There is no discussion about who will do it. It’s an unwritten, unspoken rule. It’s a fact. The one person who is considered the homeliest or most antisocial one of the group is designated to watch her friends’ purses while they enjoy themselves. Because she has been assigned to purse-patrol, the purse monitor is relegated to the table, disallowed from going to the ladies room and unavailable to accept invitations to dance. Her main objective for the evening is to loyally stand guard over her friends’ belongings while they socialize and have a good time. Purse patrol is the grown-up equivalent to being invited to teenage function because her mom will drive.
When my friends and I arrived at the club, we found a vacant table and sat down. Then the inevitable happened, I heard the phrase, “Will you watch my purse for me?” Before I could answer, clutches, backpacks and evening bags were all piled up on the table in front of me. Oh my God! I had been caught completely by surprise. I had been appointed as the purse-monitor for the evening. I quickly whipped out a hand mirror and began an assessment to determine what had gone wrong. Was it my hair? Was it my choice of clothing? Had I been too quiet in the car on way to the club? Did my friends perceive my silence as a bad mood? Whatever the case, there was nothing that could be done now. Unceremoniously, I had been assigned to purse-duty.
As I sat there, I called upon my improvisational skills and tried to act as if my obvious solitude didn’t bother me. I attempted to appear as if I enjoyed watching all of the socializing that was going on around me. With faux confidence, I attempted to look enormously interested in some activity going on near the bar. I tapped my toes to the music, snapped my fingers, and even attempted some chair dancing. I mindlessly sipped at the drink that quickly became melted ice and eventually an empty glass. I cringed when I realized that the people who passed by gave me the pity-filled “once-over.” Suddenly, I became self-conscious. What were they thinking? I could hear their thoughts.
“Look at that poor soul, sitting there all alone. What a loser.” Only the former purse-monitors knew my pain.
Along with purse-duty, I also had the responsibility of guarding the chairs around the table. Many attempts were made by other clubbers to commandeer the empty chairs. “No, someone is using that chair,” I snapped. “My friends will be back in a minute.” Finally, after I realized that I was behaving like a rabid Rotweiller, I conceded to a couple. “You can use them until my friends come back.”
The woman gave me a “Yea, sure” and chuckled as she and her new friend proceeded to sit down. It didn’t take long for them to forget that I was there. They began to perform hands-free tonsillectomies on one another. I sat there, the purse-lieutenant, and attempted to ignore the foreplay that is happening just two feet away.
After about an hour, a man approached the table. He introduced himself as Jim and asked me if I would like to dance with him. I wanted to, but I simply could not. I was on purse-patrol. Abandoning my post would have been met by the social equivalent to a court martial. Jim was forced to make the decision to either, accept the apologetic “no” and walk away or sit down to converse with me. With a look of defeat on his face, Jim looked around the room, shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Oh, what the hell…” and sat down.
I was having trouble focusing on our conversation because I was trying to catch the eye of one of my friends. I tried waving my hand at her. I tried staring at her. Finally, I attempted to telepathically connect with one of them. I hoped that she would feel compelled to relieve me of my post. No luck. Once Jim realized that I was not going to be excused from purse-duty, he excused himself and left.
I felt defeated. I decided that I now hated the people who assigned me to purse-duty. And, as soon as I had the opportunity, I would give them a piece of my mind. Suddenly, one of my friends, Karen, approached the table. I perked up. I smiled wide, hoping that her feet were tired from two hours of dancing. But, the purpose of her visit was only to reapply her lipstick. Then she announced that she was going outside to grab a breath of fresh air and that she would be back in a minute. Yeah, sure. Every so often, my other friends glanced over and waved at me from the dance floor.
All hope of having a conversation with anyone other than with the busboy was gone. The “lovers” who were borrowing the chairs, had by now moved onto the button fiddling, caressing and moaning portion of their evening. They were now practically sitting on top of one another and had freed up a chair.
I sat there and casually looked around the room. I wasn’t really focusing on anything but it was something to do. I rocked back in the chair a few times. I checked my watch. During the next visual sweep of the room, my eyes settled on the purses that were on the table in front of me. “Hmm,” I thought. “I wonder what’s in there.” I rationalized, “I have the right to know what I’ve been asked to guard with my life.” Besides, I was bored.
I looked around the room again and quietly reached for the clutch bag. The clutch bag belonged to a longtime friend, Karen, who was on a constant, unrelenting search and conquer husband-finding-mission. Because the clutch was so small, I didn’t expect to find much. I was just going to take a peek. In addition to a redder-than-red lipstick, a comb and a kissing-fresh breath spray, I unraveled the continuous roll of twelve condoms. Wow, someone certainly is optimistic, I thought. I can understand one, possibly two, perhaps three, that is, if he’s young and sober. But, a dozen? Whoa! Go girl! I tucked everything back into the clutch and replaced it on the table.
Still, there was no sign of “my friends.” I would continue my purse inspection. The next item of inspection would be the Barbara’s backpack. Barbara is known to her friends as “Ever Ready,” the woman who could be ready for anything at anytime. Spontaneity seemed contrived compared to Barbara’s “whatever” attitude. The backpack was heavy. When I unbuckled, untied, and unsnapped the flap, I found a cell phone, make-up, a Swiss army knife, comfortable shoes, safety-pins in a variety of sizes, a scarf, pantyhose, a simple yet classic black dress, a highway flare, a travel toothbrush and a package of trail mix. Barbara isn’t out for the evening, she’s running away from home.
Finally, I dragged Marcia’s bag across the table by its ornate shoulder strap. When I unhooked the clasp of the purse, an artillery of anti-man paraphernalia was uncovered. I was reminded of the Viet Nam documentaries I had seen on PBS. I found a canister of pepper-spray, a personal alarm (push button activation) and a key chain with a self-defense baton, and a small flashlight with a whistle attached to it. I carefully checked the side pocket for a hand-grenade (careful not to set off a trip wire). I was expecting the Morley Shaffer and a 60 Minutes camera crew to appear and interrogate me. “Can we ask you a few questions regarding concealed weapons?”
I would, of course, act shocked. Morley and a cameraman would chase me as I ran to my car. I’d pull my jacket over my head in an attempt to hide my face. No doubt, they would catch up with me when I arrived at my car only to find that I had locked the keys in it. I’d be forced to cover the camera lens with my hand and recite the customary, “No comment.”
The evening had dragged on for what seemed to be an eternity. I had had enough time to evaluate every person in the club, what they did for a living, how much money they made. I also figured out which men lived with their parents, who was cheating on a spouse and who was out just for sex. By the time my friends were ready to leave, I had worked myself into a major tizzy because I had been ignored for several hours. I was furious.
Karen, Marcia and Barbara were giddy. They were waving around business cards and crumpled paper napkins that had telephone numbers written on them. They hardly noticed that I was seething.
During the car ride home, Barbara looked at me and said, “Wasn’t that fun? Did you meet anyone?”
Even though I had mentally prepared an oration about the responsibilities of friendship that would, no doubt, leave my friends reevaluating their behavior and begging for forgiveness, I kept it to myself. I realized that I was just irritable because I was forced to take my turn at purse duty.
“I met Ivan, the busboy,” I said, “but he works nights and weekends. It just wouldn’t work out. So, we decided to just be friends.”