Monday, October 10, 2016

I Was a Bag Lady: ALS Humor

It was the summer of love…
It was the summer of song…
Aw, who am I kidding?
It was the summer I became a Bag Lady!

My journey down the rabbit hole of addiction began a couple of summers ago when I happened across a YouTube video of a woman showing how to make yarn out of a plastic bag. It was a very precise process of folding, cutting and rolling it all into a little ball of - - Plyarn.

And I was hooked!

Not only did our garage have a tote bag full of recycle grocery bags that never seemed to make it back to the store, I was also in need of a creative project; a project that used my hands.

Being in the early phase of ALS, my hands were still working and I wanted to keep them working. I’ve always loved to knit and crochet so squeezing in ‘just-one-more-project-before-my-hands-quit’ was my personal ALS battle cry.

The tote bag came inside and I immediately dove into creating my very own Plyarn. Once I absorbed the origami of folding a bag and making thin slices, I happily discovered that one single Safeway grocery bag produced 10 yards of shiny white Plyarn! A couple hours later, the tote bag was nearly empty and I proudly gazed at a table covered with colorful little plastic balls.

Feeling ambitious I decided to crochet a purse. Not just any purse, mind you, but one with a ruffle, sturdy bottom and handles made of more bags.

Lucky for me, pulling everything apart and starting over again is much easier with Plyarn than real wool yarn! The latter frizzing, knotting and slowly wearing thin over time. Plyarn (through I guess, the miracle of being - - er, plastic!) can take the abuse. Per my usual method of picking a pattern I’ve never tried before and not ‘wasting time’ on a test swatch; there were many, many do-overs.  But in the end, I made a darn good little purse!

Because it was plastic, waterproof and apparently ‘indestructible,’ it became my new pool bag; used for goggles, lotion and such. The ladies down at our pool were pretty impressed and just couldn’t believe it was made of grocery bags. So, being on a roll I decided to crochet a matching Plyarn sun hat and wore it while we all water-walked and chatted.

A few of the pool ladies asked to learn how to make their own Plyarn, so I typed up some directions and we held a few short sessions pool-side. A few of the others bemoaned they didn’t know how to crochet but they would be glad to give me their collection of saved up recycle bags.

Dear reader - - at this point, I confess. My brain said, “No thank you” but the words “That would be great!” came out of my mouth instead.

Over the next few weeks small collections of colorful plastic bags were bestowed on me, and knowing full well I didn’t need them, but feeling guilty for not at least trying to transform them into something useful - - I dutifully brought them home.

A new, bigger Plyarn project soon filled my brain; a pool bag large enough to hold a towel, shoes, everything! Plus, another matching hat. 

A total of forty-three bags were used for the main section, ten for the handles plus the hat used up twelve more. It was a mighty pool bag (and weighed a ton!). My hand strength held out and the end result kind of straddled the line between ‘useful’ and ‘object d’art’ ....and just plain odd. However, the pool ladies were ecstatic.

My stockpile of bags finally dwindled down and I proclaimed, “That’s it! I’m done!”

But there’s no stopping the wheel of motion once people learn it’s easier to bring their recycle bags to the pool than hauling ‘em back to the store. Donated bags kept coming and coming! Finally I pleaded “No more!”

I remember back in Iowa when neighborhood gardens produced bumper crops of tomatoes and zucchini. Bags full of the fresh picked vegetables would appear mysteriously at the backdoor or behind the driver’s seat if you happened to leave your car unlocked.  The same thing started happening to me; only with plastic bags.

For instance, I’d park my walker near the pool’s steps, get into the water and by the time I turned around - - three, four even five brightly colored bags had been secretively attached to the walker. Like Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the mountain wind, my walker had been ‘bag bombed.’

Oh, I’ll admit it was hard for me to stop. Every time I decided to use up what I had on ‘one last project,’ I’d come up short two or three specific colors. Then I’d put the word out to a few close friends that I was in need of say, lavender or a certain turquoise, along with the admonition, Just don’t let everyone know! They’d kindly help out, and soon the pool became our meet-up site for clandestine hand-offs. Like movie spies we’d silently exchange innocuous envelopes containing carefully flattened bags of color.

My final strategy to end it all was simply to not show up at the pool for a while. Let things cool off for a few weeks, I thought.

And so, one day following a couple weeks absence my husband and I returned to the pool. We had just reached the entrance when a man nervously came up. “My wife can’t make it today,” he said, “but she sent me to give you this….you are the Bag Lady aren’t you?”

Momentarily stunned, we looked at what the man was holding in his hands. It was a white kitchen sized garbage bag crammed, and I mean crammed, full of all manner of plastic bags!

Still in a state of shock and with my hands firmly clasping my walker, I couldn’t move; only muster a polite smile. Not knowing exactly what to do either, my husband reached out and took the bag from the man who just as quickly turned and walked away.

“What do you want me to do with this?” my husband asked.

“Toss it,” I said, pointing to a nearby recycle bin.

And that was that. My summer as the Bag Lady was officially over!

- - Moral of the story - -
People enjoy helping and if it’s for a good cause, they’ll help even more. 
A very good cause is donating to the ALS Association.

- - Postscript - -
Yes, I’ve seen the video that went viral on Facebook showing women 
crocheting plastic bags into sleeping mats for the homeless. 
And no, I don’t need more bags.   

Dagmar Munn
ALS and Wellness Blogger

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