Compared to the glossy “What’s in Your Bag” columns that most women’s magazines love to stuff on an idle back page, my handbag’s innards make me look insane, like a micro-hoarding soccer mom chosen to head the weekend camping jubilee.
Women’s mags love to showcase pert clutches hiccupping mint-condition cosmetics, bejeweled iPhone wrist-loops with all their rhinestones still intact (a feat of voodoo), perhaps a Kate Spade datebook (kelly green), and maybe a single hair ribbon, fresh from the package, with no ball of linty, ripped-out hair tangled up in it. Apparently Zooey doesn’t have a period, Kim doesn’t have occasional gastric upset, Miley throws all her receipts in nearby trash receptacles or kindly rejects them at the register before they even print, and Taylor doesn’t blow her nose and/or keep used tissues around in case she needs to blow it again, and that one tissue she used the first time is the last one she has and there’s still 20 minutes left of her subway commute. And everyone just happens to carry around those aerosol bottles of Evian, for, you know, face misting.
What’s really in our bags? Heavenly Father help the Teen Vogue intern that approaches me someday in Union Square Park asking me to dump out my bag for a blog post. She would have a hard time editorializing the following:
(1) Pepper spray — blue plastic tube with red trigger, attached to metal keyring. Purchased by my parents and sent through the mail (bold!) in 2010 when I had a scary ex-boyfriend with the tendency to lurk. Never used but often palmed, especially after midnight on the streets of New York. Nicknamed “Lil Pep” in effort to bring dash of whimsy to the fact that it’s definitely a weapon that I carry everywhere I go.
(1) Pop-open Treximet™-branded pill case containing (17) off-brand Ibuprofen tablets, (3) Zofran™ (ondanestron) anti-nausea tablets, blister pack of (4) Relpax™ (eletriptan) anti-migraine tablets, (1) unknown orange beta-blocker plucked from a waiting room couch at my last job (fell out of a paper salesman’s pocket?!), and (3) generic amitriptyline tablets. All: for life’s little owies.
(2) “Panty liners,” ugh, “panty liners.”
(1) Box generic-brand anti-gas tablets, oh, and, (1) box Pepto Bismol melting tablets — for hangovers, unexpected pizza-related celebrations, and/or when I forget to take a women’s multivitamin (of which there are  in a baggie, expiration date: 2012).
(2) Several-foot long coupon ribbons from CVS — $1 off moisturizer purchase, $2 off purchase of two or more Hallmark cards, important things like that — (1) expired 11/24/13, (1) expired 1/8/14. Both wadded into nearly perfect spheres.
(1) Sephora-brand compact mirror, the magnified side of which is cracked, perhaps because of that time I carried (3) cans of beans and (1) bottle of Aleppo pepper home from the supermarket in my purse when the plastic bag they were in ripped on 6th Avenue, or perhaps from my wretched scaly face and demon eyes peering into it too many times. Anyway, this is used rarely, because 1) my visage only reflects during a full moon, and 2) it’s really hard to open!
(1) Miniature tube “Supergoop” daily SPF facial moisturizer, received as free sample or maybe stolen — no0o0obody knows — popped into bag in an effort to “wear SPF every day to fight aging and stay skin-cancer free.” Actual contents of tube provided 1 tablespoon of cream, used on one day in June 2013; empty tube remains in bag because good for picking at teeth after eating pesto or black beans.
(1) Thing Almay Clear Complexion concealer with “Blemish Heal Technology” and 1.0% salicylic acid — because why just cover period zits when can slowly subject them to chemical burns at the same time and flake them off within 7 to 24 days?
(7) Lip products. Seven. Because, some faces are just that irreparable, just require that many layers of goo to appear passable: (1) tube Carmex Soothing Balm; (2) Maybelline lipsticks in “bold colors” bought, seriously, with, seriously, the intention of looking like JCrew catalog models haha; (1) ChapStick Moisturizing balm with Hydration Lock, for just casual, everyday de-chapping purposes; (1) Maybelline Baby Lips coral-tinted gloss-stick-thing? Bought because “Baby Lips”; (1) sample-sized “Stainiac” lip tint, free; (1) oh wait, that’s a tampon again! (6) Lip products, then. (6).
(9) Chunks of straight-up trash. Legitimate garbage. A ticket stub for About Time wrapped around a piece of chewed Trident with a hairpin jammed into it and cookie crumbs mashed against it for good measure.
(1) Pen — unless I really need it, then, (0) pen, or something even less than (0) pen, like it actually gets to the point sometimes where feels like there’s negative pen?
(1) Broken umbrella from Duane Reade with spindly metal limbs spiking out all over the place and torn panels of black polyester, but is better than nothing during a sudden rainfall, or so I tell myself.
And then some. The list goes on. It is infinite as my purse’s ecosystem is in flux: bobby pins are withdrawn and deposited, snacks erupt from their wrappers and become instantly 47 different crumbs of things rather than one single thing, sushi-place menus are considered and discarded or used for lipstick blotting… the list goes on.
Not long ago on the subway I noticed a little girl sitting with her mom — she was, like, 7 — and she had a little purple plastic purse, from which she was drawing and replacing, over and over again, a toy pony. That’s all her purse held — a toy pony, and probably a couple hundred imaginary pony-related artifacts — and she couldn’t have been more wholly satisfied by it. I envied her, the simplicity of her purse, her youthful innocence in a world pre-menstrual, pre-makeup and pre-daily-fearing-insurmountable-circumstances-that-would-prevent-her-from-returning-to-her-home-and-all-her-worldly-belongings.
Then I found half a bagel in my purse with only a little bit of grass on it, untangled it from my headphones, took a bite, and realized maybe she was the one who should be envying me.