Mama Needs a Brand New Bag

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To say that Boogie Records was an institution in Toledo would be a severe understatement. Although I browsed there on nearly a weekly basis in my early years, it was in 1994, the year I turned eighteen and went off to college for the first time, that I probably gave them more of my money than at any other time in my life. That was the year they began offering a wide variety of “import” CDs, their euphemism for bootleg concert recordings and other semi-legal discs. (At the end of the year, I bought my copy of the Icelandic jazz record Bj√∂rk did back in 1990 there, a recording I’d first learned about a few months earlier on one of the first email lists I joined, Blue-Eyed Pop. Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas all my life had already permanently associated jazz music with the winter holidays for me, and that CD remains my go-to December music to this day.) Boogie Records became one of the first iconic Toledo stores to be shuttered as a result of Toledoans turning increasingly to Internet shopping (myself included, to my everlasting shame), but nearly everyone I know who shopped at Boogie at some point of their lives still carries the fondest of memories for the store.

Maybe the most important purchase I made there in 1994, though, was a knit bag with a brown leather bottom, shoulder strap, and drawstring clasp. The rest of the bag had stripes of all kinds of colours, and it was the kind of bag that made you smell patchouli oil just by looking at it. I bought the bag before I left for Antioch that September, and it felt like the perfect accessory for me to carry my personal effects in, especially the small notebook I used as a journal to document that new era of my life. Given the turns the world was taking in the early 1990’s, and the aesthetics that were prevailing then, the bag just seemed to be the exact fit I needed for that time of my life. It only lasted a few years before it started falling apart, but I still remember it all these years later, and I wish that I’d taken a photograph of it before I put it in storage several years ago, long before I left Toledo.

Looking back, even though I didn’t begin to consciously identify as a woman until 1999, I kind of feel like that bag was my first purse. I’d experimented with gender more than a few times before then, but always in small and secretive ways, and I never felt as comfortable doing those explorations as I did at Antioch. To this day, Yellow Springs remains the one place I’ve lived in where I’ve felt safest and most welcome, and there’s still a part of me, all these years later, that hopes I get to move back there one of these days. Walking around the campus of Antioch and downtown Yellow Springs, that bag slung over my shoulder, I felt a freedom that I never could have dreamed of in the first eighteen years of my life, and I’ve spent much of my life since then trying to recreate that feeling.

As I was beginning to transition into living as a woman full-time, I knew that I wanted a new bag to carry around with me. I figured that a small messenger bag would be a better fit for my life — first for my notebooks, now for my tablets — but I still wanted something that would make most people think of the word “purse” when they saw it. The first seasons of The Powerpuff Girls were airing on Cartoon Network at the time, and I really liked the show’s aesthetic, so I wound up buying a Powerpuff Girls bag — let’s just call it a purse — at Meijer sometime in 1999 or 2000. I might have an old receipt of the purchase somewhere to help me nail down the date, but twenty-year-old receipts weren’t high on my list of priorities of stuff to bring with me when I left Toledo at the end of 2017.

I definitely remember having the purse with me when our house caught fire in May of 2001, so it’s been with me for at least twenty years. That purse got me through all my time at the University of Toledo, the dozen years of teaching and tutoring I did in the area, my big road trip to North Carolina in 2006, my flight to Colorado in 2017 and the months I lived there, and my move to Wisconsin in 2018 and the first three years of my life here. The glitter on the Powerpuff Girls artwork faded away after a few years, and the brightness of its colours dulled soon after — the bright pink has long been a very dusty rose — and the metal carabiner on one end wore through several years ago (necessitating that I knot the strap off on the metal d-ring on that end), but somehow that purse held its own, despite all the abuse I put it through for so long.

A couple of weeks ago, though, the reinforcements that kept the other d-ring attached to the bag just broke clean off; it had been slowly tearing away in recent years, but just before I went off to teach earlier this month, I grabbed the strap to sling my purse over my shoulder like I’d done thousands of times before, only to have that reinforcement tear away and the purse land with a loud thud on my living room floor. Needing to get to campus quickly, I shoved the end of the strap that had just broken free through the new hole in the side of my purse and tied a quick granny knot, and that arrangement has held for several days now, but I know that it’s only a matter of time before the strap tears through the not-reinforced hole and my purse is left completely unusable.

The irony of this purse lasting me through two complete generations of the Powerpuff Girls television show isn’t lost on me, and neither is how fortunate I’ve been to get more than twenty years of use out of a purse that couldn’t have cost more than fifteen bucks when I bought it. At the same time, though, so many people I know have strong associations of me with that purse — when some of my students held a surprise birthday party for me in 2008, they decorated the classroom with a Powerpuff Girls balloon — and I guess that it’s something I’ve just gotten so used to that it’s difficult to imagine me buying a new purse here, as much as I clearly need one now.

What I’d really like, of course, is to get that old bag I bought at Boogie Records repaired, but even if I could get to it easily, it’s probably for the best that I figure out something else to do. The stuff I need on me when I leave my living space is a lot different now than it was twenty years ago, and puzzling out the best bag for this time of my life should, at the very least, be an interesting mental exercise. I’ll probably still insist on some cartoon design on it, though, likely something from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Life may have changed a lot in the past twenty years, but I’m still the same silly girl I was back in 1994; I just know a lot more about myself than I did back then. I just wish I could take that bag back in time with me to Boogie Records and shop there one last time.

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