Among the many beloved rituals associated with this time of year, one that is often overlooked is the Ritual Cleaning of the Purse. Possibly this is due to the fact that I am the sole observer of this particular practice, but I find that it dovetails beautifully with the necessity of carrying wads of both used and unused Kleenex, and the fear of dropping a Victoria’s Secret coupon in the aisle before Christmas Eve services. In order to prevent embarrassment, and to feel that I have control over at least one of the bloody messes in my life, I set aside a calm twenty minutes around the Winter Solstice to remove everything from the currently favored bag, evaluate the contents, and put back an optimistic selection of goods and chattels to accompany me on my seasonal rounds.
Onto the dining room table goes everything, in this instance a wallet, cell phone, reading glasses, an iPod, car keys on a ring the size of a dessert plate, a quilted pink makeup bag, a pad of Post-Its, a wad of receipts and coupons, an empty Kleenex package, three used Kleenex, a wad of unused Kleenex, several ticket stubs, a rubber ball, a single earring, a flier for Life Seekers Church, a furry breath mint, an empty Trident package, a piece of newspaper with an address written on it, a tiny first aid kit with nothing but alcohol wipes left, three paperclips and empty but pungent vial of something that smells like a waitress in a health food restaurant. There is a clear hierarchy of what should be thrown away, refilled, wiped off and/or restored to the appropriate spot (where it will be until the first time that I am trying to put a cup of soda in the drink holder while accepting change and holding my wallet. This is the easy part.
Curiously, no matter how often I re-shuffle, I never have a pen when I need one. I have golf pencils, their points covered with some vaguely greasy substance that makes them useless, regular pencils with no points at all, several pens advertising prescription drugs that have no ink or do not “click” properly into writing position, and one dried-up, pink Sharpie marker. Not one of these items can be used to fill out a deposit slip, address a package at the Post Office, or strike items off a shopping list. [I become paralyzed with anxiety and hyperventilate if I am prevented from crossing things off the shopping list as I put them in the cart; I am afraid that I will pick up two of something, plus it destroys any sense that I am actually accomplishing something].
What I have in abundance is lip balm. As of my most recent attempt at reorganization, there were no fewer than six labial lubricants (they come right before the four French Hens) in the various compartments and sub-compartments of my bag. There is a stick of Burt’s Bees, a brightly colored ball with a screw-top full of slightly gritty vanilla goop, something made with hemp that probably belongs to Sam, a cherry ChapStick, something called “Buzz Latte” and a tiny, crusty scrape of Creme de la Mer lip balm begged from a Neiman Marcus counter at least five years ago. After finding a suitable array of working pens (“ink pens,” they are mysteriously called in these parts, as if there were other pens filled, perhaps, with pomegranate juice or the blood of virgins) and putting them in an accessible spot, I tackle the lip balm proliferation.
Burt’s Bees stays in the place of honor, since I actually use it. The Ball O’ Balm is totally useless, but it was a gift from my mom, and she might know if I threw it out, and it goes back in. I need to keep Sam’s lip balm in case he is suddenly plagued by dry winter lips and has forgotten to bring his own balm; it’s icky to use someone else’s. The ChapStick seems like a good thing to keep in case I run out of Burt’s Bees, the Buzz Latte has a really cool package and it’s an impressive thing to whip out when I’m feeling chapped at a ladies’ lunch. They are both put back in the bag. The Creme de la Mer is a tough call. All of the liquid has evaporated, leaving only a quarter inch of tan scum clinging to the edges of the plastic sample vial. No one else would know that it was lip balm that cost as much per ounce as Krugerands, but I do. I had to work hard to get it, schmoozing the Morticia Addams behind the Creme de la Mer counter with a story about how I “loved the face cream but hadn’t tried the lip balm yet.” I tucked it back into a tiny pocket, deciding that it might eventually evaporate completely and take the decision out of my hands.
It’s cleaner now, and I’ll head out today knowing for at least a few minutes that my cell phone is in the Cell Phone Pocket and that I have only unused Kleenex at my disposal. The pens will disappear into the pockets and purses of others, and be left on counters all over town, and new lip balms will appear, but for today I am in order.