I’m a guy who generally moves through his day in a sort of pleasant fog. All my life, I’ve been this way – sort of happy to live an interior life. When I was a kid I started reading all the time – on the bus to school, during class, at home in bed, even while walking around. That hasn’t changed much. I’m all grown up and have a great job, but I still like to read all the time.
The problem is what I read.
I don’t like eBooks. Can’t explain it, just don’t care to read on a screen. Maybe it was because I grew up with the feel of paper books in my hands – their weight, their smell, that sense of the physical presence of thought between the covers. That sort of thing. SO I’ve always got a paperback with me. The trouble is that I’m totally addicted to those teen vampire novels. And I’m a guy.
You wouldn’t think this was such a big deal in this day and age, but all of my co-workers, men and women alike, really made fun of me when I was caught the first time reading one in the break room. It became a big joke, and I got a nickname: Sucker. It was all meant good-naturedly, of course, but it still rankled. So I stopped reading in the breakroom, and when I met people on the bus going to work my shameful paperbacks were hidden in my bag.
Then, the building where I work instituted a new security policy: Clear bags only. My old green backpack was no longer acceptable. No worries, it’s easy enough to find a clear bag these days – they’re a hot trend – but I was suddenly worried that I’d be spied with a teen vampire romance in my bag, and the whole thing would get a second life. So I was really happy when I saw the tote bag with the little pocket in the front.
Why is this genius? Because I have a copy of War and Peace tucked in that pocket, and I slip my shameful paperback du jour behind it. When I run into people on the street, they think I’m either a pretentious kneebiter or a genius of some sort. Either way, better than being thought of as the Weirdo Who Reads Meant for Teen Goth Girls.
The bag gets me through security without a problem, too, which is a nice bonus. A few folks have refused to bring in clear bags, sticking to their briefcases or backpacks, and they’re routinely late for meetings as the security team in the lobby works them over, while I blow past, my secret shame hidden from view by the immense girth of a Russian novel no one’s voluntarily read in fifty years!
When I bought my little girl Marcia the small clear backpack, it was because I’d been sold on its two main advantages: Getting Marcia through her school’s security as quickly as possible, and keeping things organised. Marcia’s smart, but she’s a dreamer. She’s a dreamer now and in constant need of reminders about everything – I can’t wait to see what she’s like when she’s seventeen and actually has things to worry about!
Part of Marcia’s dreaminess plays out in a pretty rich imagination. Marcia can spend days on end pretending one thing or another. She once pretended to be invisible for three days, and nothing I or her father said could convince her otherwise. Another time she pretended she could speak Spanish, which was strange, but kind of fun. She spent a week babbling away like John Lennon in the song Sun King, making words that sounded Spanish but which meant nothing.
Her imagination also plays out with her Elephant, Mr. Trunk. Mr. Trunk is a beat-up old grey stuffed animal we found at a garage sale. Marcia has loved him for years, and brings him everywhere. She swears he talks to her.
Yes, if Marcia didn’t have a lot of friends and wasn’t doing so well in school, we’d be a little worried! As it is, we chalk it up as just an active imagination. Besides, Mr. Trunk seems to give pretty good advice.
A problem arose when she started the new school year. Some of her friends had decided to grow up over the break, and made fun of Marcia for carrying Mr. Trunk around. We spoke to Marcia about it, and while she was upset that her friends were being mean, she was also stubbornly opposed to dropping Mr. Trunk. So I had a brilliant idea: Why not slip Mr. Trunk into the clear front pocket of her pink backpack, and she’s be able to see him and whisper to him, but she wouldn’t have to carry him with her all the time.
Marcia was intrigued. After a quick consultation with Mr. Trunk, she agreed, and we sent her off to school with her boon companion safely ensconced in her backpack, with some peanuts for sustenance. Marcia also requested that Mr. Trunk be given his own mobile phone so he could call for help if he was hungry or suffocating, but we drew the line there. We’re indulgent parents. Not crazy parents.
Marcia’s friends soon moved on to other targets, and Marcia seemed to quite intelligently decide that she didn’t really want friends such as those. Going to school became a breeze. Marcia was happy to race off with her elephant, she had no trouble getting through the school’s overzealous security apparatus, and she could pretend all she wanted about talking elephants and no one else was the wiser. Parenting: It just requires the right backpack.
Jerry’s parties are always fantastic, to the point where all of us are constantly terrified of getting on Jer’s bad side and missing an invite. He does about four soirées every year and they are all equally amazing. He’s arranged his house well and he does have a faboo deck in the back, so the space is actually great for parties. Plus, he always invites his neighbours so there’s never any noise complaints!
Every one of Jerry’s parties has a theme, too – they’re just so much fun. Not getting an invite from Jerry is like receiving a death sentence through the mail. Once mine got delivered to the fellow next door and I spent the whole day drinking wine and wailing on the phone to my friends, concocting plans that were well past crazy to get back into Jerry’s good graces. When my neighbour brought the envelope over I had raccoon eyes and crazy hair, so any thought of a RomCom moment with my cute neighbour went out the window – but I didn’t care, because I’d been invited to Jerry’s party!
The last one I went to was themed for Singles. Now, normally when someone invites me to something because I’m a single girl, I get a little backed up about it, but Jerry can do no wrong, so of course I went. And perhaps spent more time and money on my hair and outfit than usual. And perhaps even shaved my legs. Hey, you never know.
At the party, we were instructed to take our gift bags first – did I mention Jerry always has a gift bag for his guests? The man’s a national treasure. The gift bags were in this fantastic clear tote bags. sturdy and roomy, I fell in love with mine immediately. Aside from being stocked with nifty little gifts that you could see at a glance, they each had a bold symbol on the front. Mine was a peace sign. Loved it.
Then, Jerry gave out his instructions: Someone else had the same tote bag as us, and it was our job to find the other individual. It was his way of mingling groups of single friends and seeing what happened. Suddenly the night was alive with adventure. Not only was I about to meet an eligible bachelor, I was also about to find out what Jerry really thought of me.
I wandered the party with my tote and a glass of wine, eyes jumping to everyone’s tote bags. And then I saw it: The peace sign! Attached to a tall man wearing a suit that had actually been tailored for him, drinking a whiskey. I ran up breathlessly and hoisted my peace sign tote in front of him. We locked eyes. This peaceful feeling swept through me, and I reminded myself to always, always be invited to Jerry’s parties.
I used to think of my husband and I as hearty, active people. We liked to get out and do things, we stayed in shape and ate right. We had adventures. He will still tell you about the time I abandoned him in the wilderness to be eaten by Drop Bears when we were momentarily lost, but first of all that’s only partially true because Drop Bears do not exist and secondly it was chilly and I had a stone in my shoe and I would certainly have gone back looking for him after a change of shoes and a cup of cocoa and perhaps a brief nap.
Now though I know that all my thoughts about us being hearty and rugged were delusions, because we have a child now and we are just exhausted by common everyday chores. We are weak, and it took a ten-pound bundle named Eleanor to teach us how weak we are.
Part of the exhaustion was in the lack of organisation. We’d bought all the stuff and were determined to still get out and do things – hike with Elly strapped to our chests, out to dinner and parties with Elly in tow. And we tried. We really tried. Aside from the fact that Elly can be calm and quiet right up to the exact second you cross the threshold of a home or restaurant, and then become an Anxiety Machine, screaming endlessly, we also had real difficulty with all the things you need for an Anxiety Machine you are legally responsible for. We would make about four steps progress and need something, so my husband would stop, drop the diaper bag, and root around looking for it. Then he’d pack up again and we’d go about another four steps and have to repeat the process. The sheer madness of finding everything was killing us.
And then my mother bought me a clear diaper bag from The Clear Bag store. And our lives changed forever.
Now, when we need something from the diaper bag, it’s so easy to find it we don’t even have to stop walking. You glance at the clear, sturdy plastic, see where it is, and unzip exactly the compartment you need, grab the item, and in all that time you haven’t stopped moving. It’s improved our efficiency by at least five million percent, depending on whether you believe in the metric system.
We’re still exhausted every night. And my husband likes to joke that the only reason I haven’t left him behind in a mall to be eaten by Drop Bears recently is because he usually has Elly strapped to his chest. And there may be some small kernel of truth in that, though I’d never admit it.