Tag Archives: Lawrence

The Power of the Purse

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An interviewer recently posed this question to me: Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?

Which caused my inner twelve-year-old boy to roll his eyes (What kinda girlie question is that?) and decide that the question required an asshole answer, like

If you consider bourbon-water-rocks a meal, then YES, I DO.

But upon further review, I realized I do kind of have a signature thang, or used to, anyway. (So I tied the little monster up and banished him to the basement so I could tell you about it.)

As it turns out, I’ve always carried kind of…weird purses. Maybe this is because the adolescent male who runs my brain part-time hates carrying a purse and therefore has the final word on handbag styles.

In high school, I had a clutch that resembled a rolled-up magazine (Playgirl, that bizarre ’70s answer to Playboy Magazine) with a half-nekkid man and blissful-looking woman lying next to him on the cover. You can imagine the kind of attention my clutch attracted, which came to an end when it began to disintegrate at the end of junior year, being constructed partially from an actual paper magazine cover. The Playgirl purse passed into history, much like articles with titles like CIRCUMCISION FOR WOMEN: The Kindest Cut of All, which was one of the WTF headlines on the cover of that particular issue. I mean, were they actually advocating genital mutilation?

In college I went through a gigantic-purse phase so I could carry around all the accoutrements of a pre-hipster writer wannabe: a miniature tape recorder, a notebook and assortment of pens, a pack or two of cigarettes, a lighter. My favorite enormous one was black, big enough to fit a ten-gallon aquarium in it, made of sturdy strips of cloth in different textures sewn into an Escheresque pattern.

One weekend I traveled from Lawrence to Manhattan to visit my K-State friend Marianne. We went to our favorite club, the Avalon Ballroom, to hear Glow, one of our favorite Kansas City-based bands. After much dancing and imbibing, I took a dance break and happily swayed to Glow’s note-perfect rendition of “Let Me Roll it” by Paul McCartney and Wings, drink in hand, smoking a Marlboro Light 100. Out of nowhere, this guy runs up, wrestles my purse away from me, drops it to the ground, and empties ​my bourbon and water on it. As you can imagine, I was not happy. I started to scream at him when he held my purse up and showed me the smoking, smoldering hole the size of a tambourine in it. So I bought him a drink, because he saved me from not-so-spontaneous combustion. I wore a lot of hairspray in those days.

Years later, as a subversive suburban mom, I carried a purse constructed from a Colorado license plate (not mine). The ends were made from metal center hubcaps, the strap was tire rubber, and a bottle cap made up the hasp. It was always a great conversation starter, but I had to stop carrying it when my daughters reached a certain age. Along about the time they turned three, they were at the perfect height to experience the over-the-shoulder battering-ram effect. When one of them walked at my side, that purse would smash into the back of her head and knock her to the ground.

The metallic tube turned out to be an effective assault deterrent. Once potential assailants witnessed the Power of the Purse, and heard the solid, substantial-sounding thunk of it bashing into my kids’ skulls, they ran the other way. Don’t worry—there were no concussions, but it was painful nonetheless. For me, I mean, having to give up that purse for a period of time.

Finally, there are my electric guitar purses. The smaller one depicts Elvis in his heyday before the peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches kicked in that I purchased in Vegas. The larger came from Walt Disney World and is emblazoned with the Aerosmith Rock ’n Roller Coaster logo.

These days, I carry the smallest possible purse with just enough room for credit cards and my driver’s license. My former self would be bitterly disappointed, but the junior-high-school basement-monster boy in me is overjoyed.

Blame it on the Boomtown Rats

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In my second senior year of college at KU (long story), I lived in an ancient studio apartment building across from the Beta and ATO frat houses on Tennessee Street. It was so old it had dumbwaiters in the halls and murphy beds in the apartments. The closet was only three feet wide, and the bathroom had a claw-foot tub and no shower. Immense gleaming purple slugs patrolled the crumbling sidewalk out front. The first night I moved in, some guy had an LSD freakout and cannonballed through a window.

But once I got rid of the cockroaches* and scoured the place, I loved it. The branches of oaks and sycamores filled my windows, sunshine through the leaves painting my walls brilliant green in the spring and summer, and apricot and scarlet in the fall. In wintertime, the strong black branches cast vigilant shadows and supplied pedestals for fantastical snow sculptures.

This guy.

This guy.

I had a night class fall semester, and walking home one night, I heard a bicycle approaching me from behind. I turned to look. A forty-something dude about my height who looked like a creepier version of Michael J. Pollard was pushing the bike, not riding. Apropos of nothing, he let out a nervous, Peter Lorre-type laugh. In my mind, I heard the eerie opening strains of  the Dead Kennedys’ “The Prey.” I walked faster.

By the time I got to the front walk of the apartment building, his giggles had climbed the lunatic scale to near hysteria. My pace had escalated to a run, and he was right behind me, giggling madly. As I raced him to the door, he rolled his bicycle over three of the fat slugs, bisecting them with a wet squish, and up the steps. I sprinted down the hall and fumbled with my door key, ready to yell for help. But as I turned toward him, he disappeared down the staircase, bike and all, to the basement. I heard a door open and shut down there.

Okay, so a weirdo lived below me, who I discovered later had an equally weird Al Capone-lookalike roommate. I shouldn’t have been surprised. The rent was super cheap, it was just down Mount Oread from campus and three blocks from downtown, and it was a couple of blocks from Bullwinkle’s, a tiny dive bar that wasn’t much more than a lean-to with a tap and a kick-ass jukebox. At least my totally BA upstairs neighbor, Lori Elliott, had been followed by the bike-pusher too. We agreed to do laundry together in the basement to make the giggling and doorway-lurking bearable.

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This one.

One Saturday night, I skipped the bars and stayed at home to listen to a Boomtown Rats album I’d just bought from Exile Records and Tapes, the local used-music and head shop**. I sat on the floor, ready to drop the needle on track one, side one. But just as I lifted the tone arm, I heard moaning directly below me. I froze and listened, the needle poised above “Mood Mambo.” The moaning voice belonged to Michael J. Lorre. I replaced the stylus in its cradle and pressed my ear to the floor.

The noise that surged from the basement sounded like the bawling of a wounded calf. And above that disturbing noise came the roommate’s voice.

“Come out of him!” shouted Al Capone Junior. “Come out of him now!”

Come out of him? Just what the actual hell was going on down there?

“Get thee behind me, Satan! I command you to come out of him!”

Holy shinola. What I was listening to was an exorcism.

And then the wild rumpus really got started. There were shrieks and shouts, dishes crashing, glasses shattering, furniture splintering. There was repeated hollering for Satan to come out, and then little Michael J. Lorre started babbling at the top of his voice. Al Capone Junior joined in.

They were, I realized, speaking in tongues. They sounded like a couple of liquored- and coked-up auctioneers having an epic rap battle. This went on long enough for me to pour two fingers of Jack Daniel’s into a glass and re-seat myself on the floor.

After one final crash, Michael J. Lorre laughed and cried with relief. I imagined ACJ untying him from a chair, and the two of them hugging and crying.

It was over. Satan had left the building.

Because this was the first Saturday night I’d stayed home since moving in, I wondered if getting in front of the devil was a weekly event in Chez Lorre-Capone. But I was too interested in unleashing Bob Geldof and the Rats to ponder this for long. I once again raised the tone arm, but my downstairs neighbors beat me to it. I heard a needle fall on a very scratchy vinyl record. And then a familiar Welsh voice silenced me and my 36-inch speakers for the night.

Tom Jones. Singing “Delilah” at top volume.

Well, of course. This explained everything. The guy who crashed through the window wasn’t on LSD after all.

He was on Tom Jones.


*Powdered boric acid sprinkled liberally around every baseboard and crack in the apartment does the trick. The roaches walk through the powder, and it sticks to their legs. They carry it back to their nests, and the boric acid dissolves the eggs. Gross but effective.

**My 21-year-old daughter Chloe was confused by the term “head shop.” If you’re also confused, it means “drug paraphernalia shop.” Back in the day, stoners were known as “heads.”


Below you can listen to a playlist with the songs mentioned in this post, as well as some extra goodies. The first one to guess why I included “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” wins a prize.

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