I was in an electronics store the other day. I went to the counter with my purchase and whipped open my purse to get my charge card. The male clerk with a wedding ring on his finger said, ?I really need one of those. I hate to carry things in my pockets.?

I showed him how I organized my purse, with my Palm Pilot, camera, digital recorder, cell phone, wallet, passport, business cards, certain business papers and ? at the end of the strap ? my car keys. I can?t drive anywhere without my bag, a great compensation to my forgetfulness. My purse is my desk away from my desk.

If the clerk had wanted a full show, I would have revealed how I stow earplugs, a mirror, a comb, my passport, batteries, binoculars (you never can tell when you might need them at the opera!) and other essentials that shall not be named here. I used to be in the Navy, so I keep my bag ?ship-shape? and well-organized, so I know exactly where everything is.

I bought the bag I?m using now in Turkey a few years ago, and it?s holding up well. Some of my add-ons take away its leather beauty, but it is remarkably useful. Four ugly colored plastic hooks tell me in a glance whether the Palm Pilot, camera, digital recorder and cell phone are all in place. If the spring-loaded hooks aren?t there, attached to the metal rings I added to the bag?s handle, I?ve forgotten to replace them in the bag from when I last used them. The cell phone is attached by Velcro to the outside of the bag for easy access.

Using the shoulder strap, I can walk with my hands free or use them to carry a banner in the AIDS Walk; or if I?m worried about purse-snatchers, I can carry my purse by the handle.

Of course in Europe, it is not unusual for guys to carry purses. But in the homophobic Midwest U.S.A., many men, both straight and gay, fear the stigma of carrying a purse. Yes, I occasionally get comments less appreciative than those from the clerk at the electronics store, but mostly I hear a kind of envy that I?ve found a way to manage what I need to have with me in a more convenient bag than an attache case; I?m a liberated male.

In 1987, Rotary admitted women into membership. I remember the day clearly, and I remember saying, ?I?m glad I?m now not the only Rotarian carrying a purse.? True, some of the Rotarians didn?t quite know how to respond, but really, no one cares what I carry.

I?m not suggesting you, dear reader, use my system of organization, but if fear is the reason you don?t carry a bag, guys, get over it! Simplify your life with a purse. It?s a religious experience!

The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn., does consulting, teaching and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each Wednesday.

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