with a dog; two handkerchiefs — and that is absolutely all.
I shouldn’t like to be quoted, but, just as there is no doubt that women dress more rationally than men, so it also is indubitable that their handbag business is more sensible and concentrated than our having so many pockets that we could play a pool ball into each one. Women aren’t so foolish as they seem — at least in this one particular.