Honolulu Lite
Charles Memminger

We’re getting sacked
by paper bags

I'm trying to figure out exactly when paper sacks with little string handles began to take over the planet.

They began to take over my house a few years ago. It started with one hardy Ralph Lauren bag, and then they secretly began piling up in a cupboard until I opened it one day and was crushed by an avalanche of string-handled paper sacks.

I threw out about a hundred of them and banned my wife from sticking any more in the cupboard. But she quietly kept rebuilding the stockpile of paper tote bags. As I write this, I'm surrounded by an undetermined number of string-handled paper and plastic tote bags: Fossil, Victoria Ward Centers, Williams-Sonoma Grande Cuisine, Cold Stone Creamery, Citarella Fine Foods, Dean & DeLuca, Abbott & Costello, Ali & Frazer, Sonny & Cher ... What the hell is going on here?

I'll tell you what. Someone in the advertising world figured out that all you have to do to get people to hang on to a paper sack with your logo on it was to stick a couple of string handles on the thing. Suddenly, your generic paper bag becomes a "useful object," something that is almost impossible to throw away. What strange psychology causes people to become so attached to something simply because it has a handle?

I pleaded with my wife and daughter to throw them out but was told "we need them." How can we need so many crummy string-handled bags? We don't have that much stuff to carry. Nobody does.

Yet every store and restaurant is in on the string-handled bag game. We've got five bags from Cold Stone Creamery, and I only remember going into the place once. And they're big bags. You could carry 10 gallons of ice cream in just one. Have we really lugged that much ice cream into the house?

THE RALPH LAUREN bag is the largest. You could carry a polo pony in it. We use the Ralph Lauren bag to house about 50 of the other bags.

The strangest bag is red, with "FCUK" in big white letters on the side. Despite its quasi-obscene appearance, the bag actually comes from a famous upscale British fashion franchise called French Connection United Kingdom, thus the startling acronym.

Some of the odious objects are "gift bags." For holidays and such. They've got all kinds of holiday and special-occasion decorations on them. They are trying to say "Happy Birthday!" and "Congratulations!" but what they actually are advertising is that someone was just too lazy to wrap a present. When someone gives you a gift in a string-handled paper bag, no matter how gaudy the decoration, it means they came very close to simply chucking the unwrapped item at you from their moving car.

About a third of the bags fall into the holiday category. Does this mean we will be handing out Christmas gifts in an old, wrinkled, already-been-used paper sacks?

My daughter says we should use them when we go grocery shopping. That way, we wouldn't have to use so many of the supermarket's plastic bags.

I want to save the environment as much as the next guy, but I'm not walking into Safeway carrying 14 string-handled tote bags of varying sizes, colors and construction material. I look rumpled enough without turning myself into a homeless bagman.

If we have several hundred of these things in just one house, I assume there must be a million of them on this island alone. The fact that one of the bags we have (Citarella Fine Foods) came home with my wife and daughter after their visit to New York City means that the ubiquitous cargo carriers are spreading around the world. God help us if the advertisers ever decide to put little string handles on milk cartons and cereal boxes.

Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com

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