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Mrs. Obama's Handbag

Natalia J. Garland

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What can I do while I wait for my freshly painted pantry to dry? Why, write an essay! Okay, let me go back and start from the beginning--before I ever picked up my paintbrush.

Why does everything always happen at once? Last week, I suddenly encountered two plumbing problems at the same time. Plus, the doorknob on my pantry door broke off. One of the plumbing problems involved replacing the kitchen faucet and a turn-off valve. Well, in the process of emptying out all my cleaning supplies from underneath the sink and wiping up all the water, I noticed that the sink cabinet floor was really cruddy. A paint job was overdue.

Every time I begin a home improvement project, one repair always seems to lead to another. Since I had to buy paint anyway, I decided to paint my pantry also. That way, I would have a spotless pantry to compliment the shiny new doorknob (which I installed myself). And, the painted pantry would match the painted floor of the sink cabinet.

What does all this have to do with Michelle Obama's handbag? Well, the directions said to wait four hours for the paint to dry before putting on a second coat. So, what was I do for four hours? I decided to rest my sore muscles and surf the internet for a while. I came across an article about the first lady in the online New York Daily News.

It seems that a certain designer manufacturer claimed that Mrs. Obama was carrying one of their handbags on her recent trip to Russia. The handbag (an alligator clutch) sold for $5,950. The White House denied this, and said that Mrs. Obama's handbag (a patent leather clutch) was not purchased from that manufacturer and that her bag cost $875.

Personally, I do not begrudge Mrs. Obama an $875 handbag. I want the first lady to look nice, to develop her own sense of style and feel confident before dignitaries as well as critical fashion experts, and to represent America to the world. Comparatively, I think Mrs. Obama showed some financial restraint by purchasing a handbag that cost only $875. Yes, she could have gotten an equally nice but less coveted bag for one-third to one-half the price--and maybe that would have been more appropriate given our nation's current economic turmoil--but the $875 handbag itself does not bother me.

Even so, this is what I hope for Mrs. Obama. I hope she appreciates America's capitalistic system which enabled her to buy the handbag. I hope she understands the benefits of our post-Civil Rights society which enabled her to live in the White House and to travel to Russia. I hope she told the Russians that America is a great country. I hope when she gets tired of the handbag that she will donate it to or auction it off for charity. I hope Mrs. Obama will count her blessings.

While browsing the New York Daily News I came across an article about another prominent person, Frank Mickens, who turned a severely dysfunctional Brooklyn high school into a place of academic excellence. Mickens died on July 9, 2009, at age 63. He was a hardworking but controversial figure--controversial because he required the boys to wear ties and he enforced discipline by personally patrolling the school grounds and by dispensing lengthy suspensions for misbehavior. Nevertheless, under Mickens' leadership the school reached a level of 85 percent of its students entering college.

To the credit of the New York Daily News, the article about Mickens was longer than the article about Mrs. Obama's handbag. Mickens was not given national coverage but, as is true of teachers, principals, and coaches, he was dedicated to helping young people. Those kids are now adults (Mickens had retired in 2004) and some of them will preserve the positive impact of his style and effort.

Okay, it has been four hours and my paint is dry. The pantry looks so nice that I have decided to paint the interior of all the kitchen cupboards. I will need another bucket of paint to do everything right, but I think it is worth another $13.95 to make the place look better. My arms and back will ache even more, but then I can enjoy living in a friendlier environment. (Written 07/13/09: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2009 Natalia J. Garland