Connections: Old Bag

Waste not, want not

   You’ve probably heard this complaint before; I’ve been irked by tote bags accumulating around the house for a long time. Now, I know I’m looking the gift horse in the mouth, and as problems go this doesn’t even rate — and I apologize, because I’m about to mix metaphors in a most egregious manner — but the straws that broke the camel’s back were two of my most recent unsolicited acquisitions: One, in cheery brown and orange, came from a home-furnishings business; the other, a gift from the Hampton Classic Horse Show, is super-sized and plastic-lined, with two inside mesh pockets.
    The issue seems to be that neither my husband nor I have learned to say no thank you. Waste not, want not, we think . . . and merrily shove these freebies into cabinets, drawers, and closets from which they are never again to emerge.
    This week, with no one else at home, I headed to the biggest trove, in a bin in the music-room coat closet. Alone in the dark they had multiplied to epic numbers. Among the rather handsome canvas ones were several more from the Hampton Classic. A few large numbers had unattractive corporate names or logos on them (including one that felt like rubber and would have been good in the rain, although no one had ever used it).
    The two that I’ve actually made good use of came from The New York Times; because they have zippered tops, I carry them a lot on Jitney trips, and even had one dry-cleaned once. A smaller version from The Wall Street Journal looked chintzy by comparison.
    Then there was the heavy red one from Cole Haan, which had a shop here for a while and donated a pile to the East Hampton Library. The company’s name is discreetly printed inside, but I had found it too big to drag around. A bright fuchsia bag in a waterproof fabric also had a discreet designer label. The color had been fashionable about the turn of the millennium, if I recall correctly.
    A few small ones, in cloth other than canvas, came from museum gift shops, among them one that was a memento of my trip to China with the New York Choral Society. Yet another, that I had wanted to keep as a reminder of our visit to Salt Spring Island, off the coast of Vancouver, was nowhere to be seen. More recent paper-thin totes, like a few from the Wainscott Seafood Shop, for example, had also disappeared. But I found several that I swear I had never seen before, including one that was mammoth and alarmingly chartreuse.
    Having scattered them all over the floor for inspection, I proceeded to my husband’s bedroom closet to unearth yet another lode. My husband had left one batch on the floor, stuffed another batch into the biggest bag, and slammed shut the closet door. I hauled them all out. (He also had an honest-to-goodness, undecorated, vintage “boat bag” there, dating to the days when no one used the word “tote.” It was filled with Chris’s swimming gear: fins, snorkels, masks. I left that one alone.)
    I was about to walk away from the whole mess, having counted 37 tote bags in total, when other members of the household began arriving. What in the world was I doing, they wanted to know. I told them I was thinking of giving the totes in good condition away to people who were tote-bagless, if I could identify any. Maybe, I said, I could casually take a few to the dry cleaner’s and secretly forget to pick them up.
    My husband meandered in and scooped up a few, including the huge chartreuse one, saying we should keep them in the car to use for groceries. That gave me another idea: I would go to town and stand in front of the supermarket and give them away.
    By then, however, it was getting to be supper time. And it could be embarrassing to try to fob off tote bags on strangers, couldn’t it?
    Wondering if perhaps the Ladies Village Improvement Society Bargain Box might want them, for use at checkout, I folded up those still lying on the floor, arranged them in neater stacks, and squashed them back into the darkness from whence they came.