Not Without My Handbag

If the child were from an earlier time she might have called it a handbag instead of a purse. I only use handbag because "Not Without my Handbag" is the title of a short claymation feature, by Nick Park, which is a great example of dark humor, and I wanted to link you to it. The child is in contemporary America, at the bottom of Thumb Butte which we have climbed and descended, and she has a look of terrible concern. "Where's my purse?" I am looking up at the butte, knowing that wherever the purse is, it's going to be uphill.

The little girl is eight years old, and she is my companion on the first day of the new year. As she explained to a mesmerized forty something woman on the way down the trail, "My parents went out partying last night and so they're sleeping in today."

"I know exactly what you mean, dear."

To get the full effect of the child you have to know that she has very bright eyes. The eyes, as you may know already, are the only exposed portion of the brain. The eyes may not be the window of the soul, but they are unquestionably the window of the brain.

So when we met this woman on the trail the child flashed a million dollar smile and said, "Happy New Year."

The woman surrendered instantly. "Why, happy New Year to you. Are you spending New Year with your grandpa?"

I'm grandpa by marriage and real grandpas aren't contractually engaged, but as I said, this is a smart kid. There were two beats during which she correctly assessed that while it was not strictly the case that I was her grandpa, I was in that family role and it was too complicated to explain to a stranger to whom it was of no concern anyway. "Yes," she said. Then they continued their happy eye to eye chat and she explained how she ended up on New Years Eve with her grandparents. When she was done socializing she said, "Give me back my dog," and took Sammy's leash. We went on down the hill.

We had continued on just long enough for me to anticipate getting rid of the big bag of shit I was carrying when she suddenly stopped and her eyes got big and she said, "Where's my purse?"

The bag of shit was from Sammy the dog. Normally he shits an unremarkable stool, because he eats mostly good quality dog food. But on New Years Eve he was unable to be a good dog. He was a very bad dog. There was a cheese plate on the counter, with crackers and tiny slices of tomato. I was standing there looking at it and wondering why the tomatoes were scattered on the counter. Then I realized that most all the cheese was gone. "Did you put the cheese back in the refrigerator?"

Linda said she had not. "You're kidding me aren't you?" she asked.

"No, I'm not. Sammy, goddamn it, you stole all that cheese off the counter." He went slinking away exuding guilt. "I wonder what that's going to do to his system? I'll be he can't shit for a week."

I was wrong. Terribly wrong.

He struck the pose right in the middle of the trail and unloaded the most offensively odoriferous cargo of shit imaginable, and lots of it.

"Here's your cheese, dickhead," he said telepathically. He's spoiled rotten by Linda, and I get pissed off and yell at him. Normally this would be acceptable to a dog, but you have to understand that when a dog has a doting mama he learns that no ill should befall him, and he learns the power of the evil eye and passive aggression.

Like Joselito, the maricon son of Tia Dolores, Sammy's refrain is, "No pegan a mio!" ("Don't hit me.")

"Purse?" I asked. "It's probably in the car. You didn't bring it with you to hike up the butte?"

"Yes, I did," she said, with passion. She uses overwhelming emotional force for small things, sometimes. But after a moment she said, "I know where it is. It's by the bench where I was swinging on that log thing."

I knew what she was talking about. There is a log between two tree branches above a rest bench, on up the trail. There are several rest benches for the obvious reason. "Okay," I said. "Let's go back and get it." She ran ahead, gay and carefree, while I followed with Sammy and the big bag of cheesy shit. It wasn't all that far, and we were coming down the more gentle slope, so it was more humorous than a bother. The trail we used to climb up the butte is the one that makes me breathe like an alligator.

On the way up the butte, as well as on the way down, the child greeted everybody she met with, "Happy New Year!" And when we were back at the bottom of the trail, and she was sitting on the last bench (it was a task she assigned herself to sit on every single bench for twenty seconds), with her purse in her hands, and inside it the list of everything she saw on the walk, including the lichens on the upper rock faces, she said to me:

"You know, Dan, if you smile and say, 'Happy New Year,' you can make people very happy."

"You think so?"

"Yes, I do."

Happy New Year!

Posted: Wed - January 2, 2008 at 05:26 PM