I was just reminded to write about a situation that ‘FRAGGED’ me the other day.

First what reminded me: the EHP Online Journal (Twitter: @EHPonline) Research Triangle Park, NC USA, posted, this morning, a warning, on their Twitter account, that retailer Sears Canada, Inc., just announced a major recall of reusable shopping bags due to high levels of lead. “???”

OK. I’m going to assume this contamination has something to with the printing ‘on’ the bag. For putting lead ‘in’ the bag – though such an action may be an interesting way to reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ people buy – would be at best idiotic, at worst criminal!

What I’m going to write about, does not lead to or deal with LEAD, but it does concern shopping bags.

Last week my wife and I engaged in one of our regular shopping routines. I drive her to the store – providing a driving service and watchful guardian-eye as she steps from car to front door and back again. While she is inside shopping, I remain in the car – out of the chemical soup that so many stores have become. It’s the only way we have been able to retain some relationship to our outings ‘to the store’ of yesteryear, these days. To the choir I speak, I am sure. But it is none-the-less irritating and aggravating.

My wife, Deb, is careful to wear clothing that is not – or at least minimal – absorbent of fragrances. She doesn’t wear wool into a store or FRAG ZONE. Instead she will opt for hard cotton in warmer weather. In cooler-to-cold weather, for a top coat, she wears a pile coat – made from synthetic materials. Synthetics are less effective in absorbing the chemical odors; though they do ‘catch them’.  These ‘remora fragrances’ are relatively easy to dislodge by

  • walking into a wind or
  • by waving the clothing around to create a ‘breeze atmosphere’.

She does this to avoid bringing the odors back into my ‘auto-environment’.

The store she went to was J.C. Penny. For those unfamiliar with this company – specifically those overseas – J.C. Penny began quite humbly in 1902, in a small town in Wyoming. It soon grew though, into becoming one of the most prominent catalog based stores in the USA. Though not as big as SEARS, they have outlasted many others, and they carry a very influential position in the retail world. This was her first time shopping at J.C. Penny for several months.

Lesson #1: Expect ALL Stores To Toss You the UNEXPECTED!

When Deb came out of the store – as we’ve adapted to for several months now – I drive up closer than where I’d been setting-and-watching, from the parking lot area – but far enough that she is able to ‘air out’ a bit before getting into the car. This protocol has worked well for the past several months. Thus we continue it.

Lesson #2: Be Prepared To CHANGE!

This night was -partially- different. Different store. Different incident. FRAG was still distasteful.

The fresh and falling snow, and the winter night’s darkness in a not-too-well-lit area, sped up Deb’s normal entrance into the car. She tossed the ‘bags’ into the back seat, closed the door and entered the passenger door. I drove off. OK. All as normal.

YOW! Not so fast. Within 20 feet I expressed an all too typical… and for Deb, annoying, “OOOOO! You stink!” comment when she gets swathed in chemical soup and brings it unknowingly into the car.

Her reaction was one of, “What are you talking about? I don’t smell a thing.” I did remember seeing her doing her bird-flapping-it’s-wings routine as she came out of the store .. to do what she could to air out in the short time she went from door to door. But still, she seemed to wreak with the ‘sickening sweet odor of some perfumminess’ that just seemed to languish in the car!

Disgruntled and miffed (both of us!)… I drove on.

Lesson #3: Don’t Take It Out On Friends!

By the time we got to the Post Office (last stop before heading home) – maybe 15 minutes of driving – I was feeling the effects of a ‘mild FRAG’. Shortness of breath, sniffle, headache, upset stomach and itchy eyes.

She got out to pick up the mail. While she was gone, I still smelled the ‘odor’ (aka, fragrance!). It wasn’t a lingering odor, either. It was really quite strong. So, it quickly became obvious that Deb was NOT the source of the odor. Immediately suspect #1 became – the ‘bags’.

I reached for one and was slammed back the moment I moved it. “Wheeewwwweeee! That thing stinks!”, was my immediate outburst! I may have profaned the ‘thing’ a bit, too. Don’t remember. But it ‘could have happened’!

Immediately, I tossed them both outside the car and slammed to door. Backed up, rolling the windows down and pulled OVER 3 spaces. Yes, that was new ‘stuff’ my wife just purchased in those bags. But I didn’t care! Much faster than anything of value, they had become pain-causing-items-to-avoid. And I did!

It’s called, survival reaction.

Fortunately, my wife came out quickly .. before someone drove up and ‘over’ the bags and goods inside. She was not too happy to see the bags on the ground. She was less happy about not being allowed to put the bags back into the car.

I wasn’t exactly sure how to deal with this situation. I knew what I wanted to do – but that wasn’t going to happen. Plan B?

I did have choices, but they weren’t all that clear-cut.

  • pull the goods from the bags and toss the bags; seems obvious right? Well, yes and no. The ‘stuff’ inside was likely wreaking as well. So what do we do with that ‘stuff’?
  • leave the ‘stuff’ in the bag and tie the bag to the roof rack or back wiper. We didn’t have too far to go, but it was snowing pretty good and we couldn’t (she couldn’t!) tie the bag up tight enough to keep the snow out.

Solution was good.

I retrieved a length of cord from the tool bag, wrapped it around the bags tops, closing them, and tied them to the rear wiper. We got home with them all just fine.

Lesson #4: Best Solution is NOT Your First Reaction!

Now, wouldn’t it seem sensible to think that driving a mile on a cold (12° F) night, with heavy snow, would ‘wash’ the bag free of smell.

Not a chance.

I was walking out of the garage when my wife came by with the ‘offender’ and it nearly knocked me off my feet!

WHEW! that was strong.

Donning rubber gloves, my wife pulled out the goods – hung the clothing in the garage and left the paper containers setting on the floor. She put the ‘offending bag’ into another plastic bag and tied it up tight, putting it into the garbage can.

The next day I left the garage door open for a while to air it out. Then when I drove to pick up my wife at work, I took the offending bag – tied to the roof rack – to a nearby dumpster and got rid of it.

Man! How much more of a PiTA (no that’s not a misspelled word – just think of ‘new’ translation for this acronym!) can a plastic bag become. Just one more reason for NOT using plastic bags.

Lesson #5: Plastic Bags Do Not Offer Solutions Worth Their Costs.

But a bigger question: How can a company consider themselves ‘socially conscious’ at all, when they intentionally put your products inside of a time bomb for anyone with MCS? !!! Oh, I forgot. That implies they would even care. Right?

There are more and more such incidences. I’ll write more about another such incident that ‘hit’ me again: using fragrance in marketing. Really! No, really! You’ll see what I’m talking about when you read my commentary.

I’d love to hear your stories of unexpected FRAG incidents. The stories need to get out and be told. So, please, help me tell the whole story. Send me your comments!

Until next time, take care and be aware.