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The Gift Bag
By Michelle Pilar Hamill

A man in pitch black glasses asked what was inside. Nothing, I said, delivering the bad news. It's a Kate Spade toiletry bag. Emphasis on Kate Spade. As if the designer name might have soothed him.

Some proceeded to open their bag right at the table. Delayed gratification not in their lexicon. Let alone the idea that the bag might be empty. Then the shock on discovery, the fallen face and sudden shift of focus to the opposite sex's, grass is always greener, bag. With eyes as wide as children they asked me "What do they get? What's inside theirs?"


It was about an hour of just these kinds of conversations when suddenly our station was hit with a brand new problem. Party people were approaching our table with no ticket at all.

We informed our empty-handed guests that they should have received their ticket as they entered the hotel.

"But no one gave us a ticket!" one man yelled.

"I have to go all the way back to there!" another shouted. As if doing so would have involved a journey of transatlantic proportions.

Add to that a twenty-deep swarm of Veruca Salts that surrounded our table and demanded their Oompa Loompas now!

That's when Target central offered up an explanation by whispering to us the top-secret news. There were one-thousand party goers, but only 500 hundred bags. 500 tickets were given out at the door, first come first serve. Mr. 501 and upward was going home empty handed.

And they might never have known what they were missing but then there we were. On display. Giving to those with a ticket. Withholding from those without. I imagined this goody bag shortage would be a disaster at a child's birthday party. But to our surprise these deprived adults behaved much worse.

We did our best to calm the disgruntled crowd. To swat back the siege like you would in a game of Asteroids. But it was no use...

Lucy and Ethel's boss had returned, yelled "Speed it up!" and that rapid river of bonbons was flying right past us.

It was a long and bloody battle. Though we did hear the darndest things.

"But he was in Elephant!" one publicist exclaimed.

And sure enough this sixteen year old Gus Van Sant discovery stood before me. With indie tossed hair, dressed in a black and burgundy Todd Oldham jacket surely not found in his closet back home in Iowa. I imagined it was bought for him by the same publicist that was heavily lobbying for his free bag. But he had no ticket and therefore no bag. Still I was struck that he looked so sad. As if all would be lost if he did not return home with one. I wanted to shake him. Tell him it was just a bag. With nothing inside. You're so young, you have your whole life to get one of these. And God as my witness, even without a Kate Spade Target line toiletry bag, the sun would rise again.

Just then one of my very favorite actresses of all time walked up to our table. She had no ticket but for her body of work alone I proudly slipped her a bag. She picked it up, looked right through me, turned, and walked away. Did she not understand what I'd just done for her? The precious cargo I had deemed her worthy to receive?

There was no time to think about it when the young girl who co-wrote Thirteen sauntered up to the table with the kind of self-worth and entitlement that I, even in my decades-longer life, had yet to achieve. And wouldn't you just know she had a ticket.


We were down to just two boxes of bags. And still they kept coming. The table our only protection from a Manolo Blahnik stampede. Drunk on Targetinis. Flashing their VIP tags and Day-glow bracelets to no use. Bag-less, they demanded to speak to our superior. I said the line formed just left of the free, top-shelf bar and endless chocolate fondue fountain.

I flashed on Mr. Rogers. How he was indeed dead, and the world was in trouble now.

Melissa and I had kept our shocked observations to a whisper. Several hours in and we were scolding them like a couple of preschool teachers. Punishing the greedy. Rewarding the humble. No longer just passing out bags. Damn it, we were teaching life lessons here!


My heart was pounding. An aerobic experience. My voice almost gone from explanation.
I looked out over a sea of outstretched arms, moistened eyes, bodies bent forward at the waist.

And right then it hit me. Hit me that perhaps the bags were not empty after all. In truth they carried the night. The link to all other gift bags. A token of having touched the dream. Of being on the inside. Worthy. And even as the night drew to a close and another season of self congratulations ended, they'd have their bag to wake up to and remind them they were special. Remind them they were there.

So no wonder a young actor in diesel jeans and Prada slip-ons leapt over our table and jacked a couple of bags then made a run for it before he got tackled by security and thrown up against a wall. He resisted. So much so he was threatened with hotel arrest. He went limp. Dropped the bags and eyed us like we got up early, met at Starbucks and plotted out ways to ruin his life.


The boxes were empty. The table cleared. A visual they couldn't deny.

We were spent to the point of looniness. Like those soldiers tested in the gas chambers without a mask, we couldn't have played a game of Patty Cake if we tried.

We needed to be taken off the beat. Guns confiscated. Screened for Post Traumatic Syndrome.

Instead they moved us on to another table. Another giveaway. But this table called for no tickets. No rules. After all it was just a book, a point driven home by one producer who said Touching the Void, the title of the book, had already been made into a movie so clearly it was of no use to him. I told him to take it and read it anyway. That I was forming a book club and we'd all meet back here in two weeks.

Melissa poured a cup of coffee from the dessert bar and drank it in plain site, unthinkable till that night -- all proper hotel employee demeanor learned at a two day seminar gone. We were tossing, practically throwing the books at them now. Aiming for their heads. Because we hated them.

And not out of envy. But for shattering the dream. The dream that kept us going. That we would one day get there. Get where they were. And when that day arrived... we would finally have enough.


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